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Bowel cancer patient praises ‘fantastic’ chemotherapy staff

Stage four bowel cancer patient Heather Perry has felt safe and assured while being treated at Peninsula Health’s Chemotherapy Day Unit during Covid-19.

Undergoing chemotherapy during a pandemic sounds confronting, but not for Cranbourne woman Heather Perry.

“The staff here have been fantastic. They’re always taking precautions every time you come in.”

“You never feel unsafe to be here.”

During the later half of 2018, the 58-year old complained about stomach aches, believing she was gluten intolerant.

Despite the numerous tests, to that point there was no cause for alarm.

“I had three bowel tests, there was also a problem with the heart, but nothing was showing up,” she says.

It wasn’t until January 3 of last year, that Heather found out there was a more serious underlying issue,  after she passed out and had to be taken to Frankston Hospital by ambulance.

Scans revealed she had a bowel obstruction, a cancerous tumour shaped like an “apple core” in her intestine.

Two days later Heather underwent emergency surgery to remove the obstruction and learnt her bowel cancer was at stage two critical.

Throughout much of the next 12 months, she took chemotherapy tablets, which appeared to keep Heather’s cancer at bay, until the cancer’s unexpected return on February 19.

Specialists found the bowel cancer had moved into her right ovary. She underwent a full hysterectomy and spent five weeks recovering in hospital.

“I came back to hospital for a major operation after they found out I’m Stage 4. It had come back more aggressive than the first time.”

Every other week since, Heather comes into Peninsula Health’s Chemotherapy Day Unit in the Integrated Health Building and says the staff have been “terrific”.

“I really have that personal connection with everyone who works here,” she says.

“They’re always ready to have a conversation with you and if you’re feeling a bit yuck, they’re more than happy to be your sounding board.”

About a third of all patients treated at Peninsula Health’s Chemotherapy Day Unit are those with bowel cancers, with breast and lung cancers among those more commonly treated.

As a Chemotherapy Nurse Consultant in the Day Unit, Fiona Lee sees many people with bowel cancer and says a change in bowel habits is a possible symptom to be aware of.

“Any bleeding in the bowel, any abdominal pain for starters,” she says.

“If you find you’re frequently getting constipated or not finishing your bowel actions, it’s worth talking to your GP about to see if it’s something that needs investigation.” June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

Bowel Cancer Australia recommends screening for anyone aged 50 years and over – without a family history – every one to two years.

Almost 90 per cent of bowel cancer cases are treated successfully when detected early, making screening so important.

To get tested using a bowel screening test, go to a participating Pharmacy or talk to your GP or other health care professional.