This tragic tale is dedicated to my mate Des, a veteran truckie who, not too long ago, lost his epic battle with bowel cancer.
Desi was old-school. A hard working, tough, honest as the day’s long kinda bloke, who handled and hauled cattle for a living.
On the rare occasion that bowel cancer screening was mentioned round Des, his response was always the same: “There’s NO WAY anyone’s gonna stick anything up MY BUTT!”
Famous last words from an otherwise sensible bloke who suffered immense, unnecessary pain and humiliation before his senseless premature death.
Rather than give you the usual clinical details of how to do a home bowel screening test, I thought I’d walk you through the reality of watching Des live (and die) with bowel cancer as a truckie out on the road.
Six years ago, sick of eating Quick-Eze 24/7 for his chronic indigestion, Des headed off to his doctor who immediately booked him in for a long-overdue colonoscopy.
Still determined no one was going to stick ANYTHING up his butt, Des finally gave in to family pressure and had the procedure done.
Having had a colonoscopy or two myself, I can confirm it’s a breeze – even for the ‘sookiest’ of truckies, so let’s take a look at what really happens so you can ‘man-up’ and take the test.
A few days before, you start eating a low fibre diet – lots of white bread, custard, ice-cream, butter etc. Nothing difficult there.
The night before the procedure, you drink two litres of sweet cordial-like prep – then make sure you stay close to the loo.
After about an hour, minor rumblings eventually launch a bowel explosion that gives you THE best clean-out you’ll ever have!
My advice is – turn up the music, shut the toilet door and make sure you have plenty of loo paper on hand.
The next morning, lying on a hospital bed wearing one of those gorgeous backless hospital gowns, you’ll make a few bum jokes and have a brief laugh with nursing staff as they administer your anaesthetic.
Next thing you’re awake, it’s all over, you have a clean bill of health, you’re probably a well-earned 2kg lighter and you’re back in your truck earning a living for another three years before it’s time to do it all again.
Fifteen years past the recommended age for a first colonoscopy (around 50), Des woke from HIS anaesthetic to the devastating news that he had Stage 4 inoperable bowel cancer.
For the next five years, I watched this strong, proud, stubborn man wither away to a shell of his former self.
Radiation and chemo took a devastating toll that caused hair loss and indescribable, never-ending nausea.
Des also lost control of his bowel, so had to wear adult nappies and deal with the embarrassment of smelling like poop.
Refusing to give up trucking, bowel cancer made sure he could only drive on the western side of the Great Dividing Range because when that dreaded feeling hit, he had to pull his rig over and jump out before he soiled himself.
Too much traffic and too many prying eyes the eastern side of the range for him to do that.
When his diseased bowel flared up, Des lay for days and nights in agonising pain on the floor wrapped around the toilet so he didn’t have far to go … to go.
Thoughts of suicide danced constantly in his head.
His world diminished to him and the toilet – because he was too embarrassed to venture into social situations where the risk of soiling himself was high.
Too scared to eat – because what goes in must come out, when this 6ft 2in giant of a man finally succumbed to this devastating disease, his voice was no louder than a whisper, and his weight was down to 50kg.
Des’ last five years on this earth were filled with immense, avoidable pain, suffering and embarrassment – all because he was determined no one was going to stick anything up his butt.
Bowel cancer is on the rise and while there’s no single cause, excessive alcohol intake, poor diet, smoking, not enough exercise and a family history of bowel cancer can all increase the risk.
Thankfully when detected early, more than 90 per cent of cancer cases can be successfully treated – so don’t be like Des.
Do yourself a favour, call your doctor, get yourself booked in for a colonoscopy then once it’s done and dusted, go live your best life secure in the knowledge that someone sticking something up your butt could save your life, not end it.
- Lyndal Denny is CEO, Women in Trucking Australia