A few minutes is all it takes to save a life
WHEN Murray Sturgess received his bowel cancer kit in the mail last July he was pretty confident; this was one test he would have no trouble passing.
He had dutifully competed two previous tests - one at age 50 and another at 55.
Little did he know that during the following five years a tumour was insidiously growing in his lower bowel.
"I felt completely well," Murray said.
"I had no symptoms and was leading an active lifestyle, growing watermelons on my Chinchilla farming property, playing regular games of polocrosse and eating a diet I felt was pretty healthy."
Murray was called into his doctor's office and was given the news that of the two samples he provided, one was positive and one negative. Treating the test as positive, Murray was scheduled for a colonoscopy in Toowoomba.
The news was not good.
Within a week, Murray had surgery at St Andrew's Hospital in Toowoomba to remove a grade three tumour, eight inches of colon and 15 affected lymph nodes.
"Early detection results in a 92 per cent survival rate in bowel cancer," Murray says.
"If found earlier, I could have had the surgery followed by a week or two recovery time. Unfortunately, in my case chemotherapy was required."
For the next six months Murray's wife Wendy drove him to Toowoomba every other week for his chemotherapy treatments.
It left him feeling nauseated and fatigued, unable to do any physical work on the farm, and almost housebound. Murray lost feeling in his fingertips and the soles of his feet, so balance was also an issue.
"It was watermelon season and being a farmer means I depend on being able to do physical work every day. If it wasn't for the help of Wendy and my sons, Cameron and Bryce, the farm would have been in dire straits," Murray said.
"I wasn't able to go out in the sun due to the effects of the chemotherapy, but I could start the irrigator and the fertilisation plant. The melons grew well and were of good quality and having just that one small job helped keep my spirits up."
Eight months after his diagnosis, Murray was recently given the all clear. To celebrate, Wendy organised a party for everyone who helped Murray through that difficult time.
"We called it Murray's Staying Alive Party," he laughed. "The Bee Gees song featured quite prominently throughout the night."
Murray feels very grateful for the help he received during his recovery. From the bowel resection nurses at St Andrew's, who he said were a special breed, to the support from friends and family.
"I was feeling pretty flat during that time," Murray said. "And I really appreciated the visits from friends and family. It may have only been 10 minutes out of their day, but it made my day."
"I feel lucky to have had the expert care that saved my life, the well-equipped hospital just two hours away, the care of my local doctor and the free bowel cancer test that alerted him to the problem.
"The Darling Downs is above the national average when it comes to bowel cancer. Only 40 per cent of people do the test when it arrives.
"I am particularly grateful to my friend Stephanie who called me a 'wuss' one day at a polocrosse working bee. I didn't want to clean the toilets; I thought it was a yucky job. Stephanie handed me the toilet brush and told me to get on with it. I think it changed my mindset with regard to taking the bowel test."
"I was invited to talk on the SBS program Insight recently and the 'yuk factor' was discussed at length. It's one of the main reasons people throw that test away. But I wasn't going to be a 'wuss' and I felt looking after my health was my responsibility," Murray said.
These days, Murray is feeling pretty well. He just competed in a polocrosse match, playing four games over the weekend. He has made a few concessions to his life as a result of the cancer scare. White bread has been replaced by whole grain and he consumes a lot less sugar than before.
"The World Health Organisation recommends a diet high in fibre," Murray said. "I believe in a balanced diet, a bit of everything including red meat. I've always eaten a lot of fruit and now I'm more aware of looking after my body.
"I just want to get the message out - don't take your health for granted.
"It takes longer to read the instructions than it does to do the test.
"It's free and it could save your life."