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Trying to secure a safe passage

A giant inflatable colon speaks volumes about the importance of a healthy bowel and participating in bowel cancer screening.

Affectionately called ‘Bella the Bowel’, the enormous bright red inflatable intestine provides a walk-through learning experience aimed at improving people’s understanding of where the colon is in the body, what it does, and how to keep it healthy, according to Fiona Cundy, clinical nurse co-ordinator of the bowel screening programme at Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa.

For Emma Mitchell, Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa’s bowel screening whānau navigator, the giant colon is a powerful tool in her kete to encourage older people and kaumātua to participate in the national screening programme.

“It’s a fantastic visual tool for people to understand what the bowel looks like, how we screen, what we screen for, and what’s potentially growing inside you without your knowledge,” she said.

“The more information people have about this, the better. Talking about bowel health is so important.”

New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer death rates in the world and is the second most common cause of cancer death in New Zealand.

Screening is free and offered every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74 who are eligible for publicly funded health care.

Since the national bowel cancer screening programme was rolled out in 2017, 2158 cancers have been detected across Aotearoa, 56 of those in Wairarapa.

At 66 per cent, Wairarapa’s participation rate in the bowel screening programme is above the national target of 60 per cent of the eligible population.

Still, the Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa team would like to build on that number as “screening absolutely does save lives”, Cundy said.

“The earlier bowel cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chance of survival,” she said.

Mitchell’s role is to follow up with people who have not returned their screening kit and “encourage and slightly nudge them into completing [it]”.

Mitchell said embarrassment, fear, or a lack of understanding of the importance of screening in preventing disease are barriers to participation.

“Once I have a conversation with people about how easy it actually is, that nothing actually has to go near your nono [backside], it’s generally, ‘Oh, cool, I didn’t realise that, I can do that. Can you send me a kit?’.”

Mitchell’s job can sometimes be difficult when the kit does pick up positive results. But it is also “hugely satisfying”.

“ I ring people up and they say, ‘Yes, I do have that kit; yes, I am going to do it; yes, you can ring me back’.

“And I then I don’t even have to because they’ll come up on my screen as having returned the kit – done!

“This is what we’re here for, right, to improve wellbeing.”

Mitchell and the Wairarapa Bowel Screening team will be outside New World Masterton on Tuesday, November 28 and then Countdown Masterton on Wednesday, November 29 with information and giveaways for people wanting to find out more about bowel health and screening.

People can also contact the National Bowel Screening team on 0800 924 432 or visit www.timetoscreen.nz/bowel-screening/

Bella the Bowel can be set up for presentations to larger groups such as in workplaces or at community events. Get in touch with [email protected] or [email protected] to find out more.

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