When symptoms of colorectal cancer first appeared in Cindy Stewart, it was believed to be too late.
In 1996, at just 32 years old, Stewart was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer with a large tumour on her colon and another that had spread to her right ovary; she was the youngest person to be diagnosed with the disease that predominantly affects people 50 years and older.
Her chances of survival were not good.
“There are two groups when it comes to colorectal cancer: the survivors and the diers,” said Stewart. “The diers are the people who get advanced colorectal cancer.”
But after 52 weeks of chemotherapy, Stewart beat the odds. And 16 years later, the University of the Fraser Valley professor wishes for no others to go through what she went through.
On Friday, NDP leader and former health critic Adrian Dix held a press conference at UFV advocating for wider spread colorectal cancer screening tests for those between 50- to 75-years-old.
Dix is pressuring the government to roll out a province-wide screening program similar to that of Ontario’s, which would boost awareness; create a registry to notify those who fall within the screening age; and provide options for at-home screening tests.
B.C. already has a Colon Check pilot program in Penticton, Powell River and parts of Vancouver that’s been operating since 2007.
“We feel the time to act [province-wide] is now,” said Dix, whose mother survived colorectal cancer 15 years ago, which he believes is because of early detection.
“If it can be done in Ontario, it can be done in B.C..”
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada. This year, it’s expected 3,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease in B.C., and 1,100 will die from it.
Because there are no symptoms in the early stages of colorectal cancer, which develops from colon polyps, “the best way to beat it is to not get it, and the best way to not get it, is to get screened,” said Stewart.
With early detection, there’s a 90 per cent survival rate.
Early screening involves a $6 fecal occult blood test (FOBT) which detects blood in the stool by placing a sample on a chemically treated card. If blood is detected, a colonoscopy would be the next step.
“My whole reason for getting involved in this is because colorectal cancer is the number two killer and it doesn’t have to be,” said Stewart, “People do not have to die, they do not have to undergo the pain and suffering I did. With early detection, it is 100 per cent curable.”
A public service announcement, featuring Dix, is being aired online through the Canadian Cancer Society and Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada at www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoKmukRjKp4&feature=youtu.be.