Jan Palmer and her sister Lynne Graham. Photo / Provided
It was an advertising campaign that saved Jan Palmer’s life – and potentially the lives of his 11 siblings. Rosalie Willis talks to Jan about her experience with bowel cancer and her current fundraiser to help save others from the cancer that kills about three Kiwis every day.
In 2019, Jan’s sister, Lynne Graham, saw an advertisement on the back of a bus that read, “You’re never too young to get bowel cancer.”
Reflecting on the campaign as she stood at the traffic light, Lynne remembered the advert which featured a number of young people diagnosed with the second leading cause of cancer death in New Zealand.
With that in mind, Lynne decided to get a check and book a colonoscopy as there had been bowel cancer in the family.
“It played on her mind because she’s in her 50s and with our mother being a survivor of bowel cancer, she thought maybe she should have a colonoscopy,” Jan said.
“She had one, and they found nine polyps at the edge of the cancer and cut them out.
“While she was fine, after that the surgeon told her she better make sure her family gets checked too.”
While Jan had no symptoms and a slight reluctance to spend the $2,800 to get a colonoscopy, she decided to get checked out too.
“Long story short, I had a colonoscopy, it cost almost $3,000, but then the doctor said, ‘There’s no easy way to tell you this, but you have breast cancer. the intestine’.
The cancer had spread to Jan’s lymph nodes, and she also had spots on her liver and one on her chest.
“We had to wait in the waiting room for about an hour or so after the colonoscopy, and that was because he was already booking me in for surgery at Wellington Hospital.
“It was pretty amazing because it was detected at the end of November 2019, and I had surgery a few weeks later on December 6.”
By paying and having it done privately, Jan had a week of radiation therapy before the operation and by December there was no cancer left.
“I had to do it privately, if I had to put myself on some form of waiting list I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
With a colostomy bag for six months, Jan underwent surgery in June 2020 to have it reversed, slightly delayed due to Covid-19, which now means she no longer needs a colostomy bag .
“There was a bit of a delay due to Covid-19, but they canceled the operation, removed the bag, reconnected me and I left.”
Now she has blood tests every three months, sees the surgeon every six months and has a colonoscopy every year to make sure nothing has come back.
“So far so good and it’s an absolute miracle that we found it as I had no symptoms.
“The surgeon said if I hadn’t had surgery when I had it, I wouldn’t have done Christmas that year.
“Early detection saved my life.”
This is now the message that Jan is sharing.
“Everyone is trashing the healthcare system, but my god made it step up when it needed to.”
Jan is especially grateful to her doctor on the medical team, Christine Coulter, who listened to her request for a colonoscopy.
“She could have easily said to me, ‘Look, you don’t have any symptoms, let’s not waste $3,000.
“My husband was also thinking of all the things we could spend $3000 on, but when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer and caught it in time, he said these were the best $3,000 we’ve ever spent.”
When the news that Jan had cancer reached the rest of her family, it shocked them.
“I am the eldest of 12 children and when I found out I had bowel cancer it shook the whole family.”
Unbeknownst to Jan, a number of them had had colonoscopies and thought they were safe, but had no follow-up.
“They thought ‘oh I’m clear, I’m fine’, but the minute they found out I had bowel cancer, there was a rush of doctors for my whole family.”
A few of them had polyps removed, but they were all clear. Jan was the only one with cancer.
Now they are fundraising for Bowel Cancer New Zealand. Jan’s husband is doing the Move Your Butt campaign in June, while Jan got together a group of knitters to make snoods to raise money for the organization.
Last winter, Jan started knitting snoods – a kind of woolen scarf – as part of a fundraiser. Now more friends and family are joining her.
“We also want to share the message, you are never too young to get bowel cancer, early detection saves lives.
“Fortunately, thanks to early detection and an excellent surgeon, Dr Alex Dalzell, I appear to be cancer free and am truly grateful to the medical profession for their skill and expertise.”
Shake Your Butt Campaign
June 2022 is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and Bowel Cancer NZ’s annual Move Your Butt Challenge. This fundraiser encourages all New Zealanders to move more in June, which helps fund vital research and support for bowel cancer patients.
The campaign runs from June 1-30, with Bowel Cancer NZ asking all New Zealanders – young or old, fit or unfit – to move their bums more in June to help prevent bowel cancer, while raising funds for the cause.
Bowel cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in New Zealand and every day one in six Kiwis are affected by this deadly disease, with 1200 bowel cancer deaths each year (as many as bowel cancers). breast and prostate combined).
To buy a snood or donate money to Bowel Cancer New Zealand, visit Snoods by Jan.