We can often be blasé about our health and take it very much for granted. But Bill Webster has some advice for all men about being tested for one of the most common cancers – cancer of the bowel. If you’re over 50, experience symptoms such as bleeding after a bowel motion or persistent changed bowel motions, suffer from inflammatory bowel disease or have a history of bowel cancer in your family − don’t bury your head in the sand. Be proactive about your bowel health … it could save your life!
What originally brought you to the Port Macquarie area, and how long have you lived here?
I grew up in Canberra and had my first hairdressing business, before travelling overseas for some years. Feeling restless on my return, I left Canberra and headed north. I found Port Macquarie and melted into its lifestyle, hospitality and opportunity 25 years ago.
You’re well-known to many people in the area, as you’re a hairdresser by trade. Where do you work?
Hairdressing has been my ticket into the lives of so many great clients/friends, and I thank all of them for all their support over these years. For 18 years I have been running a mobile hairdressing business ‘Hair and There’, and I also work one day a week (Fridays) in a great salon above Café 66, ‘The Chair’.
Your life obviously had a radical change in direction when you were diagnosed with bowel cancer. What steps/events led up to you receiving this diagnosis?
In 2002 I received the government bowel cancer kit sent to all men over 50 and after doing what was required, I was shocked by a positive outcome!
Sometimes you can have a wrong reading, so I was then referred to a surgeon, where a colonoscopy was carried out. The result of this small procedure proved there was no problem.
The following test kit, in 2007, was clear.
Then in 2011 … while in the toilet … I noticed a small amount of blood. My doctor referred me to the surgeon once again, but as Christmas was coming up, I delayed going until the New Year.
In mid-January I decided to make an appointment to see the surgeon, who sent me for another colonoscopy. This procedure was a little different compared to the last time, as the surgeon removed a polyp (a common growth in the bowel, mostly benign). It was then sent away to be tested, and after an agonizing 3 weeks’ wait, it came back positive … and I heard the dreaded words: “Bill, you’ve got bowel cancer” and that it would require major surgery and a colostomy bag.
You’re a fit and healthy man, who eats well and exercises regularly. How much of a shock was it when you were diagnosed?
At the time, all I could see were the doctor’s lips moving, while inside my head I was screaming and in total shock! But once I got home and discussed it with my partner, Julie, we decided to take it one step at a time through each procedure.
What’s the status of your condition now – have you been given the all clear?
The operation was a huge success, and luckily I didn’t require a colostomy bag and no further treatment is required. This was a great relief to me, as looking back it was a traumatic experience, and we went along day to day fairly numb about the whole thing.
After the surgery I had to wait another 3 weeks for the result of biopsy, when to my complete relief the smiling doctor gave me the great news that I was all clear and I would not need any further treatment, e.g. radiation or chemo.
Given what you now know about bowel cancer, how important do you believe early detection of the condition is? The Cancer Council website (www.cancercouncil.com.au) states that “detected early, bowel cancer is the most curable cancer” …
My point of view is that the government test kit saved my life, and now that I am a survivor of bowel cancer, I can only encourage all men to do the test. But also at this point I would make the suggestion that the test kit itself is sent out every 2 years, not every 5 years, as is the current situation.
The kits are also available at all pharmacies, so I suggest all men over 50 ask for a test kit every 2 years. All I can do is advise everyone about the importance of taking this test; it saves lives.
You’re an inspiration to all men, in that you’ve been diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, been treated, and survived to share your story. How much has your perspective on life changed as a result of what you’ve been through?
I appreciate life more. I’m much more aware of how precious life is and how I want to live a lot longer. I love sailing, surfing and swimming. Being outdoors and enjoying nature is very special – I never take this for granted any more.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone from both surgeons, Dr Longfield and Dr Pollitt, through to the whole team it takes to do these tests and surgery, including all the incredible nursing staff on Ward 2C at the Base Hospital. Enjoy life!
Thanks Bill. Interview by Jo Atkins.
Photo: Bill Webster with Greg Trembath: speaking about life, the universe and everything …
More information about bowel cancer,
including prevention and screening, can
be found at www.cancercouncil.com.au
some facts about bowel cancer from the Cancer Council website
Incidence and mortality rates: NSW
There were 4,483 new cases of bowel cancer in NSW in 2005 (2,448 male, 2,035 female).
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer for both sexes combined and also the second most common cancer death.
There were 1,585 deaths from bowel cancer in 2005 (882 males and 703 females).
1 in 18 males and 1 in 28 females will develop bowel cancer by the age of 75.
Consult your GP if you have any of the following:
The most important sign to look for is blood in the bowel motion or the toilet bowl. If you are over 50, check the toilet bowl and toilet paper after each bowel motion.
If you have any changes in your toilet habits lasting more than two weeks.
If one or more of your close relatives have had bowel cancer.
You have had bowel polyps (small growths) or bowel cancer.
You have had inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease for more than eight years.
You are a member of a family with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) or another family bowel cancer syndrome.
Breakout Box facts sourced from:
This interview is not medical advice. Readers should seek information from their GP or medical specialist if they’re concerned about their health.
This story was published in issue 81 of the Greater Port Macquarie Focus