Pacific people speak about living with bowel cancer – 'It's hard to describe'

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Tagata Pasifika

More Māori and Pasifika people are likely to die of bowel cancer than any other ethnic group in New Zealand, according to a recent study.

With June being bowel cancer awareness month, every effort is being made to get the message across that bowel cancer is a killer.

However, if it’s diagnosed early enough, it can be treated and cured.

Following the recent study of 5000 patients published in the New Zealand Medial Journal, experts found Māori and Pasifka people are being seen too late.

Tagata Pasifika’s John Pulu spoke to two people who were both diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.

Solon Fakalata was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2013 at age 41 after a 10 centimetre tumour was discovered in his colon.

That tumour spread to his liver and lymph nodes.

“I didn’t really notice it like a sudden symptom or anything, it more kind of crept up,” Mr Fakalata told Tagata Pasifika.

“Looking back now, I can easily pin-point it but at the time you always put it down to something else.

“Just not recovering from the flu as quickly; just feeling lethargic, just feeling nauseous now and aging.

“Tell-tail signs of even passing some blood as well.”

Mr Fakalata was clear of the cancer for two-and-a-half years but in February last year he found that it had returned.

“To think you’ve been given this kind of death sentence, that you’re not potentially going to be around much longer, it’s hard to describe.”

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in New Zealand, claiming the lives of around 1200 people each year.

If detected early 95 per cent of people have a higher chance of survival, but if detected too late the chance of surviving is small.

Roz Tuitama was one person who survived bowel cancer after being diagnosed with stage four cancer two years ago at 51.

“When I did receive the news, the specialist said 'you need to get your family checked'.”

Her warning helped detect a cancerous tumour in her younger sister Olivia Jennings, who was also diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Ms Tuitama says she wants to see more resources for Pacific people so they can better understand their diagnosis.

Reporter: John Pulu

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