Cancer is a disease of the cells and occurs when abnormal cells grow in an uncontrolled way, and a cure is yet to be discovered.
June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, a chance to put a spotlight on one of Australia’s deadliest cancers.
Health Concierge is a Medibank program offering support to Medibank hospital members before, during, or after a hospital stay or procedure.
Health Concierge Specialist Kylie Rowles was Medibank’s first cancer specialist within the program.
“When Health Concierge expanded into the cancer sector, there was a need for someone with a clinical background, which I do, to be a part of it. Bowel cancer is one of our biggest cohorts and speaking with members who are going through it is extremely eye-opening,” Kylie says.
“The hardest calls are with those members who have cancer and have also lost a loved one to the disease. They’ve been there when others have suffered, and they wonder if they will have the same experience.”
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Australia, after lung cancer. Nearly 17,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.
The symptoms of bowel cancer and its severity differ for each person. Kylie says it’s about being aware of your body and being conscious of any significant changes.
“Some people get polyps, which can be malignant or benign. Polyps are little growths in the bowel and those who have them may end up undergoing colonoscopies every couple of years to ensure these have not developed into anything more serious,” she explains.
“The most important test is the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), which helps in the detection of bowel cancer. It’s not pleasant to do but having to potentially experience cancer and the treatments could be much worse.”
Prevention, she adds, is also key. Bowel cancer can be prevented if you are proactive about your health and screen regularly. If detected early, up to 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated. Fewer than 40% of bowel cancers are detected at an early stage when the likelihood of remaining cancer-free is high.
“Ways in which we can reduce our risk, include maintaining a healthy weight, adhering to dietary guidelines for red meat intake, minimising processed meat intake, smoking cessation, and reducing alcohol consumption.”
As a Health Concierge Specialist, Kylie provides support and guidance to those needing some direction.
“The main thing we do for our members is to listen to them and their situations and point them in the right direction where they can receive further information. Most people, deep down, know what they have to do but aren’t confident enough to do it. Our conversations give them the push they need.”
For Kylie, the biggest challenge in her role is being empathetic, without having experienced first-hand what the people she speaks to are experiencing. This, she says, is also a good thing as she doesn’t ever go down the route of telling members how they should be feeling or handling their situation.
When she is asked what she finds the most rewarding aspect of being a part of Health Concierge, she says it’s simply being able to listen. “Being the person, someone is comfortable enough to open up to is a privilege. It’s a nice feeling to be able to provide support to those who need it. They’re often very appreciative that someone, a stranger, has taken the time to be by their side during their journey. That, to me, is the most rewarding.”