Reverend’s cancer detected due to National Bowel Screening Programme

Reverend’s cancer detected due to National Bowel Screening Programme

Mataura Presbyterian pastor, Tau Ben-Unu, admits his first instinct when receiving a free bowel screening test kit in the mail was not to do it.

“Men don’t want to do anything we don’t have to do,” he says, “and I don’t like to visit doctors unless I have to.”

But the Cook Islands minister thought about his wife and family, and had a change of heart.

“When we had our first grandchild it was an epiphany moment, me holding him. I want to be around for my grandchildren and to be there to meet my great-grandchildren,” he says. “I did the testing for my family.”

Now, Reverend Ben-Unu feels “grateful” that he did take the test. It detected an abnormality, and within a month, a colonoscopy at Southland Hospital found a cancerous growth in his bowel. He then had a straightforward operation to remove the growth.

“The screening test meant we found the cancer early,” he says. “I didn’t need any other treatment at all after the operation, so I was very fortunate. It’s a great feeling that I can now put it behind me.”

According to the Ministry of Health, people diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer who receive treatment early, have a 90% chance of long-term survival.

As at 31 January 2019, 52 people have been diagnosed with bowel cancer as a result of the Southern DHB NBSP, which began in April 2018. In addition, 385 people with non-cancerous polyps have been identified and treated.

Reverend Ben-Unu’s advice to others – particularly other Polynesian men – is to take the screening test, which is a quick, easy and clean process.

“The test is easy – it’s the decision that is hard,” he acknowledges. “My plea to Pacific Island men is to go for it. If you get the test pack, go ahead and do it. There’s no need to fear.”

He says the medical staff who assisted him were “fantastic. They were so helpful and supportive. It’s important to trust the medical experts who are going out on a limb to help. They are concerned about people’s welfare.”

Reverend Ben-Unu is now back at the pulpit at Mataura Presbyterian Church, and also leads a fortnightly Cook Islands service at Invercargill’s St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Reflecting on his recent experiences, he shared the following two passages from Hebrews 13:

The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

What can mere mortals do to me?

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.

Reverend Ben-Unu will discuss his health journey at an upcoming Pasifika Community Health Forum and Meeting at the Pacific Island Advisory and Cultural Trust in Invercargill on Saturday 30 March. The forum is not open to the general public, but especially for the Pasifika community.

The National Bowel Screening Programme

  • Screening can detect cancer at an early stage when it can often be successfully treated
  • It is free of charge for people aged 60 to 74 years of age who are eligible for public healthcare
  • Invitations for those eligible to participate are sent through the mail, followed by a test kit
  • The kits are easy and simple to do, and samples are returned by mail for testing
  • People are being asked to make sure their details are up to date with their GP so they don’t miss out
  • If any member of the public notices potential symptoms – such as a change in their normal bowel habit that continues for several weeks, or blood in a bowel motion – they should see their GP right away, not wait for their screening test.
  • For more information visit timetoscreen.nz or freephone 0800 924 432.

About bowel cancer in New Zealand

  • New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the developed world
  • More than 3000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and more than 1,200 die from it annually
  • Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in this country
  • According to the Ministry of Health, people diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer who receive treatment early, have a 90% chance of long-term survival.
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