Henare urges people to take the FIT test for bowel screening
29/03/2019 10:20:11 a.m.

Friday 29 March 2019

Henare urges people to take the FIT test for bowel screening 


Rotorua man Henare Iraia’s doctor tells him he’s a lucky guy. He has faced bowel cancer, had the treatment and survived, despite not getting help earlier.

Henare (Tuhoe and Ngati Whakaue) is urging people to take the opportunity to also be lucky and do the National Bowel Screening Programme FIT (faecal immunochemical) test which is offered in the Lakes DHB Bowel Screening programme.

“I should have gone to the GP quicker. When the doctor found out I was better he said you are so lucky and I thought yes you’re right.”

Henare had a sore stomach and bowel issues for about two years before it became so bad he went to see his doctor. Henare acknowledges he should have gone earlier, but bowel cancer was far from his mind. He just thought he had a tummy bug that came and went at times, took paracetamol and kept going.

“I had no idea it could be bowel cancer. I didn’t know what was coming; I just didn’t know what it was working itself up to. I took it as a sore stomach and thought it was something I’d eaten. My doctor growled me for not coming earlier and says I’m a really lucky man.”

By the end of December 2017, Henare was really crook. He remembers it because it was the last day of work before Christmas. The pain had got so bad he couldn’t even lie down. He tried to sleep kneeling on the end of the bed and felt really sick at work the next day.

He went to his GP, Dr Michael Grant, who was very worried and made phone calls to specialists to work out what was going on. He was sent straight to Rotorua Hospital’s emergency department, had blood tests, x-rays and scans and found himself in the operating theatre that same night.

A fairly large tumour was removed from his bowel and he got the news it was cancerous. He had bowel cancer.

“I felt really bad. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t hold anything down.”

After two weeks in hospital Henare went home and started chemotherapy from February 2018 to about September. He’s pleased he could do it in Rotorua and didn’t have to travel to Waikato Hospital. Every two weeks he spent three hours in Rotorua Hospital’s chemotherapy unit and then went home with the drugs in a home infusion pump dripping into his body through a port in his chest for two days.

Because Henare is young and fit, cancer was never part of the conversation in his family.

“It was a big eye opener in the way that anybody can get bowel cancer. It just comes and gets you. I found it really hard to explain to my family what I was going through and how I was feeling. I didn’t want to push it on to them. . I tell my family all the time, if you feel sick get checked early. I hope people look after themselves and do the FIT test.”

Henare has always been a skinny guy but he lost a lot of weight going from 58kg to 45kg. One of the hardest things for Henare was having to stop work as a machinist at a local saw milling company. Losing the money was a big blow, but not being able to work was very hard for Henare. He had to go onto a sickness benefit and was pretty much left with nothing after expenses.

“The chemotherapy made me tired it’s why I made the decision to finish work because I kept having time off. The hardest part for me was no job and no money. It’s a big worry not being able to work. I like my job and in the end it’s the work I missed the most.”

Henare looked after his grandson while he was off work and still remembers the look on his grandson’s face when he felt so bad on a chemo week he couldn’t get up to get him breakfast and take him to school.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandson during that time and I enjoyed it a lot. It kept me going. My mum was also great support. She was there from day one through the surgery and chemo.”

Henare was also the only licensed driver in the house, so when he wasn’t well enough to drive, he had to ask family and friends for help to get his partner and grandson to work and school.

He had to have a colonoscopy to check what else was going on in his bowel and in about August last year it showed he was clear. Henare has to have blood tests every three months for four years, but so far so good.

Luckily, his employer held his job for him and Henare was able to go back last September. While he’s told it’s unlikely the cancer will come back, there’s always a chance, but he pushes that to the back of his mind and tries not to worry about it. He sees his mum every day and talks about the cancer a lot. She’s worried, he adds.

“I’m relieved that I’m ok now and feel pretty lucky. Maybe if I’d caught it earlier it may not have become a tumour. Don’t think “she’ll be right”. Pledge to your family to look after your body and make sure to take the FIT test and send it back.”