Coffs locals share importance of bowel cancer screening

Marking Bowel Cancer Awareness month (June) in Coffs Harbour was bowel cancer patient and nurse Donna Blythe, colorectal surgeon Dr Andrew Sutherland, bowel cancer patient and swim coach Sharen Hackfath, colorectal surgeon Dr Wilson Petrushnko and registrar Zachary Bunjo.

RAISING awareness about the importance of doing a bowel cancer screening test at age 50 when you become eligible for the free program, two Coffs locals share their stories with News Of The Area during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month (June).

Donna Blythe and Sharen Hackfath are sharing their journeys to stress the importance of early detection and are hosting a Red Apple Day on Wednesday 21 June at the Coffs Harbour Hospital.

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This is Bowel Cancer Australia’s annual Giving Day when Australians are encouraged to support the vital work of the charity.

Donna, who is a registered nurse on the surgical ward at Coffs Harbour Health Campus and the mother of two girls, hit her 50th birthday and duly received and did the test.

She posted it off with little thought of the outcome.

The result came back positive, and a follow-up colonoscopy found a sigmoid cancer.

The diagnosis was a shock to Donna as she was feeling well and had no symptoms at the time.

Donna said she was in great hands with Dr Andrew Sutherland, a local colorectal surgeon who performed a high anterior resection to remove the cancer.

The cancer had spread into the lymph nodes, so she underwent three months of the recommended chemotherapy.

Donna has made a full recovery and is an advocate for early detection of bowel cancer.

“It was very surreal after nursing for 26 years to be on the other side as a patient,” Donna told NOTA.

“I am very grateful that I found the cancer early enough to treat it successfully.

“I am very thankful to my colorectal surgeon, Dr Sutherland, for his expertise and the staff at Baringa and the Coffs Harbour public hospital for their fantastic care.

“After my recovery it was very healing for me nursing Sharen after her operation.

“I was able to share my experience with her and provide her support through her recovery and chemotherapy, and in return that helped me with my own journey with cancer.”

An active local swim and dance instructor, the then-54-year-old Sharen Hackfath was shocked to have a positive result from her at-home bowel screen test after two previous negative tests.

A colonoscopy confirmed a Stage 3 cancerous tumour in the sigmoid colon.

“Within six weeks of my diagnosis, my hectic lifestyle was put on hold to have a resection to remove the cancer,” Sharen told NOTA.

“This was successfully performed by my colorectal surgeon, Dr Wilson Petrushnko, and was followed up by three months of chemotherapy.

“I am eternally grateful to Dr. Petrushnko, my nurse Donna for pushing me through the hard times, and my oncologist Dr. Pinky Baghi for their ongoing care.”

Bowel Cancer is often silent, which is why early detection is so important.

“Unfortunately, a low percentage of approximately 40 percent of home screening kits are being done, that means 60 percent are not,” said Sharen.

“We encourage everyone that is sent the bowel screen test to please do it; it could save your life,” they said.

Bowel Cancer Australia charity relies on community donations.

They are a valuable resource providing information, support, bowel care nurses, nutritionists, and social workers free to the public.

Pop along to see Donna and Sharen, hosting an information table in the foyer at Coffs Harbour public hospital.

For more on Red Apple Day visit


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