IT IS the silent killer.
The cancer that 90 Australians die from each week, three times the number of national road fatalities.
But if caught in time, with the help of a simple screening test, 90% of cases can be treated successfully.
When 33-year-old Beerwah mother-of-two Karen McPherson felt exhausted in March last year, the last thing she thought of was bowel cancer.
Like many people, the Maleny High School teacher assumed it was a disease for the elderly.
“I had been feeling run down for about two weeks,” she said.
“But I shrugged it off – until during a netball game, I felt like I was going to throw up.
“I went to see my GP who gave me a blood test. It showed my liver function was high and I was sent for a CT scan and an ultrasound.”
When the oncologist explained Karen's diagnosis of metastatic bowel cancer, he was blunt.
“He told me in no uncertain terms it couldn't be cured,” she said.
In an instant the once perfect world that Karen and her husband of five years, David Cooper shared was turned upside down.
“I had a fantastic life,” she said.
“I used to knock on wood when I thought about how ideal things were. Clearly that didn't work ... but there is no use questioning why. It doesn't change the reality.”
While the couple have good and bad days, they refuse to give up hope. “I am fighting it with everything I have,” Karen said.
“I am going to chemotherapy every fortnight. I also visit a Chinese medicine specialist and a naturopath.
“Bridgette, 4, knows the word cancer but struggles to fully comprehend what's going on.
“Lilly, 2, is too young to understand.”
Karen said the message she wanted women to take away from her story was to have regular bowel tests.
“But it is important to know there is a simple screening tool that is now available in pharmacies.
“We have pap smears for cervical cancers and have breast checks for breast cancer – women should add the bowel test to the list.”
THE FACTS ON BOWEL CANCER
Symptoms, such as blood in your bowel motion, recent and persistent changes in bowel habit or unexplained weight loss require seeing your GP immediately
More than 14,000 Australians, young and old, are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year
While no cancer is completely preventable, you can lower your risk of bowel cancer by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly