Gastro-intestinal cancers are something only old people should look out for, right?
“You have a form of gastro-intestinal cancer.” This isn’t what anyone wants to hear, especially if they are young. Sadly, this is becoming the reality for many more young Australians: bowel cancer in those aged between 20 and 34 have increased by over 60 per cent. Gastro-intestinal cancers affect areas of the digestive system including the oesophagus, gallbladder, liver, stomach, small intestine, anus, bowel and pancreas. Gastro-intestinal cancers do not discriminate and can affect both men and women, young and old. Each year more than 24,000 Australians are diagnosed with this disease; 33 Australians will die from it each day. This makes it Australia’s most common form of cancer though it is one of the least talked about.
Anne Casey, fundraising and marketing coordinator of the GI Cancer Institute, told The Newsroom the institute hopes to improve the current survival rates and find better ways to treat the disease.
“Our clinical trials allow us to find better ways to treat GI cancers,” said Ms Casey.
“This has seen improvement in both the life expectancy and quality of life of people diagnosed with these cancers.”
She said survival rates for gastro-intestinal cancers are much lower than those of the other well-known cancers.
“In 2012, more than 12,000 people died of gastro-intestinal cancers – [that’s] more than twice the combined total for breast and prostate cancers. The five-year survival rate of people with cancer of the stomach is 27 per cent, bowel 67 per cent – and only 6 per cent of people contracting pancreatic cancer live more than five years.”
The institute has implemented a fundraising initiative called The Gutsy Challenge. Through this campaign, they aim to raise money for research and to raise awareness of the disease. It promotes a healthy lifestyle and diet and educates people about the role this can play in reducing the risk of developing the disease. The Gutsy Challenge is a variety of fundraising activities anyone can get involved in and includes things like fun-runs and challenging yourself to eat healthy.
Brandon Grogan recently took up a healthy eating challenge to raise funds for the charity. The cause is close to his heart: when Brandon was 20, he lost his dad, Phil, to pancreatic cancer at 58.
“He used to have problems with his liver so he went to the doctors to get his liver checked and that’s when they did the test and found he had pancreatic cancer,” Brandon told The Newsroom.
“Originally they said it was terminal, they couldn’t do anything. Then he went to a specialist and again he was told they couldn’t do anything so he went and got a third opinion and that doctor said they could operate. About a week later that’s when he went in for an operation.”
During this operation, doctors performed Whipple surgery on Brandon’s father. They removed the head of the pancreas, the gallbladder, part of the duodenum (a part of the small intestine), a small portion of the stomach and the lymph nodes near the head of the pancreas.
Things took a turn for the worse a week after the surgery, when Phil was at home with his family.
“He collapsed and we called an ambulance and he came [around] as the ambulance got there.
“We found out the next day that it was the artificial tube from the Whipple surgery that had a blood clot in it and that’s what pushed all the cancerous blood back up.”
Phil died only four weeks after his diagnosis in 2012.
Brandon completed his Gutsy Challenge recently and raised more than $1000 for the fight. The funds will help the institute prevent this disease.
“Institutes like the GI Cancer Institute mean a lot to my family because they’re the ones out there trying to find a cure and that’s what we want because we want everyone else to avoid what we went through,” Brandon said. – Erin Kenneally
Top photo by Greta Levy. Inset photo supplied by Brandon Grogan.