“After waking back up I had the unpleasant conversation with the gastroenterologist where she told me the news ‘You have Bowel Cancer’. They had seen a growth and it appeared to be cancerous. So, I’m 25 and have cancer. Holy hell!”

In June 2019 Zach Bray was set for a new position in his role as a mining engineer in the Hunter Valley. He was playing club AFL on the weekends and enjoying life.

For some time though he’d been noticing blood in his stools and on the toilet paper. He wasn’t too worried, but he’d told his mum and she was pressing him to do something about it.

It was ultimately a Facebook post by a friend raising awareness about the gastrointestinal symptoms of ulcerative colitis that prompted him to visit the doctor.

“After multiple scans in loud, donut-looking machines and consultations with some amazing specialists I was told I had either Stage 2 or 3 rectal cancer. The tumour was around 34cm long and surgery in a Sydney private hospital was the next step.

“It was a feeling of numbness and kind of surreal. I knew I was in a good place for medical care, I could see the pathway ahead and accepted it. I stayed positive that I would get through it,” Zach says.

Zach’s tumour had penetrated the bowel wall, but his pathology report was good, and he had a smooth recovery after removal of 45cm of his lower bowel.

Now, he’s back at work and on a new mission; talking to anyone who’ll listen about bowel symptoms and the need for screening in younger people.

“Don’t put things off. Look out for blood in your stools or any change in bowel habits. If you are seeing this at any age, see your GP and discuss a bowel screen. I had no family history and I was young, so no flags went up. That’s why bowel cancer is called the silent killer. Thankfully mum was on my back and I happened to see a Facebook post that helped to save my life.”

Gut Foundation President Prof Terry Bolin says Zach’s story is typical of a growing number of young Australians being confronted with a bowel cancer diagnosis. For several years the Gut Foundation has been lobbying the federal government to lower the age of screening to make people under 50 eligible for free National Bowel Screening kits and to make colonoscopy more accessible. “We know that bowel cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, but it is also preventable and treatable,” Prof Bolin said.

Facts on Bowel Cancer

  • Bowel cancer is the second most common internal cancer affecting Australians.
  • Bowel cancer does not discriminate – everyone is at risk.
  • The incidence of bowel cancer in Australia is at the high end of the international scale.
  • Bowel cancer is preventable – get screened! 

Article written by Felicity Moffat

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