Cancer Australia

Reporter: Graeme Butler

At 26, John Mendoza has everything to live for - a wife and two young kids. But the Port Kennedy dad's fighting for his life - all because his name was repeatedly pushed to the bottom of a hospital waiting list.

John's story of unforgivable hospital delays began early last year when he went to his GP with stomach pains. He was told he needed a colonoscopy. It's a simple procedure - an internal examination of the colon using a small camera, to check for - among other things - cancer.

John was put on a waiting list at Rockingham hospital. But what should have taken weeks or months - ended up taking years.

John's worry was bowel cancer. But it rarely affects men under 50. As for men in their 20s like John, it's virtually unheard of.

As months and years dragged on - and his condition worsened - John even got a letter asking if he still wanted a colonoscopy... not once, but twice! "At that stage I pretty much gave up."

But not John's wife, Jo-Ann. Angry, determined and sensing something was wrong with her husband, she broke the rules, or at least, bent them. "I rang the hospital and they said it was going to be another 8 to 12 month's wait and it had already been about 2 years he'd been on the wait list."

Health Minister Kim Hames. "His wife got hold of the health department and the system worked well in that sense in that he was then treated urgently and had surgery within a short period of time."

John says "And when I woke up after that colonoscopy that's when they told me I had cancer." An aggressive, stage 3 cancer, seriously threatening his life.

Kim says "There's been a huge surge in demand 80 percent growth in the last three years and we now have 8000 people on our waiting list to have colonoscopies. I do apologise for that we need a better system and we're gunna make sure we put one in place. "

The cancer had spread, as John waited and waited for a colonoscopy.

"I said to them when they told us it was bowel cancer luckily I emailed the health minister and all that we got out of them was the doctor turned around and said 'you're really lucky you did because had you of waited the 12 months he probably wouldn't have been here'." Jo-Ann says.

Hollie Fielder is also battling bowel cancer. "I'm 24 now and they think I've had it for 5 to 8 years." The Langford woman was diagnosed in February with a stage 4 cancer that's spread to her liver.

Before treatment she was given just a 5 percent chance of being alive in 5 to 10 years. "About 2 years I was having constant stomach problems. Every time I ate I was having bloating constant pain. Irritating, I was on the floor in pain, I saw my GP a lot and they just put it down to irritable bowel syndrome." Now Hollie's fighting back and hopeful she can make it. She's determined to raise awareness - and money - for bowel cancer research. "You know your body better than anyone else and if you think something's wrong and the doctors keep putting it down to something, if you want an answer keep seeing a doctor, getting another opinion until you get the problem solved because you're never too young. "

Dr Cameron Bell is a gastroenterologist and director of bowel cancer Australia. "The waiting list for colonoscopy varies widely across Australia. It's much more commonly weeks to months. The earlier it's picked up the better the prognosis for bowel cancer so in early cases the survival rate for surgery is more than 90 percent"

But for John, the late diagnosis meant major surgery. Even if he wins his battle against cancer, he'll still be left with life-long challenges.

He's no longer capable of lifting heavy objects and won't be able to work as a mechanic. John's now having chemotherapy and can't work for at least six months.

The chemo also means he can't go out or do much at all. The slightest cut or injury could lead to an infection with devastating consequences.

And without John's wage the family fears ending up on the street.

Jo-Ann earns 55 thousand dollars a year - but Centrelink has told her that's too much to qualify for help.

The family just wants a little help, so they don't lose everything. John says "The amount of tax that I've paid last year is incredible so you'd think that in six months' time 'if we give this bloke a hand he's gunna be out earning his tax again'." John and Jo-Ann also want young people - and the health system - to take the threat of bowel cancer seriously. John says "You just think it's something I ate, I drank too much, this and that, you know you find excuses for it you really do. Hopefully if people are more aware of it that they can do something more about it and the next 25 year old doesn't get ignored."

Hollie is fundraising for Bowel Cancer Australia to raise awareness that people of any age can get the disease. She will hold a quiz night at the Perth Football Club on September 22.

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