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Illawarra Elder advocates for bowel cancer screening following personal triumph

Joseph Guenzler -

Aboriginal Elder, Denise Berry, 79, is actively promoting a crucial message in the Illawarra community.

Diagnosed with bowel cancer this year, Ms Berry is emphasising the importance of early detection measures.

Aunty Denise, like many women, prioritises the health and wellbeing of her family and community, often placing her own needs last.

It was only when she observed changes in her bowel habits that she recognised the necessity of putting her health first.

In early 2023 she sought medical attention at the local Aboriginal Medical Service, leading to a diagnosis of bowel cancer.

"When the doctor told me, I went numb," Aunty Denise said.

"I just sat there and couldn't even think. It was a frightening thing."

Bowel cancer is prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but regular screenings and early diagnosis make almost all cases treatable.

Aunty Denise Berry. (Image: supplied, 33Creative)

Having triumphed over cancer through successful treatment, she now urges eligible individuals to undergo the free test provided by the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, noting the importance of proactive screening even in the absence of signs or symptoms.

"You have to do the test to find the cancer – don't leave it until it's too late," she said.

"Do the test as part of your regular health check.

"If not for yourself, do the screening for your family, your children, and your grandchildren."

Eligible Australians aged 50-74 will receive the complimentary at-home screening kit biennially via mail or their health professional.

Aunty Denise hopes her experience serves as a lesson, encouraging others to complete their bowel screening kits.

"When you receive the kit, open it, and do it," she said.

"There is no 'shame' in using it and posting your samples back."

Balancing motherhood, exercise, and quality time with grandchildren, Aunty Denise exemplifies a rich and fulfilling life, advocating for others to seize the same opportunity.

"It is most important that we look after each other but even more important to be responsible for your own health," she said.

"Do the test. It could save your life."

For a replacement kit, contact the National Cancer Screening Register at www.ncsr.gov.au, consult your health professional, or call the Screening Register at 1800 627 701.

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