It’s one thing to run a publicity campaign encouraging people to take up the NHS offer of free screening, it’s something else to actually take that test yourself. Especially when poo is involved.
We woman are used to screening. Invitations for cervical smears start in our mid-20s and go on until our mid-60s. Breast screening starts at 50 and continues until 70. Not everyone takes up the invitation, about 74 per cent for cervical screening and 71 per cent for breast screening, even though it’s free, even though it could save lives.
I’ve worked in and for the NHS for many years and have spent hundreds of head-scratching hours looking for inspirational and exciting ways to persuade people that being intimately prodded and poked isn’t that bad after all and that squeamishness could be overcome for the greater good and, more importantly, likely avoidance of something much nastier and the lengthy treatment it involves.
Screening for bowel cancer starts at 60 (50 in Scotland) and has an uptake of just under 60 per cent, which is pretty rubbish really. I mean, why wouldn’t you do something quick and simple if you could? Because poo, that’s why. Poo. Ewww. We’re squeamish and British and don’t like to talk about it let alone mess with it.
In one NHS organisation, we came up with the idea of getting the Bard of Yorkshire, Ian McMillan, to write Poo Sticks, a humorous poem to encourage uptake of bowel cancer screening. It definitely made a splash, which is much better than a plop……
I was good at managing the message for others, telling them THEY should take the test, what was the problem, eh? But then that envelope came through my letterbox, the first envelope that is. It’s the one that warns you a second one is coming, and you shouldn’t ignore it, or be put off. The second envelope contains a kit, something that looks like an advent calendar with just three windows and definitely no chocolate.
Despite my preaching and persuading, it took me a month to steel myself to do it. The test isn’t really that simple, in fact it’s a test of three movements, three bowel movements. Each of the three windows has two little windows inside. One movement, two samples, collected with two cardboard sticks, poo sticks. There will be no further details on this matter, except to say that even though it was a faff, and a pooey faff at that, I did it, stuck it in the envelope and off it went. I’m glad I’m not the postie who delivers to Poo Collection Central.
I can understand why people are squeamish about this test, I certainly was. But prevention is better than cure and definitely better than dealing with a a cancer that could have been caught early and dealt with. Within a couple of weeks, I had a letter telling me that everything was OK and that was it….until the next time. At least when I get the next one, I’ll know exactly what to expect.