Playing Poo Sticks (no 'h' required)

A long-awaited delivery arrived this week. Not an early Christmas present, more a late birthday gift. Turning 60 might not qualify you for a state pension anymore, (it only ever did if you are a woman) but there are a couple of reasons to be cheerful.

In London, at any rate, you still get a Freedom pass, so you can enjoy riding the buses and tubes of this fair city at will. And then there’s the free bowel cancer screening test kit.

When mine arrived this week it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Months ago, when driving behind a 43 bus, I’d noticed a poster on the back.

'Over 60? (Well, not quite, but nearly.)

Look out for your free bowel cancer testing kit'

It was a bit puzzling really – where was I supposed to look? Was it some kind of treasure hunt? I know that zoos have discovered tigers are much happier if their food is hidden so they have to search for it, rather than just put in a trough. Was this something similar for pensioners to keep them alert and active? I looked in the obvious places that a gift for a 59-year-old might be hidden – the thermal underwear section at M&S, Waitrose wine shelves, among the moisturisers in Boots and my local garden centre. No joy. Then a few days before my sixtieth birthday I got a letter telling my very own kit would be arriving soon through the post. So I had to look out for it on the doormat in the hall. Well, that certainly narrows it down a bit.

And why am I blogging about this on a message board about running?

Because on Monday there was an item on Radio 4’s Today Programme, which said that only around 56% of people complete and return the test. This is very sad, as not only is bowel cancer the second most common cancer killer in this country, it is also one of the simplest cancers to treat if caught early. So why don’t more people complete it? According to the enthusiastic specialist being interviewed, it’s probably a combination of being squeamish about poo, and worried about the possible results. Then just as he was getting into his stride explaining enthusiastically about cameras up the bum, the interviewer cut him off, with a ‘That’s enough of that’ sort of phrase. And when the co-presenter joined in with the worrying effect on poo of eating beetroot, he cut himself off in mid- sentence. So here was a possibly life-saving news item being sabotaged by the very people who are supposed to inform us because it's a bit embarrassing apparently. (A sharp email was whizzing to the BBC before breakfast, I can tell you.)

Then the next day I spoke to my best friend, who being a week older than me had already received her test, which was still sitting unopened on her desk. Now she is a smart woman who has had her fair share of health scares in the past but she still hadn’t even managed to move the test into the bathroom where she could actually use it.

Doing the test is really simple. I read the instructions the night before and put the test next to the loo, along with my reading glasses, a pen (for writing the date) and a plastic tray that mushrooms had come in (as a holding device). Next morning, using the dinky little sticks provided I smeared a tiny bit of poo onto the two windows (of the kit, not the bathroom) then sealed them up and wrote the date. I did this on three different occasions, then put it in the Freepost envelope and sent it off. The test is actually called an FOB test – Faecal Occult Blood . Doesn’t that sound like a scary video game or the kind of horror movies that goes into five or six sequels? Though, apparently ‘occult’ means ‘hidden’, rather than something to do with Alistair Crowley.

I’m taking advantage of this marvellous NHS-funded website to tell you all that smearing a bit of poo is remarkably satisfying in terms of taking responsibility for your health. It might lack the heady glamour of giving blood, which I blogged about recently, but it's easy and you can provide you own tea and biscuits afterwards, just make sure you wash your hands first.

It’s really not that long since the idea that women could be trusted to examine their own breasts for lumps was revolutionary, and men are only just catching onto the idea that feeling their balls could be useful, as well as fun. So if you are over sixty, or know and care about someone who is, please remind them to do the test. It could save their life.


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31 Replies

  • What an amazing post. thank you so much!

    Firstly I thought it was a post about diarrhoea and vomiting ("sicks"?) so nearly skipped reading but so glad I read!

    Having turned 50 last year, I recently had my call up to go through the "indgnity" of my first mammogram, and whilst cringing at the time - very very self conscious since I developed Carry On Class Boobage aged 10 and a half :-( - , but I am so grateful that I live in a country where this screening is on offer for no charge. And long may it last - budget cuts notwithstanding ;-P

    You explain the process so well. I think now I am less queasy about my excrement thanI was about the prospect of my boobage being squished in (sort of) public so . . . something to look forward to if/assuming I am still around at 60 lol!

    My boobagesquishing result came back fine too, and I am sure your's will be fine too x

  • It is incredible the first time you do it, isn't it. So let's get this clear - you want me to put my breast between these two metal plates and then you are going to press it like a toasted sandwich? Strange that they don't do the same thing for testicles, isn't it? Or perhaps they do - but I doubt it somehow.

    And as you say - thank goodness we have these things available to us. One comment from a US senator on the recent tragic school shootings was that not only do the mentally ill have access to guns in the US, they also have no free access to mental health care.

    Thank God for the NHS, no matter how we moan about it, and thank you so much for correcting my spelling - I've changed it now and written 'sticks' out 100 times.

  • You are a star! x I cant help noticing spelling "errors" although I really didnt think yours was an error, I thought it was witty, or possibly a Freudian slip?, I should find a job as a part time proof-reader (or as a colleague of mine once wrote in an email - "poof reader"!)

  • Poof-reader - what a brilliant typo - especially if you are one..

  • Best post on here so far. Informative, brave and very funny. Only six years to go until my package arrives then (assuming that it doesn't succumb to cutbacks). And I am much more likely to actually use it now, rather than put it to one side - you're right, knowing exactly what is involved is removing one of the barriers.

    And I have the opposite problem with boobagesqueezing - so skinny that they can't get enough to squeeze - I thought it might be a problem, but they said, no, it'll be fine. But then had to admit that actually there wasn't enough to get hold of for a good view of the insides. So I got the pain but not the gain. Hey ho!

    Oh, and, even worse than beetroot (or iron tablets - I'm an expert on rainbow-coloured excrement) - black liquorice toffees. Blue-green poo! Highly alarming! - had to google that one, and it took a while to make the link between black sweets and the vibrant colour down the toilet. Yuk.

  • You guys/girls are cheering up this germ ridden lapsed runner a treat today x

  • ......(of the kit, not the bathroom) ......

    I am so glad you clarified this ;-)

    Yes, there is unnecessary embarrassment over poo and other bodily functions in the developed world, I'm trying to train my kids to be open and up front about it all!

    The 'problem' I have at the moment is that in the loos at work we're not allowed to have toilet brushes due to 'health and safety' (what they think we're going to stage sword fights up and down the corridors with loo brushes???) and there are people with really active bowels, who, without loo brushes, can't clean up after themselves. I've emailed the caretaker several times asking for brushes but get the standard reply that if people leave behind a mess they should email him and he'd sort out cleaning. What he can't seem to understand is that people are embarrassed so don't bother, leaving it to me to walk in and be confronted with it! I'll get off my soapbox now and go make some mince pies.....

  • Oooh, forgot to say, if you have bicarbonate of soda with your beetroot apparently you can get your wee to go bright pink as well!

  • Could be very decorative on the lawn if we have a white Christmas.

  • So the caretaker wants people to email him 'I just did a messy poo'?

    Is that really in his job description? Oh the puns, the puns...

    What would be the appropriate smiley for that?

    I've never heard of loo brushes being a health and safety issue.

    'You'll have someone's eye out with that - and you might give them cholera.'

  • Better than all my herbal and prescription remedies! Thanks again x

  • World's gone absolutely flippin bonkers! With you all the way.

  • As a displacement activity from wrapping presents, food shopping , cooking etc, I just googled the government Health ans Safety site. No mention of toilet brushes, but here is the link for H&S complaints. I'm sure dirty toilets are more of a health risk that toilet brushes.

    Let us know how you get on.

  • This testing is a very good idea, such a shame that so many don't bother. My brother was recently dianosed with colon cancer, he had emergency surgery to remove a large tumour and has now started chemo. His message to everyone is don't ignore changes in bowel movements and see the doctor sooner rather than later.

  • I started typing the above quite some time ago, and went off to do some jobs around the house then came back and pressed the send button. So I'm just spent the last couple of minutes in stitches over all the post on this thread. Conjuring up imaged of loo brush sword fights.

  • ....and went off to do some jobs around the house....

    No pun intended?????

    I'll get my coat....

  • I hope your brother will make a good recovery.

  • He's got to have chemo fortnightly for 6 months. Doesn't help that he's so far away, he live in America.

  • I too hope your brother beats it.

    The big brother of a chap I used to work with had colon cancer (this was 20 years ago probably). He made a good recovery, mainly because as your brother and KANdoit said, he caught it really early and went to his doctor to get it checked out.

  • That must make it even harder for you and him. Hope he's got good medical insurance.

  • Who says you grow out of toilet humour? ... but more seriously thanks for a great post ... from someone who has NOT lost two family members to BC cos both of them were sensible enough to go straight to the Dr.

  • That's a fantastic recommendation.

  • Great post. I got my test kit last week. I think it's my third one I think since I was 50. Probably it's earlier in Scotland because we have such a lousy health record. They always seem to arrive this time of year. It always amuses me to go into the loo saying "I may be some time - and don't let me forget my glasses!"

    My dad had colon cancer so I'm well aware of the risk. Putting a bit of poo on a card is a lot easier than an endoscopy which is what they used to have to do for screening. From knowing people in my family who have had it done, it's not so much the tube up the backside as the 24 hours before drinking an emetic and dealing with the effects to have a totally clean bowel.

  • When I wrote this blog this morning I had no idea that so many people would respond with close family experience of colon cancer. You're so right, wilmacgh, doing the FOB test sounds a whole lot easier than 24 hours of squits and a camera up the bum.

  • You get free yearly bowel cancer screening in Italy (well in Bologna) as from 50. Have become an expert with poo sticks :-P

  • Aren't we lucky to live in places that give us access to these test for free? I think that they are planning to bring the age down to 50 here (if the cuts allow.)

  • Brilliant blog, thank you for sharing. I'm some way off poo testing, but I will keep your blog in mind when the time comes. Like many others here, several of my family and friends have succumbed to or survived cancer, the earlier we spot things, the better our chances of survival. I think your blog should be adopted by the NHS to promote testing, its witty and to the point and I'm sure would convince the other 44% who don't bother to return the test.

    And well done for sending the shitty email to BBC ;-) :-D

  • As a youngster, I'm sure it's good for you to know you have such excitement to look forward to in the future.

    No reply from the BBC yet - I expect they are still busy inducting their new chairman.

  • At 50, you qualify for both breast and bowel cancer screening in Scotland. One is downright painful, the other seems a bit icky. I've done both, though. And I'm grateful for all the years of cervical cancer screening too, despite what my younger self saw as the gross indignity of it all. I've seen and heard of too many deaths which could have been prevented by early detection to pass up any opportunity.

  • 'Painful', 'icky' and 'gross indignity'; you sum up perfectly all the reasons we might put off doing these things. As you say, getting older and wiser we are more likely to appreciate it's a very small price to pay for the chance of living a longer, healthier life.

  • Okay - now instead of feeling grateful I'm feeling a teensy bit resentful wondering why in England and Wale we don't get the FOB test until we are sixty, if in Italy and Scotland you only have to wait until fifty. Any ideas?

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