Judy Christie was an active 74-year-old without a care in the world when a package arrived in the mail.
A retired nurse, she played lawn bowls at least twice a week, walked daily, volunteered at a local op shop and enjoyed tending to her garden.
Even so, she had no reason not to complete the government-funded bowel cancer screening test in the parcel.
It came back positive, revealing a cancer already reaching its late stages despite her total lack of symptoms.
“If it hadn’t been for that test, I would not be here with you talking to you today,” Ms Christie told AAP of the test she completed 18 months ago.
“The surgeon told me the cancer they removed from my bowel was type three of four and eventually I would have had symptoms and gone to my doctor.
“But he said they wouldn’t have been able to help me – it would have been palliative care only.”
Ms Christie caught the cancer just in time to treat it with surgery and chemotherapy and now urges everyone who receives a test to do it or pick one up from a chemist as she had done in earlier years.
“It’s really very simple and look at the results.”
She also welcomes the federal government’s announcement on Friday of a $10 million advertising campaign to boost participation in its national bowel cancer screening program.
The program – which the Howard government introduced in 2005-06 and has been gradually expanded – invites Australians aged between 50 and 74 to screen for bowel cancers using a free home test kit.
The kit involves people taking two small faecal samples, which are sent to a pathologist, with the results then mailed to the participant and their doctor.
By the end of 2019, everyone in the age group will get an invitation to screen every two years.
Of the 3.2 million Australians invited in 2015 and 2016, 41 per cent decided to participate.
That was up by two per cent from the previous period but the government would like that figure to be higher.
Cancer Council NSW modelling shows the program will have saved 59,000 lives between 2015 and 2040 at current participation rates but could save 83,000 lives if the rate was 60 per cent.
“We must get the message through to people that early detection of this cancer is vital in saving lives and protecting lives,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
“Symptoms can often be silent, so screening is absolutely critical for early detection. Testing can even find the early warning signs even before bowel cancer develops.”
Cancer Cancer Australia will use the new funds for TV, radio, social media and outdoor advertising throughout 2019.
About 17,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.