As co-founder and executive chairman of one of Australia’s largest consumer magazine publishing businesses, David Gardiner has turned unknown brands into household names.
But bowel cancer doesn’t discriminate, and despite his personal success, David was diagnosed with Australia’s second deadliest cancer at age 51.
David became a Bowel Cancer Australia director in 2017 and has been sharing his professional and personal experience with the board ever since, to help make real change happen.
“We are trying to cover a lot of ground and winning on awareness and prevention,” said David.
Like so many Australians, David did not experience any bowel cancer symptoms, so his diagnosis was a surprise.
During a routine check-up with his GP he mentioned that he had received one of the free bowel screen kits in the mail but had ignored it because he heard there were some issues with the kit that year.
"My GP handed me another kit and recommended I do it.”
When the result came back positive, David’s GP booked him in for an immediate colonoscopy.
“When bowel cancer is detected, the best thing you can do is to make sure your doctors pursue it quickly to reduce further problems long term.”
Three weeks later, he went in for surgery.
“I was measured for a stoma although ultimately it was not required."
David found the treatment advice overwhelming and inconsistent, so he sought out an independent doctor who guided him through the process.
As a result, he declined chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
"I felt it was the right decision for me."
David recovered well, but the removal of 10–15 cm of his lower bowel necessitated dietary changes.
"I was given dietary advice on leaving hospital but to be honest, the information consisted of lists of good and bad options, which were very limited and sometimes not that clear.
“It was probably the most difficult part of my recovery," David said.
"There are nutritionists that can help this process. My GP had someone in the practice that I used, and I found it valuable to talk face-to-face and one-on-one," he added.
David is continuing with colonoscopy and blood tests, "but they are no longer as frightening".
"The entire process opens you up to a whole other world and in the blink of one positive test, so many more issues can arise that you had never even contemplated," he said.
“Talk about it.”
“If you are aware of a symptom or problem, if there is bleeding or irregular bowel movements, talk to your doctor and to your family.
For his over-50 friends that haven't done the test yet, he has supplied them with test kits.
"This experience has also made me realise the importance of talking to your family about their medical history.
“Until I was diagnosed, I had no idea both my aunt and grandmother had had bowel cancer," David said.
"My closest friends and family, and my brothers have all had brought forward their colonoscopies."