Self-care includes colon cancer screening
For much of her adult life, Dodie Trimble was so busy caring for others that she sometimes didn’t make time for herself.
“I put myself on the shelf,” says the Binbrook resident, who raised four children while working as a registered nurse at hospitals in Haldimand and Norfolk. A lifelong learner, Trimble also returned to university at age 55 to earn a master’s degree. She’s now in her late 60s.
Making time for cancer screening
While Trimble found time for mammograms to check for breast cancer and pap tests to screen for cervical cancer, she never got around to taking the at-home test to screen for signs of colon cancer. All three tests are provided free by the province to help catch cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
Dodie Trimble shares her story for Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March
“As a nurse, you’d think I would know better, but life was just so busy,” says Trimble, who retired two years ago from her role as director of quality and clinical practice at Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe and West Haldimand General Hospital in Hagersville.
In Trimble’s defence, part of the challenge was the colon cancer screening test itself. Until 2019, the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) was used for colon cancer screening. It was a fiddly, time-consuming test that involved collecting small samples of stool (poop) over three days. There were also medication and dietary restrictions.
Getting screened with FIT
“It was difficult to find the time, so I put the FOBT aside and eventually forgot to do it,” says Trimble. Then in the summer of 2019, the province replaced the FOBT with a new, much easier and more accurate test called the fecal immunochemical test (FIT).
The FIT is a one-and-done test, requiring only one poop sample, and there are no medication or dietary restrictions. It’s available free through Ontario Health’s organized colon cancer screening program, ColonCancerCheck.
“There’s no time like the present to get back on track.” — Dodie Trimble, retired nurse
Family doctors, nurse practitioners or nurses on the Mobile Cancer Screening Coach can arrange for the FIT to be mailed to a participant’s home. The FIT package includes easy-to-follow instructions, everything needed to collect a small poop sample, and a return envelope for mailing the sample to the lab for testing.
The test checks for tiny amounts of blood, which could be caused by colon cancer and/or growths called polyps that can turn into cancer over time. It’s also a more sensitive screening test than the FOBT, so it’s better at detecting colon cancer and pre-cancerous polyps.
The FIT is for Ontario residents, ages 50 to 74, with no first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister or child) diagnosed with colon cancer and no symptoms of the disease such as changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or abdominal pain. This screening program targets the 50-to-74 age range because that’s when people are at the greatest risk of developing colon cancer.
When caught early, nine out of every 10 people with colon cancer can be cured. However, once colon cancer spreads to other parts of the body it’s much more difficult to treat.
It was Trimble’s daughter Meg Welch, a registered nurse at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), who convinced her to screen with FIT. They’re sharing their story for Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March.
Mobile Cancer Screening Coach
Welch was an HHS intensive care unit nurse for 10 years before joining the Mobile Cancer Screening Coach team two years ago. This cancer screening bus visits communities with low cancer screening rates – providing cancer screening tests on-site — and is staffed by an HHS registered nurse, mammography technologist and clerk.
The coach is equipped with a mammography unit and an exam room for pap tests. Coach clients can also arrange to have the FIT sent to their home, and receive support to quit smoking.
Trimble was due for a mammogram, and decided to have it on the coach. While there, she also arranged to receive the FIT.
“I’m really proud of my mom for making time for herself, and for the FIT,” says Welch, who was thrilled to welcome her mother on board the coach for screening. “She’s a grandmother now, and our family wants her to enjoy a full, healthy life with all of us, and see her grandchildren grow up.”
Trimble says that the FIT arrived quickly by mail and was easy to complete.
“I would encourage everyone who’s eligible to stay up-to-date with all three of the province’s cancer screening tests – mammograms, pap tests and the FIT,” she says. “There’s no time like the present to get back on track.”
Anyone without a health-care provider can visit Health811 online or call 811 to arrange for the FIT to be sent to their home, or contact the coach at 1-855-338-3131 to book an appointment. The coach also welcomes drop-in clients, at these convenient locations.