Cancer survivor Helen Christopher likes the idea of a national bowel screening programme.

“I think it’s wonderful. Everybody should have that opportunity to be screened and be safe.”

Now aged 67, Mrs Christopher, a married Hamilton grandmother and administration worker, was 63 when diagnosed with early-stage bowel cancer.

That would have put her in the initial age group for the national screening programme Labour has promised to establish by expanding the Waitemata trial scheme first into the Waikato and Otago/Southland health districts and later the rest of the country. The eligible group in the two new areas would start at 50-64 and later expand to the 50-74 range covered in Waitemata.

National says going nationwide is inevitable but doing so at present would be premature and risks creating a programme that harms patients.

It will wait for the results of the four-year Waitemata trial, due next year, before making a decision.

Mrs Christopher, an otherwise fit and healthy vegetarian, was afflicted by diarrhoea, which sometimes contained blood.

After a month of that, she consulted her GP, who conducted tests and referred her for a colonoscopy – an investigation of the large bowel, the colon, with a tiny camera and surgical instruments on a flexible tube. Growths called polyps were detected and removed in that and a similar follow-up procedure and cancer was diagnosed. A CT scan showed the cancer had not spread outside the colon.

She had surgery to remove the affected part of the colon, which was near where it joined the rectum.

Her small intestine was connected to an external waste-collection bag for seven months “to allow the bowel to heal” and to ensure there was no return of the tumour.

In a further operation, the bag was removed and the large and small intestines reconnected, minus the “offending” section.

No chemotherapy or radiation therapy was required.

“I had a check-up two weeks ago to say everything was clear; there’s no sign of any cancer in the colon at all,” Mrs Christopher said.

“I was lucky enough I had gone early enough to get something done at an early stage.

“Whatever anyone can do to save even one person’s life, people should be encouraged to go and get screened.

“I tell people at work, if you have got any abnormalities, just go and get looked at. It’s not going to go away. If you leave it, you lose your life.”