It is 3000 kilometres from the southernmost point of Tasmania to Cape York and Jenna Brook is planning to run the whole way.
Ms Brook, who passed through Narrandera last week on her cross-country voyage, set off from South Cape Bay in Tasmania on February 17, and is hoping to be in Cape York by June.
“I’m running 40 to 45km every day. They’re big days by any standard, especially when you start doing them day after day after day,” Ms Brook said. “It’s tiring. The weather obviously plays a part, but also just the direct sun; it doesn’t have to be that hot to be a bit sapped by the blue skies.
“It’s been lovely running through here. It’s been relatively easy running; it’s nice and flat, with big wide shoulders on the roads.”
With a support team and a motor home, it’s a relatively comfortable journey, although the running is already starting to take its toll physically.
“I never thought it would be easy, but it’s very tiring, and the further you go the more tired you get, which makes it harder again. Your body gets tired, your muscles get tired, and it sort of compounds in on itself. You certainly get fitter, and you become very adapted to what you’re doing.”
The purpose of the exercise is more than just a personal challenge. Ms Brook is using the opportunity to raise community awareness of bowel cancer, giving her massive cross-continental trip the title of ‘Run for Bums’.
“My grandfather had bowel cancer a long time before I was born. Because of that, our family often spoke about it, or spoke about the fact that my dad would often screen regularly, go for colonoscopies. It was joked about, but it was understood that we, as children, would have to start screening early.
“I started screening in my mid-20s, and I’ve had three colonoscopies, and over a dozen polyps removed. While that’s not a lot in comparison to what some young people can have, especially if they’re genetically predisposed to it, it’s a significantly more than what would be expected.
“I remember my specialist at the time saying had I not started screening when I did, there was a 50 per cent chance I would have had bowel cancer by the time I was 30. It sounds dramatic, and it would have been dramatic, but it’s not because I was screened.
“That’s what I want people to understand. You can prevent bowel cancer by being proactive.”
Nearly 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated if detected early, but despite this, bowel cancer is the second largest cause of cancer deaths in Australia.
“I think it’s one of the cancers that we can make massive inroads into the death rates simply by talking about it. In most cases, we don’t need to develop a cure for bowel cancer. We’ve got great medicine to either prevent it or treat it, if it’s caught early – but we just need it to be caught early.
“A cure would be great for the people who either don’t have symptoms or it just progresses that quickly you don’t have time to do anything about it. But really, you just need community awareness and people to do things, and you’ll get on top of it.”
Ms Brook said a vital thing was for families to open up about their histories with the disease. Roughly 30 per cent of bowel cancer patients have a genetic history of the disease.
“That’s something that isn’t widely known in the community, that bowel cancer does have a genetic component in some instances. I think that’s what’s really important, that you at least have a conversation with your kids, or with your parents. If it comes up that actually there is a history of bowel cancer, at least you’ve got knowledge if anything crops up, or you do have some symptoms.”
It was also vital that people felt they could discuss the possibilities with their GPs.
“You often hear stories of younger people whose doctors, weren’t thinking of bowel cancer. And unfortunately it progresses to a point where it’s almost not treatable anymore,” Ms Brook said. “It comes back to empowering the patient, and making sure that doctors are a little more switched on about it.”