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I read an article in The Times, entitled: ‘When it helps to make bottom jokes’. And before you think the piece is offering some bizarre advice on how to break the ice in a business meeting, or how to be ‘down with the kids’, the truth is much more sober – making bottom jokes could save your life.
The author, Lynn Faulds Wood, had fought – and won – advanced bowel cancer. Lynn was detailing how people are reluctant to address the condition, not least because of its symptoms, irregular bowel movements, bloodied stools, etc.
I experienced the same awkwardness when writing an informative press release about bowel cancer. I toyed with wording – does Joe Bloggs say stools, pooh or faeces? Can I write this in my press release? But this is precisely what Lynn was talking about. Bowel cancer, or rather the proverbial element, gets us all slightly embarrassed. This is why Lynn has campaigned to get people talking and joking about bottoms, to raise the profile of the condition.
Lynn’s not the only one on the case – NHS East Lancashire has engaged in a ‘Don’t rush to flush’ campaign, getting everyone from hairdressers to shelf-stackers talking about pooh.
Meanwhile, the NHS has the totally inspired strapline ‘Look after number one, check your number two’s’. But perhaps the more poignant response to our reluctance to talk about bowel cancer is the national message ‘don’t die of embarrassment’.
The fact is, as much as we may cringe at the symptoms of bowel cancer, knowing about them really does save lives. And talking is the first step to knowledge.