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Beating bowel cancer – what BCNZ is all about

As general manager of Bowel Cancer New Zealand for the past 4 years, Rebekah Heal is determined to beat bowel cancer through life-saving awareness, education, advocacy, research and support.

Why is there a need for Bowel Cancer New Zealand?
When the charity was formed in 2010, there was no other organisation in New Zealand working in the bowel cancer space or advocating for a screening program. There is a misguided understanding that bowel cancer is an old person’s disease when in fact – and unfortunately – it affects men and women of all ages, from 20’s onwards. It’s the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand (behind lung cancer).

What’s your vision?
We may not ever completely eradicate bowel cancer, but through better screening of the disease, treatments and support, we can catch it earlier – when it’s most treatable. That’s why we won’t stop until we have overcome apathy and embarrassment; beaten the lack of awareness and funding – and above all get us to a point when no person dies of bowel cancer.


Why is it important for people to financially support BCNZ?
Without the generous help of the community and donors we wouldn’t be able to do what we do – we are 100% community funded.

What are some of the steps forward so far?
One of our biggest achievements is to finally see the roll out begin of the national bowel screening program. As a charity we have been the strongest voice calling for this program which we know will ultimately save thousands of lives.

What in particular will the Great Full Bum Huggers project support?
We will put these donations towards the essential support we offer via our online support group, nurse support service as well as resources for those who are diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Can you tell us something people may not know about BCNZ? 
Bowel Cancer New Zealand is a charity formed by patients and is still largely run by patients who have had bowel cancer themselves. 

What does community look like to you?
A place of support to share ideas and a feeling of looking out for others. A place of belonging.

What is a challenge of having a non-profit in New Zealand?
New Zealand is a very small place and we also have the highest rate of charities per capita in the world. That in itself makes it challenging as we all compete for cut through and the fundraising dollar.

You have a very small team – how do you make it work?
We work very closely and collaboratively as a team and we listen to and respect each other’s points of view.

What’s a big life lesson you’ve learnt about life?
To enjoy the now with those that are most important to you as you never know when or how things can change. Today is all we have.

Who is someone that has made a significant impact on your life and why?
My grandmother, sadly not with us anymore - but having lived through war time she taught me to be content with what we have and not sweat the small stuff.

How do you practice gratitude?
I like to reflect on and appreciate the things we do have – not the things we don’t. No matter where you are or who you are in life there are always those less fortunate, whether that be through their health, finances or where they live. I think it’s important to work at being grateful for we do have and focus on that.

This is something I am reminded of daily as we hear from (or interact with) patients in our support group, just how precious life and having your health is and not to take that for granted.

What’s next for BCNZ?
This year marks the 10th Anniversary for Bowel Cancer NZ and we are very proud of how far we have come and what we have achieved over the past decade. We know the education and awareness programs we have run over these years has made a real impact and we will continue to grow and expand these over the next 10 years and beyond.