The internal workings of your bowels is generally not discussed in polite company. Add the word ‘cancer’ to the sentence and silence reigns.
Well, not for much longer if Jenna Brook has her way.
On February 17 she is going to set off on a huge 4500 trek, Running for Bums – from the bottom of Tasmania to Cape York at the top of Queensland – to raise awareness of bowel cancer and money for Bowel Cancer Australia.
It’s a subject that’s close to her heart with her grandfather surviving bowel cancer. Then at age 25, Jenna had eight bowel polyps removed, and another three were removed just two years later.
Last year at age 30, while training for the Running for Bums challenge, she had another three removed.
“I really just want people to start talking about bowels and bowel cancer. It kills me that so many people die each year due to embarrassment,” Jenna said.
She has made it her mission to “get people comfortable with talking about bowels and poo”.
She wants to raise $50,000 along the way and, just as importantly, spread the message for people to get checked, no matter their age – as “you are never too young”.
With early detection 90 per cent of cases could be treated.
However, only 40 per cent were caught early enough.
“We all have bowels and we need to get over the embarrassment and talk about it.
“More people need to know symptoms and get checked.”
The 4500 kilometre Running for Bums route will take Jenna through Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
It’s a journey 18 months in the planning – and training.
She’s been up at 3am or 4am each day to beat the Birdsville heat and get training in.
“I’m generally a morning person but 3am is pushing me. But it’s been a necessary evil.”
The upside of living in hot Birdsville is that whatever temperatures the 4500 kilometre run throws at her – she should be prepared.
“It’s 32 degrees at 4am so everything will seem cool (after that),” she said.
A few niggling injuries have hampered Jenna in the lead up to the run, but nothing will stop her from making the journey.
She said she’s planned to walk the early stages to get her body into the swing of things and pick up the pace as she goes.
“The body is adjustable, it will adjust to whatever I put it through.”
The mind, however, will be where the toughest battle will be held.
“I find if I can keep myself in a neutral frame of mind it helps a lot,” Jenna said.
“Everybody likes feeling the highs, but with that comes really low, lows and that’s really hard, so if I manage to stay neutral, if I can keep my excitement in check – because if I can do it for the highs then I can do it for the lows, which I have no doubt I’ll have at times.”
Jenna admits she’s no runner. She has completed marathon walks but never a run.
She started working with a running coach just 18 months ago.
“I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone,” she said.
“I have full confidence I will finish it and I need to do it and back myself.
“In the back of my mind I knew I could definitely walk it, and so I thought why not run most of it?
“I run cause it’s a challenge and at the end I can look back and say I did something I haven’t done before.”
She is aiming to cover between 20km and 60km a day.
A solid support crew of family and friends will join her on the route to provide logistical help and much-needed emotional support. But the plan is to welcome all-comers.
“People are more than welcome to join in for half an hour or four days or whatever,” she said.
Jenna is encouraging the towns she’s coming through to organise barbecues and said she’ll work to tee up talks with local groups or schools to help spread the message.
She finds having these talks helps people share their bowel cancer stories – a story they might not otherwise tell – and gives people the motivation and encouragement they need to go and get that colonoscopy they’ve been putting off.
Find out more about Running for Bums here, including how you can help or make a donation.