Popular sports presenter Mark Allen had six weeks of holidays booked and was driving through the streets of Melbourne on a summer afternoon when he reached for the radio.
It was a sliding doors moment that saved his life.
His 3AW colleague Tony Tardio was reading the news headlines and mentioned Australia was number two behind Switzerland in curing bowel cancer.
The former golf pro and host of the station’s Twilight Zone show decided that with his schedule wide open he’d book a colonoscopy to make sure he didn’t have the nation’s second most deadly cancer.
Just days later in December 2018, Allen was sitting on a gurney when a doctor told him he had stage four bowel cancer.
‘It was a moment in time where I just froze,’ the 53-year-old told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I was welling up and thinking about my wife and kids and what we were going to do, how they would get on without me.’
Mark Allen is pictured after surgery to remove a tumour in 2019, after being diagnosed with bowel cancer
What are the five signs of bowel cancer?
1. Drops of blood when going to the toilet
2. Frequent trips to the bathroom
3. Back or abdominal pain
5. Anemia or sudden weight loss
The next 14 months would turn into a ‘year from hell’ for the ‘dead man walking’ with five surgeries to remove tumours from his rectum, lungs and ribs and several bouts of chemotherapy.
The fit and healthy father of two who once enjoyed a high-flying lifestyle, jet-setting across the globe was all but bed-ridden in the latter stages of 2019 and forced to use a colostomy bag.
One of Allen’s tumours in his right lung was so close to his windpipe and arteries that several thoracic surgeons refused to operate because it was too dangerous.
Any slight error in the painstaking procedure could have seen Allen bleed out in minutes.
Eventually he found a doctor willing to pick up the scalpel in a desperate bid to save his life before several more surgeries followed.
‘They thought I was cooked,’ Allen said. ‘They cut me open from top to toe and they took away 40cm of colon and 80 per cent of my rectum and 25 per cent of my lung capacity.
‘Once the colostomy bag became part of my life later in the year, that’s when things became really difficult.
‘When I was sleeping with it the thing would fall off and you’d have to get up and change the sheets.
‘It got to the point where I felt like I was dragging my family down because my wife wasn’t sleeping and my kids were worried about me.’
The relentless and unwavering support from his wife Tricia and children Olivia and Kelly (pictured) saw Allen make it through the harrowing experience
The 3AW presenter said although most Aussies think of bowel cancer as an old man’s disease, it can strike anyone with 10 per cent of the 15,000 diagnosed every year aged under 50.
He has now joined Bowel Cancer Australia as an ambassador to kickstart a national campaign warning people of the symptoms to watch out for.
‘I think it’s a disgrace there is no nationwide ad campaign informing people of what these symptoms are,’ he said.
‘And what’s worse is that if you catch bowel cancer at stage one or stage two, of all the cancers it’s the easiest one to fix.
‘If you catch bowel cancer at stage three and four and miss all the telltale signs, it’s the biggest killer.’
The former golf pro and host of the station’s Twilight Zone show (pictured) was diagnosed with bowel cancer in December 2018
Mark Allen’s year of hell
December, 2018: Diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.
January 2019: Bowel cancer removed from right lung in surgery.
March, 2019: Radiation therapy and chemo begins to get rid of rectum tumour.
May, 2019: Surgery to remove rectum tumour.
July, 2019: Intravenous chemotherapy begins.
October, 2019: Colostomy bag removed with surgery.
November, 2019: Another tumour on left lung is discovered and removed with surgery.
January, 2020: A small tumour is removed from ribs.
There are five major symptoms that can alert sufferers they may have bowel cancer.
These include small amounts of blood when going to the toilet, constipation or frequent bowel movements as well as pain in the back or abdominals and in some cases unexplained anaemia causing weight loss.
Allen experienced several of these telltale signs but both he and his GP had no idea it was actually cancer.
‘When I wiped my bum I used to see a little bit of blood once a fortnight or once a month, it was very random,’ he explained.
‘Six months before I was diagnosed I went to the doctor and she said “we’ve done a full examination, seen the blood test, you haven’t lost any weight so it’s not cancer – it might just be haemorrhoids”.’
Allen applied haemorrhoid cream and the small drops of blood would stop for a month or so and then come back.
At the same time, he revealed he would run to the bathroom three or four times before 11am everyday.
‘I’d empty before I left the home. I’d get to a café and read the papers and have a coffee. I’d empty again. I’d get to work and I’d empty again,’ he said.
‘That was my routine. I thought it was the coffee.’
When Allen first booked his colonoscopy he was put on a 12-week waiting list. But a chance meeting on the golf course with a doctor expedited the health check.
‘We were yapping about horse racing and then the conversation turned to my colonoscopy appointment and I told him all the reasons why I was getting it done,’ he said.
‘He said “don’t wait 12 weeks” and in four days I was lying on a gurney.’
One of Allen’s tumours in his right lung (pictured) was so close to his windpipe and arteries that several thoracic surgeons refused to operate because it was too dangerous
The sports radio presenter is now an ambassador for Bowel Cancer Australia
Allen continued to talk all things sport on the radio during his year-long battle with the disease, explaining that doing what he loved kept his mind off cancer.
The relentless and unwavering support from his wife Tricia and children Olivia and Kelly also saw Allen make it to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Surgeons successfully removed all the tumours from his body and he is now free of cancer
‘I’m better now than I ever thought I’d be,’ Allen said.
‘My golf is even better than before and playing off a handicap of plus two. So, I’m enjoying life.
‘When the colostomy bag came off in the early days I couldn’t go anywhere without knowing where the toilets were, now I can go anywhere I like.’