GUTS: fighting bowel cancer


When I reached the age of 60, just after my actual birthday, the NHS sent me a surprise birthday present.  A small envelope arrived in the post.  I couldn’t guess what it was.  Is it a birthday present that I wasn’t expecting?  Well, it certainly wasn’t a birthday present and, as Lyra would say, it wasn’t something that I was expecting!  Looking with horror, I found a Bowel Cancer Screening Kit.  Part of me thought ‘that’s a good idea; something that can be done in the privacy of my own home’ and the other part thought ‘OMG, how am I going to cope with that?’.  I diligently read the instructions; I didn’t understand them because I wasn’t concentrating, I was just too taken up with the little spatula and having to do this three times, on different days.  I put it to one side; I discussed it with Pete, in a vague, non-committal way sort of a way, where neither of us mentioned faecal matter (or whatever phrase you might use).  He has completed his screening so I sat down, and said to myself, “Get a grip.  This is for your own good.  You’re not having a tube shoved up your backside.  It’s a simple test.  No one does it to you; you can do it in the privacy of your own bathroom”.  Having had a good chat with myself, all I had was the mental image of a room in the Royal Infirmary where some poor sod receives hundreds and thousands of envelopes, with three stool samples in each.  After that I posted my envelope and a couple of weeks later a letter comes back saying my test was clear.  That was my birthday present; the ‘all clear’.

The fact is 1 in 18 of us will get bowel cancer at sometime in our lives; it is the third most common form of cancer in UK and the second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer.  With stats like that, why wouldn’t you do a Bowel Cancer Screening Test when the NHS is giving you the opportunity  to do it painlessly  and privately at home?  As I said to myself, “get over yourself, Barbara”.  It is thanks to organisations like GUTS: fighting bowel cancer, that I have that opportunity to carry out my own Bowel Cancer Screening Test.  GUTS was founded in 1983 with the aim of improving screening, detection, prevention and treatment of bowel cancer and research into the disease.  GUTS is based at the Royal Surrey County Hospital; as a charity it funds research into new ways of detecting bowel cancer and better ways of treating the disease.  It runs a Family Colorectal Cancer Clinic offering advice and screening to people at a high risk of developing bowel Cancer.  It funds equipment.  As part of its fundraising it has a fabulous tea towel.  Nerissa Deeks is the paid worker for GUTS and she has shared the story of the tea towel:

“Although the pig featured on our tea towel is not the charity’s official logo, it is wrapped up in our history.  GUTS (Guildford Undetected Tumour Screening) was set up by Professor Chris Marks in 1983.  A group of his friends and patients got together to raise money so that the charity could establish a local screening programme for bowel cancer.  They needed to raise a considerable sum of money to fund the programme and so hit the streets of Surrey with Gertie Guts in tow.  She was a life sized pig on wheels, made out of papier mache – basically a giant piggy bank.  Gertie was responsible for raising a lot of the charity’s start-up monies – although she did get a bit of help from the late George Michael; two of the charity’s early supporters ran in the first London Marathon and George Michael sponsored each runner for an incredibly generous £500 a mile.

Gertie continued to put in regular appearances at GUTS fundraising events and street collections but she is enjoying a well-earned retirement in leafy Godalming.  Like a lot of women a certain age, she has been plagued with what might politely be called ‘undercarriage trouble’!  Gertie may be gone but is never forgotten as she has now been immortalised on the charity’s official tea towel.  The colourful interpretation of Gertie was designed by Phill Davies, one of the charity’s trustees and a graphic design artist by trade.  The tea towels are sold in the Endoscopy Department at the Royal Surrey County Hospital (where GUTS is based) and at events, local fairs and markets as well as online.  The tea towel is perennially popular, raising several hundreds of pounds a year for GUTS”.

That is a great story of a charity tea towel and such a bright, vibrant, colourful design.  I love it.  Thank you GUTS for sharing your story and if any Visitors to the Museum want to buy a Gertie tea towel, go to


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