Popular sportscaster Mark Allen had six weeks of vacation booked and was driving through the streets of Melbourne one summer afternoon when he picked up the radio.
It was a sliding door moment that saved his life.
His 3AW colleague Tony Tardio was reading the news headlines and mentioned that Australia was second only to Switzerland in curing colon cancer.
The former golf pro and host of the station’s Twilight Zone show decided that, with his schedule open, he would schedule a colonoscopy to make sure he didn’t have the second deadliest cancer in the country.
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 where I froze,” the 53-year-old told Daily Mail Australia.
“I was very happy and thinking about my wife and children and what we were going to do, how they would manage without me.”
Mark Allen is pictured after surgery to remove a tumor in 2019, after being diagnosed with bowel cancer.
What are the five signs of colon cancer?
1. Drops of blood when going to the bathroom
2. Frequent trips to the bathroom
3. Back or abdominal pain
5. Anemia or sudden weight loss
The next 14 months would become a ‘year from hell’ for the ‘dead man walking’ with five surgeries to remove tumors 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, the worldwide jet-setter was nearly bedridden in the latter stages of 2019 and forced to wear a bag of colostomy
One of Allen’s tumors in his right lung was so close to his trachea and arteries that several thoracic surgeons refused to operate on it because it was too dangerous.
Any little mistake in the painstaking procedure could have caused Allen to bleed to death in minutes.
Eventually, he found a doctor willing to take the knife in a desperate attempt to save his life before several more surgeries followed.
“They thought it was cooked,” Allen said. “They cut me open from head to toe and removed 40 cm of my colon and 80 percent of my rectum and 25 percent of my lung capacity.
‘Once the colostomy bag became a part of my life later in the year, that’s when things got really tough.
When I slept with it, I would drop it and you had 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 tireless and unwavering support of his wife Tricia and their children Olivia and Kelly (pictured) helped Allen get through the harrowing experience.
The 3AW presenter said that although most Australians think of colon cancer as a disease of the elderly, it can affect anyone, with 10 per cent of the 15,000 diagnosed each year under the age of 50.
He has now joined Bowel Cancer Australia as an ambassador to start a national campaign warning people of symptoms to look out for.
“I think it’s a shame that there isn’t a national advertising campaign that tells people what these symptoms are,” he said.
“And what’s worse, if you get stage one or stage two colon cancer, of all cancers, it’s the easiest to cure.
“If you get colon cancer at stages three and four and don’t catch 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.
The Year of Hell by Mark Allen
December, 2018: Diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.
January 2019: Bowel cancer removed from the right lung in surgery.
March 2019: Radiation therapy and chemotherapy begin to remove the tumor from the rectum.
May, 2019: Surgery to remove a rectal tumor.
July 2019: Intravenous chemotherapy begins.
October, 2019: Colostomy bag removed with surgery.
November 2019: Another tumor is discovered in the left lung and is removed surgically.
January, 2020: A small tumor is removed from the ribs.
There are five main symptoms that can alert patients that they may have bowel cancer.
These include small amounts of blood when going to the bathroom, constipation or frequent bowel movements, as well as back or abdominal pain and, in some cases, unexplained anemia that causes weight loss.
Allen experienced several of these telltale signs, but he and his GP had no idea it was actually cancer.
“When I was wiping my butt, 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 he said, ‘We’ve done a full exam, seen the blood work, you haven’t lost any weight, so it’s not cancer, it could just be hemorrhoids.'”
Allen applied hemorrhoid cream and the little drops of blood would stop for a month or so and then come back.
At the same time, he revealed that he ran to the bathroom three or four times before 11 a.m. every day.
I would empty myself before leaving the house. I went to a cafe, read the newspapers and had a coffee. I would empty again. I’d go to work and empty myself out again,” she 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 encounter on the golf course with a doctor sped up the health check.
“We were chattering about horse racing and then the conversation turned to my colonoscopy appointment and I told him all the reasons why I was having it,” he said.
“He said ‘don’t wait 12 weeks’ and in four days he was lying on a stretcher.”
One of Allen’s tumors in his right lung (pictured) was so close to his trachea 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 about all things sports on the radio during his year-long battle with the disease, explaining that doing what he loved kept his mind off cancer.
The tireless and unwavering support of his wife Tricia and children Olivia and Kelly also made Allen the light at the end of the tunnel.
Surgeons successfully removed all tumors from her body and she is now cancer free.
“I’m better now than I ever thought I would be,” Allen said.
‘My golf is even better than before and I play with a plus two handicap. So, I am enjoying life.
‘When my colostomy bag was removed in the early days, I couldn’t go anywhere without knowing where the toilets were, now I can go wherever I want.’