Give It Up for Gut: Kiwis asked to give up booze and sugar to raise awareness for cancer that kills eight a day

Kiwis are being asked to give up booze, sugar and even their couch-potato ways for one month to help raise awareness and funding for New Zealand's most deadly group of cancers.

Give It Up for Gut has been organised by the Gut Cancer Foundation and all the money raised will help detect, diagnose and treat the seven deadly gut cancers which kill, on average, eight Kiwis every day.

Fifteen Kiwis are diagnosed with gut cancer every day - that's nearly 6000 Kiwis every year, making gut cancers the most common type of cancer in New Zealand.

There are actually seven different deadly gut cancers, including bowel, pancreatic and stomach cancer. Awareness and early detection is crucial and that's what the Give It Up for Gut campaign next month is all about.

Karen Pratt is a 49-year-old solo mum - a teacher and gut cancer survivor.

"The surgeon felt that nothing could be done. That was a real shock... that was hard news to take," Pratt told Newshub. 

She was diagnosed three years ago. She'd been having trouble swallowing food, followed by chest pain.

"They found that I had a large malignant tumour in my oesophagus going into my stomach and then things just moved quite quickly."

The outlook wasn't good. It was initially feared palliative care was the only option.

"That was a shock. I didn't feel like I was dying and that was really hard to take in."

Karen Pratt isn't alone. Today about 15 other Kiwis will have been diagnosed with gut cancer and eight will have died. The simple question is: why so many?

"I think there are a couple of problems here," says Liam Willis, Gut Cancer Foundation CEO. 

"Firstly, a lot of the symptoms with these cancers are quite vague, we are talking about things that could be missed like abdominal pain, back pain, difficulty swallowing perhaps, so there are difficulties picking these up so they are diagnosed quite late."

And there's another reason for underdiagnosis - the embarrassment factor, "such as bloating or when we go to the toilet and bleeding from the bottom", Willis explains. 

"Things that we don't want to recognise or want to deal with ourselves. But it's absolutely essential we do; early detection is key to a better outcome for these cancers."

Karen Pratt's detection wasn't detected early, but she's a fighter, determined to survive to see her only daughter Brooke grow up. 

"I'm going to give this the best shot I can to actually beat this, I know I can, I'm a fighter, I'm strong, I feel well, let's just get on with this. I said right, tell me what I have to do."

She underwent a major eight-hour surgery to remove her whole stomach and the tumour, followed by numerous bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

It was aggressive and brutal. She lost about 50 kilograms and all her hair.

"I went into the shower on day 14 after chemo and I went to wash my hair and massive clumps of hair came out," Pratt recalls. 

"I just cried... And getting used to not having a stomach, that was tough and took a while."

Brutal but worth it - Karen Pratt was told she'd beaten the cancer. Life was returning to normal. She now wants her story to be used to save more lives.

So, to raise awareness and funding, the Gut Cancer Foundation has organised the Give It Up for Gut Campaign. For one month, you simply have to give up booze, sugar or the couch. It was held for the first time last year and more than $100,000 was raised. It's hoped that figure will double this year. 

Participants will be supported by celebrity Kiwi chef Simon Gault who has created a four-week health education course: 4 Wheels of Health. The focus is on healing your gut.

Gault told Newshub: "We are basically made up of bacteria so the bacteria in our gut, we have to look after it, we have to feed it well, we have to fertilise it. We don't expect our garden to grow without any fertiliser. We have to fertilise these guts inside us."

That means cutting out the crap: the preservatives, the sugar, and the booze. 

"We want to include some good fats in our diets, especially olive oil."

Introducing probiotics is good too. Gault says this can change and save lives.

"The reaction from people is hugs, tears, changing their lives. I mean, I'm used to cooking food for people and putting a smile on their face that way, but when you change somebody's life - they come off their blood pressure medication, pre-diabetes goes away, diabetes medication comes down, they lose weight, people say they are looking fantastic - the only negative is some of their friends get a little jealous."

Karen Pratt joined the campaign with extra motivation. Recently she was told the cancer had returned, but as we've seen, she's no quitter.

"I know the prognosis is pretty grim when you are told you have a gut cancer and if you live more than five years you are doing really really well, and right now I'm heading towards three years but I plan to be here. I plan to see my daughter grow up. I plan to see my family and friends have great lives."

It's one step at a time, starting with giving up sugar for the month of March.