Janice's story (29, NSW)
My father was a fit and healthy man. He ate well, never smoked, almost never drank to excess and played a lot of sports. As a result of old work and football injuries, he suffered from chronic knee and back pain for many years. He also suffered frequent digestive upsets, which he rationalised to be a side-effect of the anti-inflammatory medication he needed to take for his pain.
In 2007 while in the middle of a caravan trip around Australia, Dad heard news of a friend who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer whose only symptoms pre-diagnosis, was a persistent lower back pain. This spurred my father to visit a GP for a DRE (Digital Rectal Examination). During the DRE the GP discovered a palpable mass in my father's rectum. Thankfully my father did not have prostate cancer, however this was unfortunately the beginning of his diagnosis of bowel cancer.
My father was eventually treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy for primary bowel cancer, secondary liver metastases and also for lung cancer – it is still unclear if the tumours in his lung were primary or secondary tumors.
My father tried to prevent me from becoming too involved in the process; it was very hard for him to talk with me about the possibility he would die. I did the very best I could to support him. As a herbalist and a massage therapist I worked with his oncologist to provide a complementary medicine treatment plan to help him cope with the side-effects of his treatments. Every day he was in hospital, which in total was well over three months, I massaged his legs, arms and back. Thankfully as a result he retained his skin integrity and avoided complications like bedsores and skin tears until the day he died.
After an enduring fight, my father passed away in 2009. He will not walk me down the aisle when I get married, and he will never meet his grandchildren. My father lived a full life, he was a great man and respected by many, but I cannot help but dwell on the thought that if he’d paid more attention to his body, if he’d taken more of an interest in his family medical history, early screening could have saved his life.
It is so important that people talk about their bodies, about their poo, their pains and their parents. If only we had talked more.