Taking care of someone who has bowel cancer has unique challenges, including possible issues with bowel and urinary problems, sexual dysfunction, depression, dietary conditions, and permanent colostomy.
Jan Maling found the number of medical appointments she and her husband Neil had to attend, pushed them both to their physical and mental limits.
Jan’s husband Neil was diagnosed with Stage 3 bowel cancer at age 76.
Jan, who had already been through breast cancer, didn't have any knowledge about bowel cancer.
"I went to the internet; I found reliable sites like Bowel Cancer Australia, and just researched it everywhere."
Although Jan didn’t know anything about bowel cancer, her own experience with cancer taught her that she had to maintain her social network, keep fit and keep eating well.
"I needed to be grounded somehow," she said.
"I needed to have a break from thinking about the devastating news all the time."
Take care of yourself first
Carers often report lower mental well-being, so it is essential they attend to their own physical and emotional needs.
Bowel Care Nurse Fiona said carers should remember what passengers are taught regarding the oxygen mask on an airplane – take care of yourself first so you can properly take care of your loved one.
“Despite being the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, bowel cancer patients don't receive the same level of support as other common cancers,” Fiona said.
As a result, carers often find themselves trying to fill the gap.
Don't go it alone
Unfortunately, like patients, carers may find themselves feeling alone with no one to talk to.
"It can be especially difficult for spouses, as they try to stay positive for their partner, keep everything together and juggle responsibilities," Fiona said.
Jan found friends who would pick her up and take her to group activities when she was just too tired to drive.
"It's very important to have interests so that your life doesn't just revolve around all the medical appointments and taking in all the information you are receiving," Jan said.
"You have got to participate in the rest of what is going around the world otherwise you just crash."
Support groups aren't just for patients
“Carers are often unaware that our Peer-to-Peer Support Network and Buddy Program is also available to them," said Fiona.
“Our Peer-to-Peer Network offers loved ones and patients with reassurance and an invaluable level of support that can only be provided by someone else who has been there,” said Fiona.
Another free resource available to patients and carers is Bowel Cancer Australia’s team of Bowel Care Nurses and Nutritionist who can be reached Monday – Friday during business hours via the charity helpline.
“I love that I can be there to listen and offer reassurance; direct people to the fantastic range of educational and awareness material available on the charity’s website; and connect patients and loved ones with others,” Fiona said.
The upsides of caregiving
Although being a carer can be overwhelming at times, carers also report that the experience can be life-changing – for the better – from reprioritising relationships and sometimes growing closer to the patient, to learning to not sweat the small stuff.
Today marks the beginning of National Carers Week, a week dedicated recognising and celebrating the outstanding contribution Australia’s 2.7 million unpaid carers make to our nation.
If you are seeking support for yourself or someone you love, remember no one needs to go through bowel cancer alone.