At the age of 55, Peter was still working but he was in the process of transitioning from the years of long hours of corporate life to consultancy positions, with a view to some type of retirement and volunteer work.
Our eldest child had just moved out for the first time, our middle child was living with us while he attended university, and our youngest child was just beginning Year 12.
I began to notice that Peter was going to the toilet a lot, but it was only after he received a positive bowel screen for blood in his stool that he told me he had been unable to empty his bowel properly.
Prior to this, he had no symptoms and had three negative FOBT tests over a couple of years.
Our GP thought it was most likely haemorrhoids, but referred him to a colorectal surgeon.
We were both in shock when Peter was diagnosed with rectal cancer.
Our minds raced with questions. How large was the tumour? Had the cancer spread? Why wasn’t it detected earlier on previous bowel screens? Would Peter need a colostomy? Was he going to die?
It was a sleepless night with lots of tears.
Diagnosis and initial surgery were just the start of a long journey.
I drove Peter to and from all of his appointments and treatments, so that I could provide him with extra support and be that second pair of eyes and ears. I also took over all of the home and family responsibilities because he was so unwell.
About six months after Peter’s diagnosis I was suffering from stress and anxiety as I wasn't sleeping well, not exercising and grabbing food on the run. I realised that if I wasn't looking after myself properly then I couldn't look after anyone else. I then ensured that I exercised every day, ate properly and took time out for a coffee catch up with friends and found spending time in my garden a great stress relief.
I wish in the earlier days that I had taken more time to give myself little breaks. It is exhausting looking after someone recovering from major surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy as well as taking over complete running of the family.
I don't think we were adequately prepared for how ill he would become and how long it would take to recover. We weren't prepared for all the post-surgery complications and the numerous things that can go wrong.
Due to a very restricted diet, Peter lost weight and two years following his initial surgery he became gravely ill and was in ICU for one month. He had emergency surgery which resulted in a permanent colostomy.
Peter wants to live a full and active life, but has ongoing physical issues related to complications. Even though it’s been three years since his initial diagnosis, he still thinks about the cancer returning and becomes anxious before oncology reviews.
I have to admit, I don’t like the regular follow up visits to the oncologist either. I’m mostly OK, but every now and then I become a bit stressed and worry about the future.
My best tip is to take each day one at a time and get through it, and do the same the next and the next after that, and concentrate on what needs to be done that day. Don't worry about what may or may not happen in a month, six months or a year as it is to overwhelming. There is nothing to be gained by worrying about the things you can't control or change.
I wish that I was given an information pack about support services such as those offered by Bowel Cancer Australia, which I only found by searching for information on the internet late in Peter’s treatment. They were something I certainly could have benefited from the entire way through.
Carers and families need information about assistance early-on after diagnosis. Things like diet, exercise, rest and time out are so important not just for patients, but for their carers too. Phone support and having someone to talk to who has been there really makes a difference.
Once I found Bowel Cancer Australia, they were of great assistance. I spoke to the dietitian quite a few times in the early days when Peter was struggling with his diet and having an ileostomy.
Later, when he had to have a permanent colostomy, I also worked with the dietician to develop a healthy meal plan that would suit his requirements. I also spoke to the nurses a few times regarding stomal appliances and dealing with skin issues. In every instance they were of great help, kind and caring, and quick to reply.