When I turned 50 early in 2007, I hadn’t had a lot to do with bowel cancer over the years, the occasional relative and friend, two close friends who I supported a fair bit, but 12 or so years ago a tumour was discovered in my Mum’s bowel. The symptoms meant that she had probably had it for a while. In 2006 she pestered me a lot to have a test done, a colonoscopy. For some reason, only she knows (mother’s intuition perhaps and some of you would know about that), she pestered me more than my 2 brothers and sister who incidentally all had a test done and all came up clear. My test was not clear and so, as a good friend of mine said when he saw me at Ashford Hospital at my first chemotherapy treatment, “Welcome to the Club”.
It is a unique club, a club where your beliefs are tested, a club where you question many facets of life and the universe, a club where you can become very egocentric and wholly focused on yourself, your treatment and your future, a club where you can become very philosophical and wonder about the reason we are here and why God or whatever deity you believe in has picked on you, a club that no-one wants to become a member of.
In amongst all this stuff happening to me, on 19/10/07 on the morning of my 11th treatment, Mum passed away. She had fought the battle and it was time for her to go. I was determined to do the eulogy at her funeral as her eldest surviving kid and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. However I am glad I did it. I owe her my life. She conceived me (with Dad’s help obviously), bore me, delivered me and by pestering me constantly in 2006/07 she saved my life. I had had no symptoms. If I had not had a test done, I would have been looking down the barrel or into a coffin by now. The moral to this story, kids, is always listen to your parents!!!
In March 07, I was a pretty normal but fit and healthy 50 year old guy, enjoying life and work and enjoying watching my kids grow up, have their first girl friend, go to University and so on and all of a sudden my life was turned upside down by this invader in my body.
Surely this diagnosis is wrong?
And then the pragmatic questions....
Is my Life Insurance up to date?
What will happen to the kids when I die?
At 20 we all think 50 is old. When you are 50 as many of you would know you can still rationally expect to live for many more years, but could I? I had an operation, some bowel removed, I searched the net for answers, I cried some, I cried some more, I didn’t know how this was affecting my wife, Louise, how it was affecting my Mum, how it was affecting my Dad (who was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year earlier) and especially how it was affecting my kids. We lived and worked in Port Augusta at the time, Drew was at PAC in Adelaide at school and Tristan was at University in Townsville. I know how I felt at the age of 21 when my Dad went to hospital with a non life threatening problem in 1978. I searched for answers and am probably still yet to find some of those.
What I appreciated though, through that process is the support of my close family, my wife, Louise especially, my kids, my Dad and my Mum particularly, my friends (this process certainly lets you know who your true friends are), the staff at my then workplace and other acquaintances in the community who I had had some impact on over the years. I was pleasantly surprised at the kids, some nearly adults now and their families I have been involved with who made a point of contacting me and wishing me all the best. I have also appreciated the strength I didn’t know I had and my warped sense of humour as it is difficult on those around you as well who at times don’t know what to say or do to support you. Through all this, I had a friend, a close friend who fought this battle with me, side by side and I was deeply affected when he passed away 5 years ago.
I can offer one insight that I learnt early in the piece. Don’t say to a cancer patient that you hope they will get well again as some, like my mom and my friend Bruce won’t and don’t. What you can say is that, “I wish you all the best” or “Good luck”, or something similar and these thoughts always help, let me assure you of that. Sometimes you don’t need to say anything; just a hug is good enough.
Technology has improved over the years and will continue to do so and at a rapid rate. Over the 6 months of my treatment, the protocol changed as advances were made in the treatment techniques. These advances are made because of the time researchers and doctors put into trying to find cures for the many different types of cancers that exist.
If my mum had gone to the doctor early instead of procrastinating she may well still be here today. The message is evident; get yourself checked regularly particularly if you are in a target group. My 2 boys will need to be vigilant as they have this disease on both sides of the family. I am one of the lucky ones. Although I still have peripheral neuropathy in my hands and feet, as my surgeon says, it is a lot better than the alternative.