News

Yes it’s ‘yucky’, but just do it

By Zoe McMaugh

Jane Taylor is 55, and the medical reality is that she may not live to turn 60.

It has been just eight months since Jane was diagnosed with stage four metastatic bowel cancer.

Discovered late, the cancer had already spread to other parts of her body, causing additional tumours on and behind her lung.

Her medical team predicts Jane has ‘‘two to three years of good quality life’’ ahead of her, and say she only has a 14 per cent chance of making five years.

‘‘That’s not a good thing to hear,’’ Jane told the Pastoral Times, while still trying to contain the overwhelming emotion of it all.

Jane has been so far reluctant to share her diagnosis and journey with anyone outside of family or close friends.

But for the sake of education and awareness, she has finally decided to share her story.

And the timing is not random.

Jane specifically chose May to coincide with Bowelscan Month and the Cancer Council’s Biggest Morning Tea fundraising period.

‘‘There is a real cautionary tale in this to do your tests,’’ Jane said.

‘‘Although, it would not have helped me too much. I got my 55 year-old test kit in the mail two weeks after I was diagnosed last year.

‘‘That is because the tests were done every five years, but now it has been changed to every two years. I think that’s because they have realised that people are less inclined to do them so long apart.

‘‘It is amazing how many people say it’s a yucky subject, that bowel cancer is an old people’s disease, but you have to do it.’’

The test kits are sent free to anyone over the age of 50, and Jane said anyone with a direct family history or anyone who feels there is something wrong should simply not wait.

Test kits, distributed by Deniliquin Rotary Club, can be purchased at local pharmacies.

Jane said it’s important to insist on a test if you feel it is necessary.

‘‘Even if you have vague symptoms, even if you don’t fit in to the classic symptoms you should not take ‘no’ for an answer,’’ she said.

‘‘You know you’re body better than the doctor does, so insist. And don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion if you don’t feel comfortable — be insistent.

‘‘If you have a first degree relative with the disease, get checked.

‘‘I had no risk factors, I had no family history but I am just lucky that my doctor kept looking.’’

Jane said her bowel cancer was originally missed because what she was feeling did not fit in to what are deemed ‘classic’ symptoms.

She said while she did continually insist something was not right, her symptoms were pointing in a different direction until it was too late.

‘‘I was diagnosed in August last year and started treatment in September.

‘‘I started showing symptoms about January last year, but they were not the normal symptoms. I had bloating and nausea and dropped a lot of of weight but, particularly in women, that could be a range of things.

‘‘It was when I was in Bendigo, wedding dress shopping (with soon-to-be daughter-in-law Mel) that I started getting really bad cramps and vomiting.

‘‘I said ‘maybe you should take me to the hospital’ and tests were conducted over the next three days, and that’s when they found the cancer.’’

Jane said the hardest part for her and husband Peter was sharing the diagnosis and the predicted life expectancy with her family — children Ken, Patrick and Alex, their grandchildren and Jane’s mother.

‘‘It was a shock to say the least — I had no idea (it would be cancer).

‘‘The hardest part was having to tell the kids. You can’t really prepare for something like that.

‘‘But a diagnosis like this also makes you realise that you’re not dead yet, and that I am not sick — I have cancer, but I am not sick.

‘‘I am insisting that the two to three years of quality life will start after Ken is married.

‘‘One things that does upset me is that the twins (Alex’s sons Logan and Wade Paul, who are the youngest grandchildren) won’t remember me. Even if I do make it five years, they will only be six — they won’t really remember me.

‘‘So what I have done is to make all the kids (my children, their partners and the grandchildren) some hand cross-stitched Christmas stockings.

‘‘I actually started them before the diagnosis, but the work has intensified now. The idea is that in a few decades they will have something and can say ‘my nan made me this’.’’

Jane said despite her best efforts to lead a normal life since the diagnosis, it and everything that comes with it can be all-consuming.

‘‘I am really lucky that I have responded well to chemo and had minimal side effects.

‘‘I had the tumours on and behind the lung removed, but they felt there was no point removing the ones on the bowel.

‘‘There has been a 50 per cent reduction on the largest of them, and the smaller ones seem to have gone.

‘‘I am still working full time with the New South Wales Natural Resources Access Regulator, which has been really supportive. I have a home office they have set up for me if I need to work from home.

‘‘But it can be overwhelming the amount of paperwork you have to do, going place to place for treatment and tests, and the never ending parade of being poked at.

‘‘I am lucky I have a brilliant family and brilliant support network — and that includes my team of specialists, the oncology and palliative care nurses and Deniliquin CanAssist.’’

Jane said the work being done by CanAssist for the local community is nothing short of amazing.

She said the help it provides is often unseen but meaningful in so many ways, and urged everyone in the community to support its cause.

‘‘They support people not only with medicines and medical costs, but the day-to-day living expenses.

‘‘They can help you just get your laundry done, or they can help you pay the electricity bill.

‘‘Cancer is so costly, and when you get to the stage where you can’t work any more and you can’t pay your bills, CanAssist can help.

‘‘I have seen (committee member) Bianca Armytage work with people who need day-to-day help, and its not not financial or physical help — the committee is also there to offer emotional support.

‘‘They do it discretely and they really do a fantastic job. And the palliative care nurses are really good at taking some of the workload away from you too.

‘‘People can help CanAssist by purchasing a $10 membership, or taking part in one of the fundraisers.’’

For more information about CanAssist and how it helps local families, call 0418 453 677 or visit the ‘Cancer Support – Can Assist Deniliquin’ Facebook page. To contribute to the group financially, go to www.givenow.com.au/canassistdeniliquin.

■Deniliquin Rotary, in its support of Bowelscan Month, has been making testing kits available all month. The kits cost $15 each and are available from Eric Sim Pharmacy, Soul Pattinson Pharmacy and the Deniliquin Medical Centre.