NAVIGATING THROUGH CANCER: Neil and Jan Maling.
NAVIGATING THROUGH CANCER: Neil and Jan Maling.

Taking care of the bowel cancer carer

REACH out to your friends for support and companionship is the advice of Jan Maling who is caring for her husband who has bowel cancer.

Jan, 76, has been living a nightmare for over two years with her husband Neil, 78, who she affectionately calls Tiger. The couple met when Jan was 18 and they haven't been apart since then.

When she heard Neil's original diagnosis, Jan was absolutely dismayed.

"He was Stage 3 by the time we got into the system," Jan said. "Once he got in I can't fault it. But, getting into the system was very difficult because there was such a bank-up of people needing colonoscopies. Although he was Category 1, which meant he was to be seen within 30 days, it didn't work out like that."

Jan, who had already been through breast cancer, didn't have any knowledge about bowel cancer. "I went on the internet. I found reliable sites like Bowel Cancer Australia, Cancer Council Australia and the UK; just researched it everywhere."

Their regular walking group couldn't help as none them, that she knew, had experience with bowel cancer. "They were all very supportive," Jan said.

The overwhelming demands on both Neil and Jan to attend medical appointments kept pushing them to their physical and mental limits.

The only thing Jan knew she had to do was to maintain her own social network, keep fit and keep eating well.

"I thought I needed to be grounded somehow," she said. "I needed to have a break from thinking about the devastating news all the time.

"If there is different groups of people, you're not burdening someone with your bad news all the time. You have got to be aware of that too.

"It's no good going along and talking about it all the time. You have got to participate in other things. I knew I had to get some kind of balance."

Jan also 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."

About 1 million colonoscopies are performed in Australia every year. Bowel Cancer Australia expects this number to continue increasing as more people age.

And, time is of the essence when it comes to getting the test.

"What needs improving is getting in their quickly enough and getting the treatment you require," Jan said. "That is a very difficult process, because, quite frankly, there isn't enough funding being put into it so you always have a backlog."

Getting a colonoscopy as soon as possible after the initial diagnosis can improve a person's chance of survival and less "brutal" treatment.

"Take the test. Don't put it aside. Don't forget about it. Do it right away," Jan cautions.

For more bowel cancer information and support, go to bowelcancer- australia.org.