Eight things that help during cancer treatment

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Mary and Michael Bradley with sons, from left, Ben, Josh and Luke.

By Mary Bradley

A cancer diagnosis provides an education like no other. In 2007, at the age of 28, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

It can rightly be called New Zealand's cancer - it kills more New Zealanders than breast and prostate cancers combined and we have one of the highest rates of occurrence and death from the disease in the OECD.

Nearly 3000 Kiwis are diagnosed annually and, of these, about 1200 will die - that's 100 men and women every month. Bowel cancer is the major reason New Zealand's cancer death rate is 10 per cent higher than Australia's.

Over the course of my treatment for stage three bowel cancer - which involved a bowel resection, eight rounds of chemotherapy (over nearly half a year) and a liver resection - I learned a great deal about what gestures and actions are most helpful and comforting.

If you haven't personally experienced cancer or other serious illness, the self-imposed pressure to do and say the right things can be daunting.

But take heart, showing you care is simpler than you think. In my experience, the small things - the phone calls, heartfelt cards and home visits - were every bit as meaningful as the grander gestures.

Here are the top eight things that helped me through treatment for bowel cancer:

• All the cards, phone calls and emails I received when people learned of my diagnosis were what meant the most. Always show you care. In the social media age, go that extra step and make it more personal.

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• My brother loaded my laptop with movies for me to watch in hospital.

• My parents and parents-in-law put their lives on hold for six months to take "week on, week off" turns to look after my 6-month-old son at our house, so I could always be with him.

• My husband put his life to one side for a year to make it all about me. When he went to Melbourne for work he took me with him. He also took me to comedy shows so I could have a good laugh.

• My best friend, Elizabeth, was amazing and showed she cared in so many ways. I had chemo in winter, and a common side effect of my form of chemo was extreme sensitivity to cold. Elizabeth would turn on her spa pool 24 hours before every three-weekly infusion, and afterwards I would go to her house and soak away the chill that had seeped into my bones. She took me away for a girls' weekend at a friend's bach, where we ate chocolate and watched movies and I slept a lot. Nausea was a constant companion throughout chemo, and Elizabeth didn't blink when I had to run and vomit into a rubbish bin. We still laugh about that embarrassing moment.

• A friend who was living overseas at the time and regretted not being home to support me sent a gift at the end of every one of the eight rounds of chemo. There were gourmet lamingtons, a massage voucher, food hampers and, at the end, tickets to We Will Rock You.

• Care packages galore. One friend sent me crazy, multi-coloured socks and a very funny book.

• People visited me when I was too sick to get out of the house, and that meant so much. Hearing other people's news helped me forget about cancer for a while.

CottonSoft is selling specially marked packs of toilet tissue. $1 from each sale will go to Bowel Cancer NZ. June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. More info at beatbowelcancer.org.nz

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3 Comments

TherealJohnW

- Northland
03:30 pm Sunday 17 May 2015
Thanks for sharing your story and good luck in the battle.

I had the initial colorectal cancer diagnosis 5 x years ago today (coincidence!) - low rectal tumour stage 1.

I underwent an ULAR and had a temporary stoma. Also underwent Chemo & radiation pre-op.

Survival is the most important consideration and pleased to report a recent CT scan showed No Evidence of Disease (we never say cured).

Diagnosis was a shock and the support of friends and family - mainly my Wife - was an enormous help. What helped me understand and come to terms with the condition most (a condition that killed my Dad) was joining an on-line cancer society - 'Colon Club'. It educated me about the illness, made me realise how normal I was and that many people had things worse than me.

The experience changed my life and outlook and I am an happy man these days, if one that knows what just could be around the corner - once more.

Without our health professionals and the superb treatment and care I received it would have been very different . Value your Health service and the people in it - they are worth every cent and more.

k

-
11:31 am Sunday 17 May 2015
I wish you well in the future. You have 3 lovely boys going by the photo and a lovely husband, wider family and friends so in other ways you have many blessings and are lucky enough to know it.

I'm not very religious but I do believe in living by the old hymn about counting my blessings and you obviously do too.
Thankyou for this article.

Nighteyes

- Auckland Region
08:36 am Sunday 17 May 2015
I know from a similar serious health issue experience that it's not until it happens to you do you find out who your real friends are. Even family members show their trues colors at a times like these. Even one or two people making the sacrifice to stand by you is great, you were lucky enough to have a few.

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