“Mum’s words from that stage were ‘I’m going to fight it but if it gets too much, don’t push me. I’ve had a good life.’ Hearing my mum say that was absolutely heartbreaking. As a daughter you wonder, why wouldn’t you want to fight to live?”
It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, and Renée Considine is recalling something her mother told her just after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. It’s been two years since Considine’s mother Marg passed away, and although she isn’t here to share the day with her, it will be bittersweet. This will be Considine’s first Mother’s Day as a mother herself, having given birth to twin girls, Alexandra May and Ava Luella in February this year. “They are my blessing and I’m not upset or worried about what tomorrow brings. I’ve always focused on the good times, seeing mum in the light that I choose to remember her.”
Bowel cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, is the second biggest cancer killer, responsible for the most deaths after lung cancer. According to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in March this year, colorectal cancer claimed the lives of 4051 Australians in 2012. Marg Considine was one of those statistics.
An operation confirmed that the cancer was spreading and radiation and chemotherapy soon began but Marg’s state continued to worsen “You could see it eating away at her. She fought really hard, but the old saying is that if the cancer doesn’t kill you the chemo will.”
Considine recalls her mother telling her about a woman she was sharing her room with at the hospital, “Mum looked at me and she said ‘she’s very sick Bella. She’s going to the hospice, that’s where you go to die.’ I just remember my mum delivering it in a really weird way, and it stuck in my mind, mum telling me about this hospice. It really rocked me.”
It was as if Marg was preparing her daughter for what was to come, “One day mum said, ‘I’m leaving here’, and I was excited because I thought she was coming home. Then she said, ‘No I’m going to the hospice in Kew, but I’m really excited because they have champagne there!” Even trying to sugar-coat this news, Considine counts her mother’s strength as her most admirable quality, one that she has inherited and hopes to pass on to her own daughters.
Considine distinctly remembers her mother’s last moments, “She slipped into a coma on the Sunday night and on the Monday afternoon the pianist who plays at the hospice came and played my mums favourite song from behind the curtain, ‘Memory’ from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, ‘Cats’. Mum opened her eyes and took one last look at me and she took her last breath to the words ‘Touch me, its easy to leave me alone with my memory of my days in the sun, if you touch me, you’ll understand what happiness is, look a new day has begun.’ I didn’t cry, I looked at her and grabbed her, and had this massive smile, I think it was this relief, that she was in a better place.”
During Marg’s illness, the two women attended a ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ workshop. LGFB is an organization funded by the cosmetic industry that runs workshops for people living with cancer. Maya Zahran, a spokesperson for LGFB describes a typical workshop, “We go through the importance of skincare then move on to showing participants how to use makeup techniques to better cope with some of the physical side-effects of treatment.” The workshop also helps participants to manage hair loss, allowing them to try on wigs, hats, turbans and headscarves to best determine what works for them. Zahran believes the workshop can significantly impact attendees, “It changes the way they feel about their journey and in many ways changes the way people see them too.” Considine looks back fondly on hers and her mother’s LGFB experience, “Hair and makeup was something that we enjoyed doing together, and it made mum feel whole again. To go into a room full of people who are in the same boat, and to feel happy and beautiful for that couple of hours was just incredible. It was like a glimpse of my mum again.”
The Considine’s experience gives an insight into the effects of colorectal cancer, however this form of cancer often receives less attention than higher profile forms like breast and prostrate cancer, though its effects are just as devastating. Bowel Cancer Australia is working on popularizing awareness of the disease with a recent campaign, ‘Don’t be a fool, check your stool’ and in an interview with ‘Crikey’, Graham Newstead, a professor of colorectal surgery at the University of New South Wales, urges people to ‘join the bowel movement’.
Losing her own mother, Considine is all the more grateful for the time she has with her daughters, “Motherhood has given life a whole new meaning. Mum always said when you become a mum you’ll understand that nothing can compare. I wake up in the morning and see their little faces, and watch their journey. Its magic.”
Head to the Bowel Cancer Australia website to find out how you can get tested.