There’s an estimated 1.1 million cancer carers in the UK and with Bowel Cancer Awareness Month coming up in April, the charity Beating Bowel Cancer will be turning the spotlight on how bowel cancer can impact on those who are caring for a loved one with the disease.
Fred Allen, 70, lost his wife Gail to bowel cancer in January 2015. She was 54. By the time she received her diagnosis the cancer was already advanced.
Fred talks about what an amazing woman Gail was and what it was like to be a husband and a carer to his lovely wife.
“Gail was my second wife. You could say I found true love this time around.
It was me who had cancer first – I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011.We always thought that she would look after me in my old age. I guess it’s funny that things don’t always work out the way you planned.
“Gail was 51 when she began to have had stomach pains. When the pain got so bad they eventually scanned her which revealed that not only did she have cancer, it had spread to both sides of liver and her lung. They didn’t know where the primary was at this point, although they said they suspected bowel cancer.
“She was put on two types of chemotherapy which shrunk some of the metastases. Gail was so brave because she always got on with it even though she was in a lot of pain.
“In February of 2013, it was our 10 year wedding anniversary so she had a chemo holiday, so we could go away together. When we returned home, they put her on a different chemo regime but tumours on her liver started growing so we started another chemo 2014. Gail’s hair fell out but we went on a cruise anyway determined to carry on and enjoy life.
“By mid-2014, we noticed substantial swelling on her stomach. A scan revealed that huge tumours had grown there. At this point the hospital we were under said they couldn’t do any more for Gail, but we managed to find somewhere that would. The treatment called SIRT (Selective internal radiation therapy), cost a lot of money, but they agreed to treat her.
“Everyone got on well with Gail. Even when she was in so much pain, she still wanted to help others. She started to use twitter and helped and advised others going through it. She was just selfless. She even won a Beating Bowel Cancer patient award to represent all she had done for the charity and for raising awareness of the disease.
“By the summer of 2014 I’d given up work completely to look after her. I had to help her with the toilet, make sure the house was always clean, things like that. You do it because you love them. Eventually she moved downstairs in to the conservatory because she couldn’t do the stairs any more.
“We had an intercom system and every morning I would buzz her from upstairs, say good morning and ask if she needed anything.
“One morning I buzzed her and said my usual good morning but there was no reply. It was just quiet. I knew she had gone.
“Looking back as Gail’s carer I would say I felt mentally and strong until the last few days where I suppose I was very emotional and struggled to cope with the enormity of it all.
“If you’re caring for someone with cancer, I would say be prepared to see the person you love become much more dependent on you and try to be patient. Also get help from close family or friends if possible.”
If like Fred you are caring for someone with bowel cancer, you can talk confidentially to others in similar situations by joining Beating Bowel Cancer’s relatives group on their online forum. Visit beatingbowelcancer.org/forum.
Or you can have a chat with one of the nurses on the charity’s Helpline 020 8973 0011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org