MOAMA’S Annette Lane and Vicki McCredden have always been close — but there was one experience this mother and daughter never wanted to share.
They’ve both been victims of bowel cancer.
Both Annette, 72, and Vicki, 54, have sat down with doctors for that heartbreaking one-on-one about their future.
And how much of their futures they have left.
Vicki, whose cancer was picked up in the early stages after she took the free bowel cancer screening on her 50th birthday, should have a long life ahead of her.
But for Annette, it’s a matter of years.
One, two – three at the most.
Juggled from doctor to doctor for months on end, the cancer had been in Annette’s body for at least 18 months before it was finally picked up.
So by the time she sat down for the ‘‘C’’ word talk, it was too late.
The cancer was stage four, aggressive and had swept through most of her vital organs.
It would be understandable if both these women felt bitter about the devastating hand fate has dealt them.
Especially as it’s not the first time they’ve received this news – Vicki’s dad (Annette’s husband) died of lung cancer in 2015, despite never smoking.
But while there’s definitely a tinge of sadness in the room, the overwhelming feeling is one of quiet joy.
“For me I still haven’t accepted it,” Annette admitted.
“I don’t know when it’s going to hit me. I still feel numb. And I get so cross that I’m not getting better.
“But you’ve got to be positive and focus on the here and now.
“I’ve always been a bit of a joker. The oncologist said the other day, ‘you made me laugh from the first day I met you’. And he said, ‘when you lose your sense of humour, that’s when we’ll start to worry’.”
Vicki’s cancer story began in 2014 when a free bowel cancer screen arrived for her in the mail.
Where several of her friends admitted they just threw the package away, Vicki decided to take the test – and came back positive.
“The strange thing was, I had no symptoms,” she said.
“The test showed there was blood in there. But I didn’t feel any different. Which is just evidence everyone needs to take the test as soon as they receive it.
“So in February I had a colonoscopy done and the results showed there was cancer.”
The doctors wasted no time.
A couple of weeks later Vicki had part of her bowel removed and started chemotherapy, which she was on for the subsequent six months before finally being given the all-clear.
But she’ll be on high alert for the rest of her life, now seeing the oncologist every six months and receiving a CT scan every 12 months.
But for her mother Annette, the process was much more frustrating and drawn-out.
Unlike Vicki, she had the symptoms from early on and quickly raised the alarm.
“The normal symptoms are stomach pains, blood in your motion and a change in your motion,” Annette said.
“You go from one to eight – so I’d go eight times in the morning. But I had no pain yet.
“I had a new doctor at the time and kept asking her about it – I thought I might have diverticulitis (an inflammation in the digestive tract).”
While the doctor repeatedly sent her for blood tests, Annette didn't receive any results so assumed nothing was wrong.
But as her symptoms continued to change and develop, she grew increasingly concerned and went to see four other doctors.
Finally, in June this year, she was diagnosed with a tumour in her rectum.
However when doctors went in to remove the tumour, they discovered something much worse.
Additional tumours in her bowel, stomach, liver and lung.
“Afterwards the doctor came in, sat down and really confirmed with me what was going on,” Annette said.
“I was given three months to live without chemo and three years to live with it. So I chose chemo.
“She was amazing and said, ‘have you got family’? I told her I had a daughter and a son. She asked if I wanted her to ring them and I said yes – I would have been a blubbering mess.”
Vicki can still remember that phone call.
Wishes she could forget.
Wishes it never happened.
“It was… upsetting,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“The doctor started to say on the phone, ‘Do you want me to explain it to you?’ and I said, ‘No. I've had it’.”
Her mother was living in Queensland at the time, so Vicki immediately travelled up to help her move to their Moama home.
Where Annette now lives, with Vicki as her carer.
Living together has allowed for some precious mother-daughter time.
As well as chances for Annette to make memories with her great-granddaughter Ruby, who comes up from Melbourne twice a week.
Only three-and-a-half, Ruby is too young to fully grasp Annette’s condition.
But like so many children, often comes out with little pearls of wisdom and wit.
“We’ve told her I’m going to heaven,” Annette said.
“I have this jar of lollies and the other day I could see her little head going and she said, ‘what are you going to do with your lollies when you go to heaven’? And I said, ‘oh, I think I'll take them with me’.
“She said, ‘Oh please no, leave them’.”
While there are plenty of hilarious moments, there are also the moments that break your heart.
“She walked with me to the toilet one night and put her little hand in mine,” Annette said.
“As we were going down the passageway she stopped and looked at me and said, ‘I don't want you to die’.
“I said, ‘oh no, I'm not dying yet’.”
Annette admits she feels deep frustration with the initial doctor for not picking up the cancer sooner.
But hopes her story will drive home this vital point: be vigilant with your doctor.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re upsetting the doctor because you’re annoying them – listen to your body and just keep nagging,” she said.
“Because sometimes I wonder if they would have discovered the cancer sooner if I’d been pushier.”
Annette is already keeping a close eye on her son, the only one in their small family who hasn’t had cancer.
“I get frustrated. Because there's only four of us and three out of four have had cancer. One in the family is enough, not three out of four,” she said.
“I just hope our story is more than just a story – I hope it will make people stop and think about getting a check-up. Because you don’t think it will be you until it happens.”
This Daffodil Day, both Annette and Vicki are urging locals to get a check-up and give generously.
“Because I don't want anyone to go through what we’ve gone through,” Vicki said.
“Give generously so we can find a solution to the problem.”