Using the poo emoji as her mascot, Jane is determined to break the “yucky” stigma associated with bowel cancer.
At 35, Jane was a busy working mother of three with a “rich and full life” in the village of Woodend. After experiencing bleeding from her bowel, it’s lucky Jane sought a third medical opinion from her friend - a local GP.
“My desire to get to the bottom of things, pardon the pun, and her insistence that I get it fully checked out, that really saved my life at the end of the day,” she said.
It has been one year since Jane’s bowel cancer diagnosis, and she reflects on the strength she has gained from her family and community; those around her showing love and compassion.
“I never had a chemo session alone. I always had a family member or friend come with me.”
Jane’s family were her ultimate source of strength – without them, she couldn’t have done it.
Speaking of her husband James, she said “he was able to help out with the kids a lot. He still does which is great. He is at a prep transition day actually, as we speak!
Jane with her husband, James.
“My mum and my in laws had a roster – when I was having chemotherapy, they would take the children or come and be with the children for that weekend after my chemo,” Jane said
“To my supporters – I’d say I couldn’t have done it without you! I’d say it takes a village, and in my case it was certainly true.”
Enter Jane’s Woodend Wonderers – a group of nine women from the leafy community, who will walk 21.5kms through Melbourne city for Cancer Council’s Walking Stars event on December 1.
The half marathon is a fun, non-competitive fundraising event where supporters of Cancer Council can enjoy a starlit walk through Melbourne’s iconic landmarks.
“The walk kind of came up at the anniversary of my diagnosis, and I’m starting to feel more like myself again, I’m quite an active person, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity.”
Jane’s ‘can-do’ attitude is seen in her approach to day-to-day life, as well as her preparation for Walking Stars.
Jane’s Woodend Wonderers have even commandeered several walks in the area - one to the top of Mt Macedon – it’s a fair way up!
“It was quite a big walk. We’ve done heaps of walks so it’s been good for our fitness and good mentally,” she shared
Jane considers her husband James a healthy and fit man; even so, he will be unable to surpass Jane’s physical strength come December 1.
“I find that quite ironic that I’ve just gone through cancer treatment but he’s pulled a muscle and he can’t walk. He’s going to be support crew, and it’ll be a really fun night.”
Jane’s team will be proudly sporting their custom made t-shirts, in a fun effort to end the discomfort associated with discussing matters of the rear-end.
“We’re actually wearing poo emoji t-shirts for the walk. We’re taking back the poo emoji, reclaiming the poo!”
While Jane has fun with the topic where she can, she shared that it has been a hard year emotionally and physically.
It started at the diagnosis, where Jane experienced numbness, shock and disbelief.
Jane in hospital, with her youngest child Harry.
“I remember sitting in the surgeon’s office. I was with my husband and I said ‘what, do you mean I have cancer?’ and he said ‘well… yes Jane it’s cancerous’.
“I just kept on saying ‘what so I have cancer?’”
Jane only had one weekend to get her head around the necessary bowel resection procedure.
“They took a lot of my large intestine out, and he called it ‘fancy replumbing.’”
This was followed by 12 cycles of chemotherapy over a six month period. The side effects of these treatments have been long-lasting for Jane.
“I have peripheral neuropathy in my fingers and my toes – so numbness, pins and needles. That’s a side effect of one of the drugs they use. It is improving a bit, but we’re not sure that will ever be resolved 100%.
“With bowel cancer comes stomach issues, pain and bloating, and that kind of thing. I still get pain pretty much every day in my stomach, but I can deal with that,” Jane shared.
While pain and trauma were a big part of Jane’s experience with cancer, she remained hopeful, and even found ways to show her kids the light at the end.
“Sophie, my seven-year-old, actually came to a couple of day oncology visits, and she could see me laughing and joking with the nurses.
“She got cans of soft drink which she thought was amazing! It’s actually de-mystifying cancer a little bit and making it less scary, even though it is scary.”
The presence of cancer in Jane’s family life has created anxiety for all involved.
Cancer affected Jane's entire family.
“It’s changed everything in that there’s probably not a day or hour that goes past that I don’t think of cancer, which is pretty stressful,” Jane said.
“My children have anxieties around where I am and what I’m doing, and they’re quite clingy to me - which is normal.”
“I think for any mum or parent going through this treatment, at the end of the day all you want to do is be there for your children, and the thought of not being there is hugely confronting.”
However, throughout the past year, Jane has always held onto hope and focuses on the surprising positives she has encountered.
“Cancer is not all negative, I know this sounds very strange. There are some blessings – it makes everything in your life very clear, and it gives you a new sense of purpose.
“Of course I had moments in the middle of the night where I’d be confiding in my husband and feeling pretty low, but I had a fighting spirit I think you could call it,” Jane said.
Jane’s messages resounded strength and hope, and of course a passion for tackling bowel cancer’s stigmas.
“I think cancer teaches you so much – it’s such a learning opportunity you’d never have in any other aspect of life,” she shared.
“We need to remove this stigma around bowel cancer … it’s such a massive killer in Australia.
“I want people to know that bowel cancer is not just an old person’s disease - it can affect you at any age, and women as well!”
Walking Stars is Victoria's first ever night-time half marathon. Funds raised through this event support Cancer Council's vital research, prevention and support services. Learn more about the event online at the Walking Stars website.