Jan Cumner’s mother Dorothy was 80 when she suffered back pain that turned out to be bowel cancer. By the time it was diagnosed it was too late. After watching mum die, Jan says VAD should be a choice for everyone.
Jan Cumner’s mother Dorothy was 80 when she suffered back pain that extended into her rib area.
The doctor suggested she was suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and that she take some Inner Health tablets and iron tablets for anaemia.
“Unfortunately, mum had a fairly good pain threshold and we went, ‘Oh ok, it’s nothing major’,” Jan said.
When the pain became worse, Jan accompanied her mum to the doctor and insisted on further tests, including a colonoscopy.
“Mum was told the day of the colonoscopy that she had a large cancerous growth and they couldn't do a full scope because of the blockage,” Jan said.
Diagnosed with bowel cancer, Dorothy had surgery to remove most of the vital organ.
She was initially told the cancerous growth had been removed – but in 2011 the cancer had metastasised.
During her final weeks, she was unable to eat or drink and her heart medication was no longer administered. She passed away at home in July 2012, aged 81.
“It was just horrendous,” said Jan, whose father died just three months later, aged 84, from a perforated bowel.
Jan says voluntary assisted dying would have given her mother the option of a peaceful passing, rather than an “agonising” slow death from starvation and a cocktail of drugs to ‘keep her comfortable’.
“There’s so many nicer ways she could have gone,” she said.
Jan says her mum “didn’t want to go down chemotherapy path”, although she eventually had a “mild dose” which caused her distress.
“She ended up with the soles of her feet and her hands burning and she was quite uncomfortable so she ceased the treatment,” Jan said.
The family arranged palliative care at home, while Jan took on the primary caring role.
“Three weeks before she passed away she got hooked up at home with a morphine pump and given other drugs and she was pretty much in and out of consciousness,” Jan said.
“She was unable to eat or drink and her heart medication was ceased.
“We thought she would pass away quite quickly but she didn't.
“It was a matter of having to wait till all her organs gave up.”
Voluntary assisted dying
Jan says her “vibrant” mum should never have had to endure this end-of-life experience.
“It’s different if you know treatment might help but once you’re actually at that stage where there’s no help, it’s an unfortunate and very sad waiting game,” she said.
“Long before mum ever got sick we’ve all very much been in favour of euthanasia.
“Not everybody would want to do it but there should be a choice.
“Pick a day, a nice sunny day, put your favourite song on, go and park in the car and listen to your music and look at the sunset or whatever you choose to do.”
For Jan, that would involve the family gathered around, listening to the King of Rock and Roll.
“My dying wish is to be alert, surrounded by my family, listening to my Elvis favourites - and then just closing my eyes.”