Faith helps couple face fate
It started off as a sore back. Now Roy Mulitalo is preparing his family for a life without him.
The Mangere father-of-five was diagnosed with inoperable terminal bowel cancer in October last year.
He spoke to the Manukau Courier to help raise awareness of the disease that claims about the same number of New Zealand lives as prostate and breast cancer combined. June is Beat Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.
The aggressive nature of the 41-year-old's cancer has caused it to spread to his lungs, liver and chest.
But he didn't have any visible symptoms at first and doctors just "stumbled upon" the disease.
"I had a sore back for a number of months prior. I did the whole physiotherapy and acupuncture thing but it wasn't getting rid of it.
"It wasn't until I had an MRI scan that my doctor saw a discolouration between one hip and the other.
"I thought I would just get a cortisone injection or something or that I had a slipped disk. But as they were going through the tests and eliminating things, they said, 'Look, this is what we have found'."
The news brought tears and anger to Roy and his wife Rachel but that's when their faith kicked in.
"We remembered, being Christians, that for whatever reason God isn't responsible but he allows things to come into our lives for our good and we believe that. And we are of the belief that he has allowed this to strengthen and refine us," Roy says.
"I guess it is to help us possibly be an encouragement and inspiration to others. The only reason we have any sanity in this is because of our faith in Christ."
Roy is now on to his seventh cycle of chemotherapy. Every other avenue of treatment has been exhausted.
"Chemotherapy is for quality of life. Will it take away the tumours? No. It may delay it and give me some time. But they told us anywhere from six to 12 months and even then they are still not sure."
Roy now takes every day as it comes. He is no longer working and his mobility has suffered. But he says his appreciation for life has grown.
"My appreciation for life has increased by not taking time for granted. You start to see the value of people over possessions.
"It's more about spending time with love ones, not so much about accumulating things. Appreciate what time you have left on the earth."
Rachel says treasured moments and being able to prepare for a life without her husband have been an advantage.
"My kids know about everything, we are so open about it. But they know mum is going to be around longer then dad," she says.
"He has been able to sit at the table with the kids and help them with their homework... it's the little things."
BEAT BOWEL CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
June is Beat Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.
Roy Mulitalo says if he hadn't had a sore back his doctors might not have picked up on his condition until much later.
People need to be tested regularly, he says.
"There's no warning and it can just come up out of nowhere. And the only real protection is early detection.
"So whether its via their GP or a bowel cancer specialist organisation, some sort of regular testing is the only way."
More than 3000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and more than 1200 die as a result.
That's the equivalent of more than 100 New Zealanders every month and matches the combined death toll from prostate and breast cancer.
Unlike breast, cervical or prostate cancer, the bowel disease does not have a national screening programme or a public awareness campaign.
New Zealand woman have the highest rate of bowel cancer in the world and Kiwi men the third highest.
POSSIBLE BOWEL CANCER SYMPTOMS
- Bleeding from the bottom or seeing blood in the toilet after a bowel motion.
- Change of bowel motions over several weeks without returning to normal.
- Persistent or periodic pain in the abdomen.
- A lump or mass in the abdomen.
- Tiredness and loss of weight for no particular reason.
Go to beatbowelcancer.org.nz for information about bowel cancer or to donate.