The fourth MRI scan, in June 2012, indicated that the tumour was growing towards the brain stem. The neurosurgeon strongly recommended an operation which, he said, was at that time ‘safe and easy’, rather than allow the tumour to grow, making the operation more difficult and less safe. I had come to trust this handsome, charming, compassionate man who had made no attempt to push me further than I wanted to go.
Reluctantly, but feeling I was doing the right thing, I agreed, believing it would be 2–3 months before my turn came up. It was a mere 10 days!
So on the early morning of 10 August my husband delivered me to the Royal Brisbane Hospital.
I don’t know why I didn’t feel scared. I had only ever had the most minor of operations before, and this ‘safe and easy’ one was a biggy, expected to take 3 to 5 hours (though I didn’t know that till shortly before the operation). All medical staff involved were quite wonderful and I found myself joking with them … “None of this ’personal best’ stuff,” I said, as I was wheeled into the theatre, “let’s go for the gold.”
A few moments later, it seemed, I was looking at the surgeon’s smiling face. “It’s a good tumour,” he said, “and I got most of it.”
I recovered quickly, and a week later, just before I was about to leave the hospital, the surgeon came to wish me well and said he wouldn’t need to see me for 6 months. He was intercepted as he was leaving, came rushing back in agitated fashion, and told me the final pathology report declared the tumour was not a ‘good’ one at all, but a metastatic carcinoma. Probable primary—breast cancer.
Perhaps I was too stunned to feel anything much, but once more there was no sense of panic.
A multitude of tests followed. No sign of breast cancer was found, but a CT scan revealed probable cancer in one hip, and various other ‘suspicious’ spots in other parts of my body. No symptoms whatsoever, however, and blood tests revealed no cancer markers. I was considered ‘most unusual’.
Still no panic. The predominant feeling was an awareness that I could die tomorrow, in 2 years, or 20 years … just like everyone else. An inner voice said, “I’ll die when I’m good and ready!”
My husband and son were marvellously positive and supportive, without minimising the seriousness of the challenge.
I had declared that I would not accept any treatment that made me feel worse than the disease. This was a challenge, because the ‘disease’ wasn’t making me feel bad at all. I accepted a hormone medication which was supposed to inhibit the phantom breast cancer and deter any further metastases. After a month I changed to another drug because the first made me want to sleep all day … not refreshing sleep either! As I had no energy to do anything, I was bored out of my mind—a fate worse than death to my way of thinking. The second drug was better.
I also agreed to a short course (5 sessions) of low dose radiotherapy to the brain. My hair fell out, as the radiation oncologist predicted. I didn’t know radiation could make your hair fall out. Most people don’t. It’s only, logically enough, when you have radiation on the head.
Other side effects … the double vision grew worse, and the hearing in my right ear was more or less destroyed.
Complementary medicine had been my first preference over the previous 35 years, and naturally I investigated this area. I’d already done a lot of research 6 years ago when my sister was dying of mesothelioma, so I had accumulated quite a bit of useful information. In a fairly undisciplined way, I began taking various supplements which are reputed to be beneficial when the body is dealing with cancer. I also meditated, did QiGong, and eye exercises (which eye specialists said would have no effect). And I went on a course of homeopathic medicine. My doctors were OK with anything that couldn’t hurt me. My GP had no doubt I could heal myself, and gave me regular acupuncture to help.
Whether any, or all of this, helped, I can’t say. But the outcome is that, according to the last MRI scan, the brain tumour has completely vanished. And a visit to the optometrist recently confirmed that the double vision is all but non-existent.
I don’t know the state of the other suspicious areas, but I find I don’t care.
I know I mustn’t get complacent about all this. It’s early days yet, and tumours can come back. I even felt a bit guilty that the tumour had gone so quickly. I hadn’t ‘suffered’ enough (doesn’t that tell you heaps about the writing on my wall!). Some people go through years of awful treatment, and put themselves on a restrictive diet, eliminating any food that’s not specifically beneficial. I’m too self-indulgent for that. I’ve changed my diet a bit, but not to a point where it hurts.
I’m a bit disappointed too … I’d hoped there’d be some sort of ‘enlightening’. A change of direction perhaps. Instead I feel a complete lack of direction. All I can do at the moment is go with the flow … I’m trying to say ‘yes’ to anything that sounds intriguing.
There have been two major ‘gifts’ from this cancer journey so far:
The astounding outpouring of love and support from relations and friends in various parts of the world. I’ve been made to feel treasured, and it’s done wonders for my self-esteem. My family could not have survived the crisis, emotionally or financially, without these wonderful people.
(I’m being facetious here … this one is minor by comparison with the former). I lost around 20kg last year as a result of the time in hospital, followed by loss of appetite occasioned by the hormone medication. I’m now in the ‘ideal for my height’ range.
NOTE: I’m not ruling God out of all this. My own understanding of ‘God’ is a bit hazy, but so many of my friends have been praying for me that I’m more than willing to accept God as an ingredient in the mix … if not the ingredient.