I had not felt as fit or as strong as since we finished our first round the world trip. I had been walking regularly, often twice a day, and had been volunteering with OzHarvest (a food rescue program) for the past few months, often collecting, and therefore lifting, over a ton of food in a day. I was feeling super fit. Yet something was happening in my stomach and had been for a while – stomach pains, some excruciating, bloating, heart burn. Which I ignored as they came and went, putting it down to food, until I spent a night with chills, shivering, body shakes/rigours and 39.3 temperature. I suspected Covid. It wasn’t. Two nights later it happened again. I’d better see my GP – well, a friend told me to and I am glad I listened.
In the space of 3 weeks, from the time I first went to see a local GP for the first time, to my latest diagnosis, I went from being told the CT scans indicated I potentially had colon cancer to seeing the top surgeon of private hospital who explained that I most likely lymphoma and would need chemotherapy after surgery, to having the surgery including a laparotomy as he couldn’t find anything via the laparoscopy incisions, to being told by the surgeon that it turned out to be neither colon cancer nor lymphoma even though he could have put money on it, to seeing the surgeon again to discuss the next steps as he was determined to get to the bottom of my problems, to getting tests for pancreatic, thyroid or ovarian cancer and ultra sound on my ovaries and finally getting the current verdict: it could be ovarian cancer but the blood markers are not very elevated so we are waiting another couple of weeks before redoing more detailed blood tests and having a colonoscopy and endoscopy and then in 2 months’ time redoing all the CT scans. If the blood markers remain the same as the first ones, we’ll do nothing and wait for the CT scans in 2 months. If they are elevated however, it will mean another op.
Those 3 weeks have been a hell of a rollercoaster. Hearing “colon cancer” didn’t worry me – in fact, I turned to Anthony and said, “good, that’s a good one to have” knowing many people who have had it and recovered well. Hearing lymphoma a few days later was a lot more worrying, especially seeing the CT scan and being shown what pointed to lymphoma – it looked like I was riddled with nasty lymph nodes. Then there was incredible relief after the surgery that it wasn’t lymphoma. But when I was sent for tests for pancreatic cancer, my world was thrown completely upside down. Not only was I still in a lot of pain from the open stomach surgery, I wondered whether I would soon be making that one way trip to Dignitas in Switzerland knowing the survival rate of pancreatic cancer was horrendous. I decided I would fight to get over any of the other cancers, for us, but not pancreatic. As soon as I found out it was not pancreatic, I suddenly felt I could breathe again. It was the biggest relief ever. I am much calmer now than I was 5 weeks ago.
We are so incredibly lucky on so many levels. That we live where we do, that I found the most amazing local GP (my usual GP in the city was not available all week) and we can afford private health cover. That the GP I saw acted immediately and referred me to the top surgeon at Greenslopes Private hospital. That the surgeon’s receptionist called me 10’ after starting her day and receiving the referral to squeeze me in 3 days later to see the surgeon. That this surgeon is not only a brilliant surgeon but a human human – no question was stupid or irrelevant, he took his time to re-explain what my shocked brain was trying to process. And that we have caring family and friends that have provided us with wonderful support.
I learned a lot about myself in this time, about how I deal with a personal crisis. In short: not well. I couldn’t talk to anybody. Just the thought of the news I was given, what I would say and explain would make me cry. I decided that I was not going to use “Doctor Google” until I had a confirmed diagnosis. It took all my effort to try and relax and breathe and not worry and not think. Talking would require me to think about how I was feeling and it was not good. I couldn’t face going through the whole explanations over and over so I drafted notes for Anthony to send. That way I said, ie wrote, it once only – that was hard enough. The other reason was that I wanted Anthony to get support from my support network. I have not wanted to hear the responses Anthony received after hearing a couple as they were too nice. Many sent me messages understanding I wasn’t up to talking which was lovely. But reading messages that I was strong and brave etc, while lovely, made me crumble. I did not feel strong or brave at all. I did not recognise myself in these statements. And I felt I was a fraud because how could my friends think I was strong and brave when I did not feel that way at all? I was a mess. But I did appreciate all the positive thoughts, prayers, healing vibes and virtual hugs we both got.
Basically I was scared my life could be over soon and I was not ready. I have not been blessed by having faith (but was grateful for all the prayers sent my way), have not come to terms with death (crazy I know) and still have so much I wanted to do. And what about Anthony?! How would he cope with whatever was coming next. That was too hard to think about. So I’d retreat into my shell trying to process and block everything at the same time.
In the old days, doctors would tell you to go home and get your affairs in order. That’s what I did in the few days before my surgery. Finalised my company accounts and tidied my desk, got a new Will and Power of Attorney drawn up (couldn’t find the ones we did years and years ago), discussed life support and ashes again. I was getting my affairs in order.
Since the operation, I have not done much!! And Anthony has done absolutely everything, all the cooking, washing etc. He has been amazing. And always with his beaming smile, especially when he has created a new dish . He has been making sure I don’t overdo things too. I will not hide that the first few days after the surgery were extremely painful, hospital big knickers became my friend, but I am very happy to report that I have had near no pain in the past two days and am now walking 2kms twice a day (very slowly though). Life is good.
I cannot thank enough all those who communicated with me directly and patiently and lovingly, those who sent me messages saying they didn’t expect a response, and those who communicated with and called Anthony. It is moments like these that you realise or are reminded of what and who matters in your life. And how important it is to make the most of life and your loved ones now. There is only now. I am determined to make the most of the gift of now.– Anne