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Friday, October 7, 2011

Oncologist 1

Two weeks since my initial diagnosis and it's finally time for my first visit to my oncologist, Dr Choo. (And no, her first name is not "Ah"). My appointment is at 1 pm and Al and I drive in to Greenslopes Hospital, arriving right on time.

We wait for a whole hour before Dr Choo materialises. Al and I chat about this and that. We browse through magazines. We make small talk with the receptionists.

When Dr Choo finally arrives, I see a slight, attractive Asian lady who is casually dressed. Finally she calls me in.

She's open and engaging and goes to great lengths to write clear notes for me as she goes over the details of my case.

The one message I get is this and it bangs in my ears - I need chemotherapy. Even though my lymph nodes were negative, cancer cells can be transmitted through the blood stream. It's because of the size of my tumour that no chances are taken. The fact that it is estrogen positive means that the chemo is my very best option.

The chemotherapy regime that is recommended is called T.A.C., designed to minimise toxicity and which will throw my body into early menopause. Jolly good.

T.A.C stands for a combination of drugs - Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide. They sound like some of Harry Potter's spells, don't you think? I am to have have these drugs administered in six cycles every three weeks.

The side effects include nausea/vomiting, hair loss, an impact on cardiac function, a suppression of my immune system and, joy of joys, neuropathy, the effects of which will include numbness of my fingertips which may never return to their former sensate glory. At least, I'll be able to blame my woeful renditions of Chopin on something other than a complete lack of talent.

I'll tell you this: Dr Choo makes it sound like a breeze. Apparently the ill effects are a case of 'mind over matter'. I suppose it's easy for her to say.

Following chemotherapy, I am to have radiotherapy then hormonal therapy but these procedures are too far in the future for me to think about.

This containment is important I think. I am writing my movie scene by scene. I do not want to think about endings. This story must write itself without my imagination creating an unnecessary drama. Only God knows what mix of pathos my story must include, what logos, what ethos.

What surprises me is the speed of things. I have 1-2 weeks to commence my treatment but the sooner the better.

There seems to be a greater urgency to all of this than I had first assumed. I feel like I am being carried forward by a wave.

There is no time for looking back. I must say goodbye quickly to the life I have known so far, my pleasant routines.

I have a referral for an electrocardiogram on Monday and a blood test on Tuesday. I am booked in for my first chemo session next Thursday. I must have a blood test before every chemo session - what a nuisance!

I am directed downstairs to the Cancer Wing to receive my "education". Al and I are led to a neon-lit meeting room where we are introduced to the breast care nurse. She is sweet and friendly and we discover that she, too, is a breast-cancer survivor. A staff member offers me a cup of tea which is delivered on a tray with a nice piece of cake. It is very civilised.

Sitting opposite me is another girl, also diagnosed with breast cancer. I discover that she is 34 years old. As far as I can gather, she has had bowel cancer, a liver transplant and now, breast cancer with seven nodes removed. She must pay $1100 for a special drug to protect her ovaries during chemo as she has not yet had children.

And so it is easy for me to think how lucky I really am. I feel sad for this young girl and what she has already endured.

There is always a worse scenario.

Afterwards we are given a tour of the facility. We walk past other patients, reclining in comfortable leather chairs as they receive their treatment. They seem almost content as if they are in a holiday spa receiving some wonderfully invigorating treatment rather than a mix of potentially lethal drugs.

And it is then that I realise that this is the only way for any of us to get through any of this, the travails of life. What is the use of tears or chest beating or curses to the unfairness of the universe.

All we can do is buckle down and get on with it.

Winston Churchill was right. "If you are going through hell, keep going."

Nearly five hours later, Al and I drive back home. We stop of at Elysium to catch up with friends. We go to my Mum and Dad's for a delicious dinner. From the outside in, you would think that nothing has changed. There is no glitch in the universe and life is as it should be.

Everything is normal from the outside, but on the inside, I can feel a rumbling in the core, the shifting of techtonic plates, the tide.

Tomorrow we are off to Melbourne for the weekend. I shall kick my heels up. I shall quaff wine and indulge in bacchanalia fit for an immoral lush.

Really is there no better time than now to live life shamelessly?


  1. You are something else!
    God bless you and keep you ever positive on this path that he has created.
    It won't make you a better person.....from your writings, you are already someone special.
    My thoughts are with you.
    Go girl!!!
    BIG hug....Sue xxx

  2. i am thinking of you. good luck with the treatment.