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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Diagnosis 3

It's Sunday morning in Melbourne and I'm just about to enter a packed little cafe for breakfast with Lyndal and Garry. (We're down here in part to see Lyndal's exhibition - she's a wonderful sculptor and I'm one of her biggest fans.) After breakfast, we are due at the Tutankhamen Exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. Al's a great Egyptophile and this is the "most impressive collection of Tut artefacts ever assembled" out of Egypt.

The night before was a lame endeavour in kicking up my heels - three glasses of wine and relatively early to bed. There was no strip poker. No wild orgies with AFL Footballers. And no tattoo to regret in the morning. Al didn't even moon anyone.

Then my cellphone rings. It's a 'blocked' number and turns out to be Dr Lambley. I suppose there's a small part of my brain that is a little alarmed. After all it's a weekend. What's so urgent?

Dr Lambley explains that the results of my second lumpectomy have revealed further progress of the cancer. He says that with my type of carcinoma, unfortunately, lumps are generally not present. In other words, these suckers are hard to detect.

He tells me that he would like me to have an MRI to determine just how advanced my situation might really be. He says further surgery may be needed and immediately, I know he means a mastectomy.

I explain my chemo starts on Thursday and can I wait until after all of that if I need surgery.

He says that he's pleased I'm having chemo soon - it sounds like his preferred option - but it's important the MRI is done before treatment so that we can get a good picture.

By the time we arrive at the Tut exhibition, dark thoughts are palpating at the edges of my consciousness.

When I learn that King Tutankhamen died suddenly (and inexplicably) at 19, of course, I think about the lifespan of a man, the time we have on earth, the contribution that we might make.

King Tut's father, Akhenaten died at 17 but his grandfather made it to the ripe old age of 30. Look at what this dynasty achieved. 3200 years later, humankind marvels at their achievements.

As I stare at the vessels that once contained the mummified organs - stomach, lungs, intestines, liver - of Tutankhamen, I think about what I have achieved in my life. I think about becoming a part of ancient history. What sort of lousy legacy have I left? Some amateurish artworks, some second-rate poetry and a manuscript. I can't see Howard Carter getting too excited about that lot.

After the Tut exhibition, we walk down to the National Gallery of Victoria to see an exhibition called 'Vienna'. It's educational. I hadn't known about the "Viennna Seccession", including Gustav Klimt (who died at 56), and an artist I've never heard of, Egon Schiele (who died at 28).

While I am taking it all in, the exquisite works, that's all I'm processing: when they were born and when they died.

After we leave the exhibition, I find my conversation returning to Dr Lambley. The issue he has raised, about the need for a mastectomy, is a hound at my heels.

You see, even though they're somewhat large and flabby, I'm rather attached to my breasts. It's a lot to get my head around quickly - the idea that Nicky and Paris (as I call them) may be wrenched from my bosom and replaced by Silicon Sally and Saline Samantha.

Still, already, I'm working out the timing of things. When my chemo will finish, when my breasts will come off, how long before I can get back to my beloved soccer field? I'm trying to be practical, visualising my life over the coming months.

Al can't work out why the operation should not happen before the chemo. We argue about the logic of it.

We go to the airport where I'm mindful of having promised myself some shameless lush-like behaviour. I didn't even manage the Margarita I had wanted. As a last ditch effort, I buy myself a packet of Maltesers.

On the plane, I make the mistake of reading a book on Post Cancer Nutrition. Alas, it seems that even sugar has been demonised by those who believe diet is at the root of everything - and I feel guilty about those Maltesers. Damn it.

After we return to Brisbane it is evening and I decide to call Dr Lambley back to clarify my situation.

Al asks him why I can't have the operation first as isn't the chemo done to just do the mopping up.

But my surgeon is adamant that is no evidence to suggest that doing things in either order is more effective. However, if I have the mastectomy first, it may be 2-3 weeks before I can start chemo.

You know what the subtext is: I don't have the luxury of time.

So my thoughts return to Tutankhamen. I may not be a Pharoah or a Living God, but I nearly 30 years on him. Surely, that has got to be a plus.


  1. I know that it is not a lot to offer in such a context Bronwyn,
    but know that I am here for you if you need a friend, a sounding board, a nurse, or a shoulder to cry on, know that I am here for you.
    Thank you for de-mystifying the dreaded pink C and sharing.
    I would imagine it was a tremendously difficult choice to make
    Sending much love XoxoxoxoxoxoX

  2. It's amazing Bron, that you are willing to share and give of yourself so much. I've never seen the C word from this perspective before and however the pace may change, you're upto the game. You're okay Bron. Lots of love.

  3. Bron, you sure have a way with words.. I am in awe of your strength and determination. I'm sure you will be back on the soccer field, showing those young girls a thing or two, before you know it!

    P.S. I'm off to school tomorrow to spread the word and remind everyone to check themselves!

  4. Remember how all-consuming your wedding plans were - 24/7 for months and months - it's all you could think about and talk about and also learn about.
    Remember how all-consuming the birth of your first child, 24/7 for 9 months - again it was all you think about could talk about and also learn about.
    Both of these life changing events were anxiety ridden - but had wonderful outcomes.
    This event is just as all-consuming - and it's all you will think about and talk about and also learn about for the next 6 months. The unfortunate thing about this experience is that it will take your thoughts to the darker of the two sides and this is totally unavoidable.
    Do your best to stay positive (sometimes that will be hard to do) and look forward to a full future with your wonderful hubby and two exceptional sons. They will be all that matter in the end - and you need to do whatever it takes to be around for them.
    The comment from you is typical of 'Bronny the high achiever'...
    "What sort of lousy legacy have I left? Some amateurish artworks, some second-rate poetry and a manuscript. I can't see Howard Carter getting too excited about that lot."
    Who the hell cares about what Howard Carter thinks!!!
    You will come to understand that, when you do eventually go, sometime in the decade of 2060, you will leave the most important legacy that any human being can - two happy, well-adjusted, smart and loving sons with the knowledge that they were blessed to have been raised by such a unique, fascinating, funny, compassionate, loving mother.
    Now - start thinking about that light at the end of this long and winding tunnel you have just entered, focus on staying strong and kick this little bastard like you're kicking the winning goal in the World Cup!!!
    Make sure you have Al or a good friend with you for each chemo session (it is quite relaxing - cup of tea, biscuits, lunch if you time it right and a bit of daytime telly or an interesting chat with the onc. nurses). You'll also meet other chemo patients who will make you feel like you're one of the 'lucky' ones.
    I'm sending you all my love and every positive thought I can Bron.
    Chrissie xoxox
    PS - I know that I'm not the only one who's life has been enriched immensely from having you in it!
    PPS - I'm with Al - I would have thought that surgery before chemo would be the go - but as long as Dr Lambley is confident it doesn't matter then so be it.
    PPPS - Go for Sally and Samantha in a C cup and you'll be able to run even faster on the soccer field. By this time next year you can introduce them to my Cindy and Cynthia in our own 'special' way. :)8=