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Thursday, January 24, 2013


It's a despondent, rainy Thursday afternoon in Brisbane and it's bucketing with rain as I drive through the afternoon traffic on my way home.

Today I spent the day at the hospital, holding my sister Fiona's hand through her fourth chemo shot.

Last night I spent the night at the Manpad.  (Yesterday, I took the family to see the show "The Illusionists".  It was my Christmas present to Al, the boys and Robyn, Harry's girlfriend.)

After a lovely night out, it made sense to stay overnight as I was planning to visit Fiona and the Hospital is less than 10 minutes away.

I arrive nearly on time and head straight to the gift shop.  It was Fiona's birthday last week but, owing to my disorganisation, I have left her present at home.

I buy her some hideously overpriced soap and a tiny, too-expensive trinket and head on up to the Ward.

In the elevator, I glance at a man who has a bandage across his face.  It seems he is missing a nose.

In the waiting room, I am about to text Fiona to see if she's in with her doctor when she waves from the back of the room.  She is with Xavier, her eldest boy. She seems in good spirits.

It is a different kind of day at the oncology ward this morning.  Every seat is taken and the waiting room is full to the rafters.  I guess  the hospital is struggling to catch up with its patients' needs after the extended Christmas holiday break.

After checking out her present, first up, Fiona is agog to see my new mastectomy scar as we haven't seen each other since my operation. I sneakily lower the top of my shirt so she can 'ooh' and 'ahh' at Dr Lambley's fine work.

As there is a great deal of time to be spent waiting to be called, Fiona and I find ourselves chatting to a lady called 'Danielle' who hooks into our conversation as we are discussing the state of my hair.

It turns out Danielle, aged 42, has terminal breast cancer as it has spread to her bones.  She was originally diagnosed at the age of 34 and had the full suite of treatments:  mastectomy with 25 lymph nodes removed, chemo, radiation, hormonal therapy.   Her cancer reappeared in the lymph gland in the area that has been cut and burned after seven years.  She has one boy aged 25.  Her husband is beside himself as his mother died quickly from ovarian cancer in 2001.

Over the course of our conversation, we learn about her drug regime, the fact she's in constant pain, the fact she has started falling asleep in the middle of things so is unable to work and unable to drive.

She looks perfectly fine to us.  You wouldn't know she was sick.  But this woman is DYING.

It's sobering of course and, as I keep saying, there are no guarantees for any of us - cancer or not - that tomorrow will come, that life will go on.

So you don't have to think too hard to imagine what this story does for our own morbid thoughts.  Danielle's story has graphically reminded Fiona and me of the harsh reality that breast cancer kills.  It's seven years since Danielle's story began and now she is fighting for her life.

While we sit, Fiona and I talk about my mood.  I have been given, lately to pondering the point of things.  What does it all mean?  I tell her that recently, my whole mindset has been geared toward questioning my relationship with the Universe.

One person after another is called and I watch the waiting room empty as the oncology people finally get into their rhythm.

As I sit listening to Danielle and chatting with my sister I look around.  There is an African couple.  There is an Asian lady.  There is a very fat woman.  There are people of all ages, sizes and backgrounds.

Cancer it seems, does not discriminate.  It is the great equalizer.

When we are finally called in and Fiona is seated, it is nearly three hours since I arrived but I am pleased to report that the infusions are over in a couple of hours.

Fiona panics a little before the cannular is injected so I make Xavier stroke her hand.  The only episode worth noting is the high pitched squeal Fiona emits when the cannular is inserted

There is also a little delay between the saline and the Adriomyacin as the nurse scurries off to attend to a patient emergency.  She returns to report somewhat matter-of-factly that a client has had a reaction to his drugs.

Fiona politely inquires after his wellbeing and then we are down to the hard core business of chemotherapy.

It's at this point that I start talking in earnest.  This is why I'm here you see:  as strategic distraction.  It is something I learned from my own Chemo Angels.

My poor sister.  While she is beautiful in her baldness, I can taste her fear.

The Adriomyacin done with, today for some reason the nurse decides to do the Cyclophosphamide second (it's usually last).

By this time,  Richard arrives and Xavier decides to go home as the poor lad has not slept at all the night before (he works at a night club).  The two guys go off to fetch Fio and me a bit to eat and a coffee with Fiona waving them off with some impatience.  They don't want to leave her but they are hungry.

While they are away, Fiona complains about a funny feeling in her nose.  (I used to get the heartburn, remember?).

In the meantime we chat furiously. As Fiona describes it, all of this is "frightening".  I don't know.  I'm not sure I'm frightened by much these days, I tell her.

Richard returns with sushi and a lukewarm coffee for me.  (There was a drama at the parking station he had to sort out for his son).

It's at this point that I realise that perhaps I am empathising a bit too much with my sister's plight as I too, start to feel a little nauseous.

That done it's onto the Taxotere today.  But I don't make it very end because, as usual, I must dash to ensure I'm not slugged an extra $7 at the parking station for overstaying the minimum.

On the way home, I stop by client's house in Cleveland to pick up some copy we're working on for a new website.

 I stop at McDonalds for a cheeseburger and a small Coke as I'm absolutely starving.  (Don't be judgemental.  These dirty food days are rare.  Today I just can't be bothered).

When I get home, I hop onto Facebook.

A Friend has contacted me to complain about something I'm supposed to have said that has created a problem in the family.  I shrug.  What's new.  I'm always putting my foot in it.

Ben complains he is hungry so I throw together a Thai Green Chicken curry.

Al comes home baring some goods he has picked up from Harvey Norman, using those vouchers he won in the art union.

Rain falls then eases.  The night is quiet.

Tonight at home, Fiona is lying in bed feeling as if she's been run over by the Express to Cleveland.

This week, Ethel lost her best friend Mary to bowel cancer (in the UK), and her next door neighbour, Brian died suddenly of a heart attack yesterday ( he was 77).

Friends have lost loved ones left, right and centre including: Corienne, whose brother passed away on Monday, Malc, whose sister Sue died this month, and Kate and Terry who have buried their husbands in the past few months.

Recently I've been writing the word 'condolences' too much I believe.

I think about Danielle, who eschewed more chemotherapy for hormonal injections to stave off the cancer that is now in her bones.  I wonder how she is feeling tonight, how deep are her prayers?

I think about all those people out in the world, celebrating their lives, nursing their grievances, parading their woes, arguing their case for causes and concerns.

And I wonder about what they are all striving for, hoping for, working for?

And then I think I know.

It's simple this.


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