Memoir: It's NOT all Wine & Roses


Wednesday16th May 2012 was taken up completely with meetings and with treatments at the hospital. My appointment with ‘Bondi’ was for 10.40am. Then we were due for a treatment review with Colin Chen, the radiation oncologist, followed by a meeting with the neurosurgeon, Ralph Mobbs, at noon.

So, it was a tiring, worrying and emotional day, although all went well. Ross watched the radiation technicians fitting my mask, although he had to leave the room, of course, when the machine was weaving its magic and irradiating my brain.

Dr Chen was happy with my progress, noting the result of my blood test was pleasing. The tumour marker (CEA) was only up to 20, which meant the primary tumour was not too active. Most importantly, the doctors could then compare the marker with future blood tests to assess progress, and success of the treatments, and, most importantly, if the Tarceva (the chemotherapy tablet) was working. CEA stands for carcinoembryonic antigen and is a protein found in the blood or urine: it is elevated in the presence of some cancers, including lung cancer.

I still had no taste for food, and my mouth felt burnt. Food was tasteless, so I didn’t really feel like eating solids. I knew that I must be keep up my food intake as the radiation consumes so many calories. I tried various foods, even a small piece of a homemade muffin, but it caused me to choke. I tried a piece of a homemade beef and burgundy pie, but needed lashings of tomato sauce to give it taste! Hardly a healthy option.

The day came, at the end of May, for my final radiation treatment and the further boost of radiation: this was to be 8 times my normal daily dose. The team assured me this was essential to ensure the brain tumour does not return. The programme had not been as hideous as I expected. I had mouth ulcers: again, not too serious, but not comfortable. I was rinsing my mouth daily with bi-carbonate of soda, which helped a little. And the skin on my face was very red and angry, a reaction to the Tarceva.

I remember saying to the radiation therapist that I now had all sorts of twinges and tweaks, and I worried that each twinge represented the cancer spreading. She said that the therapists each have the same reaction when they start working: they imagine all sorts of tumours growing with every minor pain; pains that they would normally have ignored!

As the tens of thousands of cancer sufferers go through treatment, some more onerous than others, and as nearly 8,000 people in Australia die each year from lung cancer, many of the so-called pillars of our society are sitting as directors on the boards of tobacco companies. And some law firms are representing tobacco companies in their quest to continue their disgraceful advertising. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

And, as I coped with my treatment and with coming to terms with my situation, I watched far more terrible news for the people of Syria. How is it possible that any government can murder its own people: men, women and children on a massive scale? The United Nations, yet again, is just a very expensive toothless tiger in relation to peacekeeping. And young adults in this country are being killed daily, on our roads, or through alcohol or drugs. My situation seemed tame by comparison. My brain tumour was now gone: one tumour down and only four to go!