Memoir: It's NOT all Wine & Roses


I needed to take my mind to beautiful places as I prepared for the lung surgery that was to be performed at Strathfield Private Hospital on 27th November, 2012, the day after my 59th birthday. Operating through my back, Professor McCaughan removed the top left lobe and some lymph nodes. I was in intensive care for a day, with tubes, it seemed, in every part of my body, including a tube with a clicker that dispensed a shot of morphine. I gave that clicker a mighty workout, but of course it was regulated so that a patient could not over-dose. The biopsy the day after the operation revealed that there was is no cancer left at all in my lung, nor the lymph nodes. Professor McCaughan said these results were miraculous, that only 4% of lung cancer patients have such results. I was feeling terrific, although there was discomfort for about a week. But I luxuriated in a room filled with flowers. And, more than a year later, I have a beautiful scar on my back. I’m rather proud of it: a battle scar.

In late January 2013 we met with our oncologist, Melvin Chin. He was thrilled with the results of the year of treatment. Again, as with each of our consultations with each doctor, we could have been forgiven for thinking we were his only patient, such was his patience and attention to detail. We expressed our great gratitude for his decisions and approach, and for his support of us consulting Professor McCaughan, who was brave enough to remove half of my lung, along with the lymph nodes. You receive all sorts of ‘medical’ advice from lay people when you contract cancer. Cancer seems to attract a legion devoted to Dr Google.

In the January of 2013 I finally succumbed to the acupuncture that a dear English friend - a cancer survivor – had been asking me to have. She insists that acupuncture releases the toxins left in the body from the chemotherapy, and boosts the immune system. She is probably correct, and I did try it for a few sessions. I’m not sure I noticed any improvement in how I felt; but it did me no harm. Another friend advised me to load up on Vitamin C: not good advice as many doctors believe that vitamin C is contra-indicated in cancer treatment. I was trying to return to a normal life and that included returning to being blond. My hair was growing back slowly: an unattractive tone of grey. But I no longer moved - nor even took vitamins -without checking with my medical team. During my January 2013 meeting with Dr Chin, he said he had no problem with hair dyes. So I could go back to being blond when my hair grew a little more. Also that I could do as much exercise as I wanted. He was very pleased when a CT scan revealed that my left lung had expanded to fill the void left by the surgery just six weeks prior. He said this showed I was doing my exercises. In fact, I hate exercise and really have to force myself to take part in most. I was doing aqua-robics at a local gym: to me it was almost as boring as meditation. I also intended to re-start the body pump and body balance classes that were the most effective, and least tedious, for me. All that up-beat music helped. And I was looking forward to getting back on the golf course, the combination of two of my favourite activities: walking and talking. But that was before I suffered rotator cuff injuries in both shoulders. Ahh: I just want back the body that I thought was bullet proof.

In early 2013 I was receiving ‘light chemo’ treatments of only Alimta, which seemed to have few side effects. There were side effects that I thought were from the surgery, however, one of which was an intense tingling in my arms, hands and feet. At first I worried that the tingling may be an early warning of a stroke, but eventually I discovered that it is quite a common side effect of chemotherapy, known as poly-neuropathy. More than a year later, the sensation of pins and needles is still present in a very mild form. I had also had a very unpleasant withdrawal symptom when I stopped taking the pain- killer, the drug Oxycontin, as soon as I was no longer in pain. The result was that each night I had the strangest sensation of ants crawling inside in my stomach. I could not sleep, and had to pace the floor to find some relief. The doctors told me it is a common withdrawal problem encountered with opiates, and is called ‘formication’. I suppose that is one of the dreadful symptoms that drug addicts experience when they attempt to go 'cold turkey.' I weaned myself off the drug by taking one every second night; then just once a week, and quickly, avoiding them completely.

In early February, 2013, I had the last of the three rounds of Alimta, the light chemo, intended to ‘mop up’ any lingering cancer cells. The MRI and CT scan I had that day showed my body was completely clear of cancer. In our meeting with Dr Chin and the medical team I started crying. It was, I think, a combination of emotions: happiness, gratitude and on-going fear. Mostly, I was so grateful to them for all their care. And I think the year of the shocking diagnosis and the treatment had been more stressful than I admitted. I had tried to stay as strong and as dignified as possible, and suddenly, when it looked like we were through the worst, it all became overwhelming: all just too much. That afternoon we sent 'The Team' a huge vase of flowers.