“I’m sorry you have cancer” Nothing prepared me for the chilling reality of those words.
In November 2004, I was diagnosed with cancer in the lower bowel – but it was pure luck that I found out about the cancer when I did.
I remember vividly how the events unfolded – it was a beautiful, warm Spring day and my wife Eve and I decided pick up a couple of chicken yiros for lunch.
They went down really well and I headed off to Channel Seven (Adelaide Australia) to read the news.
By the time I got home about 8 pm I felt a slight chest pain – like moderate indigestion – we’ll it gradually got worse to the extend that Eve had to rush me to hospital in the early hours of the morning.
After very long and extremely agonising wait in casualty I finally was looked at – but by the time all the X-rays and examinations were over the pain had subsided and I was feeling pretty good.
The X-rays revealed a severe gastric disturbance and once the blockage had cleared I was OK.
But the doctor on duty said “Look while you’re here I’d like to do a few more tests.” It was those tests that revealed something nasty that shouldn’t be there.
A day later I went in for a full colonoscopy
There can be few more sobering moments in your life than when you are told you have a malignant tumour in your body. A level 3 cancer.
Although my wife Eve was sitting there beside me I had never felt more alone in my life – this was to be as much a battle of the mind as the body.
After the earlier test I went in suspecting the worst, I thought I was fully prepared for it – but nothing prepares you for that sort of news.
Everything said after that was delivered through a fog – I heard it all but understood little.
On that morning as I walked out of the doctor’s rooms I had an empty, lost feeling – believing and not believing I had cancer at the same time.
It wasn’t denial just a failure of an emotion charged brain to compute all the information.
Then the biggest hurdle of all, how to tell the kids. I have three children at the time they were 20 – 17 and 13.
Despite the pain etched on their faces they took in bravely as we told them in a matter of fact way what was happening
We decided that they had to be told everything as they had to live through my surgery and post operative recovery – which saw me make a slow and painful return to health over the following 12 months.
I have nothing but praise for the doctors and nurses who looked after me throughout my treatment and recovery.
Their care and concern was of immense help.
Luckily for me I had a wonderful support network – from my wife and family to close friends.
But what I craved most before undergoing surgery was information – I needed to know more about this cancer – survival rate, methods of treatment.
Once again I was lucky my wife is a homoeopathic practitioner and as such had studied medical sciences – she could explain what the doctor had said. After my fog had lifted I though of the questions I should have asked in his surgery.
We have close friends in the medical profession and they were at the end of the phone when I had a specific query and believe me there were plenty.
Acting on advice I consulted with two surgeons before choosing one. I did the same with my radiotherapist and I spoke with three Oncologists before choosing the one who I thought was on the same wavelength as me.
I wanted an Oncologist who would accept I would be using complementary medicine alongside western practices.
This of course isn’t for everybody but it works for me. Everyone has the right to pursue the treatment they think will work for them.
The six hour operation was successful but I was left with an ileostomy bag.
Psychologically that in itself was a big hurdle – but hey I was alive and if I had to wear a bag to help me beat it then that was a small price to pay.
Six months later I was back in hospital for the follow-up operation to get me off the bag.
I underwent 5 weeks of radiotherapy and a course of chemo – and along the way homoeopathy and naturopathic nutrition played their role in my recovery.
Many people diagnosed with cancer withdraw into their shell fighting their battle privately confiding in only close family.
For me it became quite the opposite – as a well known face on Adelaide TV I couldn’t venture outside without people stopping to ask how I was going and when I’d be back on the small screen.
They’d often say how well I was looking. Now I’d lost 17 kilos in two weeks and been through gutbusting surgery – I didn’t look all that flash.
But to me it didn’t matter – people who I didn’t know but felt they new me actually cared – every well wisher every “Good on ya mate” was like a shot of the purist anti cancer drug. It invigorated and empowered me – it still does.
If we are to beat cancer – we all have a part to play – sufferers, carers, friends, families, total strangers – the human spirit is all powerful.
If you know someone with cancer -and spot them in the supermarket don’t hold back – wish them well tell them their looking great – and it can work wonders.
I owe my return to health not only to wonderful carers but my total involvement in the decision making process – choosing the specialists and after much deliberation my course of treatment.
I was lucky I had the perfect support network – but as I’ve found from the many people who write to me in a similar situation – for a lot of people diagnosed with cancer there has been NO support network to help them through the most trying of times.
I talk a lot to cancer sufferers through cancer support groups and when they hear how I went about it they often say well that’s OK for you – you a professional journalist and you know how to research and investigate stuff.
Well up to a few years ago I’d agree I did have and advantage but with the advent of the internet – we can all be investigative reporters.
Only this week I typed bowel cancer into Google in half a second it came up with more than three million pages on the matter.
Now I must stress it’s not all good news – statistics and life expectancy can give you a negative outlook – but once you know your enemy and can look him in the eye you’re better equipped to defeat your demon.
So you have to sift through all the information – you must believe for a start that if your looking at statistics and percentages you’re one of those on the positive side.
Your doctor/specialist will do his or her best but you are just one of many patients.
You, personally have to become an absolute expert on your form of cancer, not in a medical sense but how it is affecting you.
Then and only then can you ask the right questions. It’s your life and your body, if your not happy say so, if you want a second opinion get it.
One of my specialists said something that has stuck with me – he said you can have surgery for cancer, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, homoeopathy, naturopathy, meditation – all of them, or just some of them.
But what matters most is your state of mind – it is the most powerful weapon in the battle against cancer.
He said you have the final say on the best course of treatment for you and once you decide, whatever it is, believe fully that you have taken the right course and it will help you back to full health.
The doctors do there best the carers and support groups do a wonderful job
but more has to be done.
Prevention, detection, treatment and care have until now worked in many cases as separate entities that’s a layman’s point of view – someone who has gone through the Cancer mill. Every effort must be made for a co-ordinated approach.
I’ve said to my boys now aged 26 and 23 remember what your dad went through – start having regular checks when you reach 40.
For a half a days discomfort (anyone who’s had a colonoscopy knows what I’m taking about) you can avoid a life threatening cancer and in my case 8 months of agony.
Nobody should have to suffer through cancer – but it’s all too common in modern society.
I’d never wish cancer on anyone it can be cruel, debilitating and all too often life ending.
My life has changed dramatically, my priorities have changed – my family, always important to me is now even more so.
The things I used to agonise and worry over I now see as not so important –
Life is good I love every moment. I’m a better person for having gone through the cancer experience.
During my recovery I hit on the idea of making a DVD for cancer patients, their families and carers. A source of information to answer the many question that come up almost on a daily basis and you can’t be constantly on the phone to your doctor.
Cancer – What Now? Answers many questions that come up. Like what is Cancer? What is radiotherapy? What is chemo? Choosing quality healthcare, Complementary therapies. How do I tell the kids? And Getting on with your life after cancer.
Of course the DVD doesn’t have all the answers but at the end of each chapter there’s an information page telling you where to go to find out what you need.
There are links to the Cancer Council Helpline, which is a wonderful resource for anyone suffering from cancer.
Being given the cancer sentence sees your life change before your eyes and in my case I felt powerless to stop it.
I’m hopeful the DVD will help cancer patients take control of their lives, which in turn will help them chart a course to good health once more.
For more an information and to preview Cancer -What Now?
Go to http://www.cancerwhatnow.com.au/