My journey with cancer started in November/December 2008. While visiting my daughter in Perth, I started coughing. Whenever I talked I coughed. I got back to Canberra and thought this is ridiculous, so I went to the doctor and he sent me for an X-ray. Looking back I can recognise the signs that had already started, like feeling tired, puffing and huffing when I would climb the steep driveway and stairs to the front door of my friend’s house across the road. At that time I used to say to myself “I must start walking again, I’m out of condition”.
When I went back for the results he said “you’ve got cancer”. I was sitting there and had to do a double take. He didn’t talk.
He just got on the phone straight away and started to get things sorted. It felt good to know that something was being done straight away. He said he was sorry and made an appointment for me to see the lung specialist.
I felt bewildered. I got into the car and thought why me? Then I thought – why not, it happens to other people. I remembered a dream I had a few years earlier in 2006 where I had dreamt that I had cancer and that I was going to be ok. That made me feel better.
I saw the lung specialist, had a CT scan and he said I needed a biopsy and sent me to the oncologist. My younger son and my sister (who had only a few years prior had her own cancer scare) came with me. I learned from my daughter-in-law how important it is to take someone with you to the appointments, not only for support, but an extra pair of ears. Whatever I missed or would forget – they’d remember.
The day I was to see the oncologist, I remember laying in my bed praying for the right doctor to be sent. There was a window beside my bed. It was a very gloomy day and just as I was praying, sunshine came through the window for just a second. I knew that from that day on everything was going to be ok. I know there is a purpose in it all and it’s just unfolding now.
Then the journey started.
I had a full body PET scan. Back then Canberra didn’t have this machine so I had to go to Liverpool. I went with my son and we drove in silence – we didn’t know what to say to each other, we both were in our own thoughts not knowing what to think. I do remember making a few light jokes like I was going to glow from the radiation – that helped make it a bit lighter.
During this time my daughter-in-law was studying her Doctorate thesis related to ‘Patient and partner adjustment to cancer’, which helped us as a family tremendously in many ways. It was comforting to have her on my journey. She explained things beautifully, and was my biggest support. She was able to provide me with lots of relevant pamphlets, CDs and information that Cancer Council provides.
I had all of the treatments explained to me by oncologist nurse, I called them all angels. When I sat in that chair for my first chemotherapy treatment I had forgotten all the information, it was quite daunting, and especially not knowing what lay ahead. I had my faith and hope in God, today it is deeper than ever.
I was diagnosed with a Non-Small lung Cancer on the right lung.
From then on I went in for my jabs [chemo] and had a very special friend who would take me to all appointments and be there for me without asking, he was always there. So, I went through my chemo and radiation. At the end of March I had a CT scan and it seemed all ok. I’ve always wanted to do a European River Cruise, the doctor said why not, so that’s exactly what we did.
In January 2010, I started coughing again. The CT scan showed it was still there or had come back.
My lung was all damaged from the treatments, so it was a bit harder to see. I was told by the oncologist that things weren’t going well and that I would be lucky to make it to Christmas and to do all those things I wanted to do. So, I decided to redo my kitchen, relay the carpets and build myself a new deck. It all sounded radical, but through the cancer phone support group I was assured that it was ALL normal, phew! And I thought I had lost ALL my marbles.
In August 2010, I called Cancer Council ACT for help and support. I was offered one on one counselling sessions and referred to the Phone Support Group with people who were in the same boat - lung cancer. We felt like a family - sharing and supporting each other through thick and thin, some of them are no longer with us but they knew, we understood.
In that time my special friend bought a caravan and we decided we would go caravanning between the scans. When everything was ok, we’d head off again.
In 2011, my CT scan showed I had pleurisy, I had a pleurisies procedure. During that time, my father had a stroke, so while in hospital I would visit him. Sadly he passed away soon after, which was a difficult time.
During the journey I was very active exercising, lots of walking, riding a bike and searching for ways to keep well. I kept positive and determined for myself and others.
In 2012, we went on a Mediterranean cruise and towards the end I spent almost 3 months with my daughter in Perth.
Everything was going ok then in March 2013 I started having chest pains. I thought I had just been overdoing it, but it wasn’t going away and was getting stronger. My son took me to hospital. They did blood test and X-rays and found I had blood clots on my good lung.
I had another biopsy done and had to wait for three weeks for the results to be eligible for a new trial drug from Germany.
I thought I was going to die, so I started de-cluttering so my kids wouldn’t have to deal with the unrest I had to when my dad passed away. It was almost like a frenzy. I was on mission to make sure it would be simple for my kids.
I was accepted for the drug trial and started medication. I felt better overnight and didn’t have to use the oxygen as much. I had a lot of anticipation about my first CT scan after this new medication. It was quite good – there had been a bit of a change. Although in August, I had another CT scan and the medication had stopped working. I was told that after this medication, there was nothing else I could be offered.
My oncologist decided to try the chemo treatment I had previously, and after 3 months (which ended in December) there was a great improvement.
However, the journey of knowing that my body was not what it was, my skin was not what it was and my hair was not what it was meant my thinking was quite different. I found it very challenging.
I remember thinking what now! What do I do now?! No more appointments and tests and dates to keep track of - I knew how to do that. But, what now?
With the help of my support group and facilitators at Cancer Council and the Lung Foundation the journey forward is rewarding. I was encouraged to pursue my interest and things I like to do including: going to the movies, short drives, train journeys and even a short trip in a hired motor home that I drove myself accompanied by my friends who towed a caravan.
Without my faith and help from my family, friends, Cancer Council ACT and the Lung Foundation, I just can’t imagine what it would have been like.
Today April 2016, I still have the 3 monthly CT scans. The phone group run by the Lung Foundation still meets fortnightly. We still support each other and at the same time have fun. There are lots of things I am unable to do. I had to come to terms with that, but I don’t give up. I always find a solution.
I believe that God has healed me. I wake up every morning to live.
I have shared my story with Cancer Council ACT as part of their 40th anniversary and QLD Lung Foundation Newsletter.
I would like to thank everyone that was part of my journey.