Posts

Showing posts from 2015

Considering the alternatives

Image
I’m pretty sceptical when it comes to unconventional medical treatments. I take the approach best expressed by Tim Minchin – “Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”
When it comes to cancer, alternative medicine abounds. A range of concoctions purport to offer an easy pathway to greater longevity and better health. Charlatan Belle Gibson made outrageous claims about beating cancer merely through “nutrition, patience, determination and love – as well as vitamin and Ayurvedic treatments, craniosacral therapy, and a whole lot of other treatments”. The US-based Cancer Tutor website claims that purple grape juice and carrot-and-beet juice are both “excellent cancer treatments with very high cure rates”. Advocates of Gerson Therapy say that cancer can be cured with 13 glasses of juice a day, a range of supplements and coffee enemas. Really.
Cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to the lure of such quackery. I think part of the reason lie…

So I'm going to be a dad

Image
“So guess what? I’m not the only one in this couple with a mysterious growth inside me!”
That’s how I considered telling my parents and parents-in-law that we were expecting a child at the same time I was battling cancer. But that’s not how it happened.
Instead I was lying in my hospital bed with my wife Melanie holding my hand. I was still groggy as I recovered from a biopsy and had a great big tube coming out my side to drain my chest. Days earlier a mysterious lump had been found in my upper chest, and while we waited to find out what it was we all feared the worst.
It happened to be my birthday and I was happily receiving gifts from the people gathered around the bed. It came time for Melanie to give me a present, and she handed me one that she’d very carefully selected – a book, “So You’re Going to Be a Dad”.
I enthusiastically unwrapped it and held it up for my parents and parents-in-law to see. As I began to utter the magical words waves of emotion lashed the shores of my mind…

Floored by fatigue

Image
“I was so exhausted I had to lie down for 20 minutes after thinking about brushing my teeth.”

Chemo patients often have war stories about their battles with fatigue – played out in the style of the Four Yorkshiremen – and that’s my contribution.

The first round of chemo left me largely unscathed, but this past week the second round has hit me hard. The all-encompassing body-and-mind fatigue that has left me whiling away that hours in bed has been more debilitating than anything I have experienced before.

The complete lack of physical energy makes it difficult to perform even the most basic tasks, and the absence of mental energy makes creative thought difficult to achieve. Sleep provides little relief, but nothing else does either.

The numbing fatigue turns small achievements into major victories. After a quarter hour psyching myself up to empty the dishwasher, I rewarded this act of domestic heroism with a half-hour rest.

The medical advice to us chemo patients is to stay active, eve…

The path to my heart

Image
The second round of chemotherapy drugs have just been infused, and so far the side-effects have been tolerable. As I was going through the round of treatment it struck me that the whole process could be explained well with a series of haiku poems. Enjoy.

The path to my heart Runs directly through my groin. At least it does now.
With a jab and poke The surgeon has created An express route north.
And through the passage, For five days in twenty-one, Flows liquid saviour.
Like those that follow, The day begins with a 'roid – Breakfast of champions.
Appetite whetted, I head from home to ward, where Professionals loom.
Friendly smiles greet Those who pass the saloon’s doors; Hope mixed with pity.
Atop an arm chair I get myself comfortable. Position assumed.
EPOCH’s my order With a side of R for some Sweetness, extra tang.
A chemo barman Can turn this toxic combo Into sweet nectar.
(But before we start A little pill for nausea Lest lunch go to waste.)
First, Rituximab Zero-ing in on B…

The new normal

Image
Tony is usually a man of few words. An old-school barber with an earthy beard and some weathered tatts on his neck, he is damn good at getting the job done with calm confidence and maximum discretion. So when I came in for my two-monthly cut on Tuesday and told him I wanted it off, all off, he was unfazed. “You see, um, it’s like this,” I half-spoke, half-whispered awkwardly. “I’ve been diagnosed with, um, cancer and the chemo means it’s all coming out. I figured I might as well get in early.”

Ever the cool professional, Tony sat me in the chair and draped me theatrically in a black smock. He reached for the clippers – this would be a number 1 cut – and got to work. Within minutes the salt-and-pepper (mostly pepper) locks from my head had gathered on my lap in the smock and my head’s full roundness was on display, with only a thin layer of hair remaining on top. When it came to shaving, I warned of the dangers of a blade given the blood-thinner I’d been taking, so instead Tony gave me…

Seeking to battle the dragon

Image
Super Mario Bros aficionados of the original Nintendo era will remember a certain comforting rhythm to the game. The objective was to slay the dragon each fourth level, and in doing so seek to liberate a princess. But to gain the chance to take on the dragon you needed to confront various minor villains along the way, from Goomba toadstools to Koopa Troopa turtles to weapon-wielding Hammer Brothers, all while navigating rough terrain and preserving health and wealth. But should these challenges prove too demanding a player would never even reach a dragon and the princess would forever remain captive.

Right now the chances for me to battle my dragon are proving rather elusive. Desperate as I am to unsheathe my sword and deliver a strong first blow, instead I find myself in close combat with more pesky minor enemies along the way.


A biopsy on the lump in my mediastinum a few weeks back appears to have caused some complications relating to my lungs. This has left me with a pneumothorax, …

Reasons to be grateful

Image
I'm writing on the sixth day of an unscheduled hospital stay, so clearly treatment has got off to a rocky start. I'll write more about that another time, but for this post I want to focus on some of the positive things that have captured my imagination since the diagnosis.
If you ever doubt that you're part of a community, tell the world you have cancer and see what response you get.
Since I shared my news I've been filled with gratitude for the people, institutions and science that have given me such hope for the future. It is hard not to appreciate the privilege of which you benefit when you experience so many things fall into place so effortlessly to support a person suddenly in need.
When I was diagnosed a few weeks ago I wasn't sent home to die in dignity. Instead I was given the expertise of world-class professionals, access to state-of-the-art medical science, fantastic offers of support from family, friends and colleagues and an overwhelming confidence that Th…

Countdown to chemo

Image
Today I start my chemotherapy treatment, ready as I'll ever be to combat this disease and reclaim the health until recently I took for granted. This piece explains some of the steps along the way as I prepared my body and mind for what lay ahead.


The week before treatment started would be a flurry of tests as we sought to work out just what we were up against. The latest in diagnostic science would analyse every part of my body in every way to find out whether the lymphoma had spread to elsewhere. Regardless, the treatment would be similar through the chances of success less certain.

First up was the PET scan – as the internet explains, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a type of imaging test. It uses a radioactive substance called a tracer to look for disease in the body. Canberra has just one PET scan machine, and thankfully on Thursday morning it was at my disposal.

I happily admit to my support for all things nuclear, a source of science that has brought great posit…

This is not a drill

Image
Right now I'm part way through the battery of tests that inevitably follows a cancer diagnosis. It is still too soon to know if the lymphoma has spread. This post, enhanced by the pleasing effects of a mild steroid, captures the big reveal last Tuesday when I learned the result of my biospy, and some of my early reflections on the experience. At the moment I'm at home mustering my strength ahead of the start of chemo on Wednesday.


While sitting idle in my hospital bed awaiting the results of biopsy, in my head I had an image of how a patient got The Big News.

I pictured notification from a friendly nurse that I was expected at an appointment an hour or two down the track.

I pictured bringing together my wife and parents.

I pictured walking into a tastefully decorated room in the hospital, fresh flowers and a box of tissues on the table, a comfy chair awaiting me.

I pictured a collection of kindly hospital-scrubbed experts sitting around the table, there to meet every facet of …

What a difference a week makes

I wrote this on Sunday, at a point at which I was still awaiting my diagnosis. This post tells the story of my growing symptoms, entry to hospital and biopsy. As I wrote yesterday the diagnosis has since come back as primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma. I'll write more about that in a little while.


What a difference a week makes.

As I sit here in the Patients Lounge (their decision on the apostrophe, but I digress) with my iPad perched across my knee I can't help but stare out the window at the amateur cricketers already rolling their arm over despite the early hour on a Sunday morning. A few days back I was dressed in whites as resplendent as theirs, only mine were a bit looser fitting at the back and revealed a saggy pair of underwear. Still, make me wicketkeeper, put the whole field in front of the stumps and no-one would be any the wiser. Until I leapt up for an appeal.

At least I'm out of the white gown now, and my pyjamas. I'm actually wearing a rather natty chec…