2010 – What a year I had planned, it was meant to be my year for travel. That soon changed and a rollercoaster journey full of pain, fear and frustration began. Early January I started experiencing pain. I would be driving to work and suddenly would get sharp pain up my tailbone. There were times I had to turn around and go back home in pain. Bowel movements became painful, leading me to think that it could possibly be haemorrhoids. But, to me the type of pain I was experiencing did not fully correspond with haemorrhoid symptoms.
I went to see the doctor and that was when my journey began.
I requested a colonoscopy, but there was a really long waiting list. The doctor ran other tests while I waited, but they were all inconclusive. The wait for the colonoscopy was really frustrating, because in the back of my mind I knew it was something more serious.
I never thought and hoped that it was not cancer, but it kept niggling in the back of my mind and deep down I knew it probably was.
It took months for me to be diagnosed. I had been in pain since the start of January and was finally able to see a specialist in April. I had my colonoscopy in June and it showed that I had a tumour. When I heard the big C I was fearful and numb, but I was determined not to let it beat me.
The tumour was quite large and the waiting list for treatment in the ACT was too long, so the specialist suggested I go to Sydney. Luckily I had my Godmother in Sydney with whom I stayed and my sister (God love her) who took time out to be my caregiver. So, I went to Sydney and Prince of Wales Hospital became my new home. They were great!
I did six rounds of chemo and had radiation every day for a month – a total of 32 sessions.
The joy and accomplishment of being able to ring the bell to symbolise the end of radiation treatment at Prince of Wales Hospital was a blessing!
I went back and forth to Prince of Wales Hospital for monitoring and was told that I was doing well and could go back into the hands of my GP. As Prince of Wales was my home and the place where my care and friendships had taken place, I felt a sense of loss and concern when I was told I could see my GP back in Canberra and no longer needed to be seen by Prince of Wales Hospital. On the other hand, I was joyful because things were going good and I had no reason to see them. So, it was a time of mixed emotions.
I had spent the full month of July in Sydney, coming home for weekends whenever possible. I lost my hair after my first dose of chemo. I went to the hairdresser and she was great. She put a black sheet on the mirror and cut me a new short hairstyle. When I went back to Sydney, I had it shaved and bought a few wigs and beanies. I was having bad hair days anyway, so it was a great opportunity to be whoever I wanted to be on the day with beanies, wigs and scarves.
After a while, I just went out with my bald head and thought – people can see me as I am!
Cancer Council ACT helped from the beginning to the end of my cancer treatment. I was so grateful to my sister who liaised with people for me, because my head was everywhere. Once things started to get confusing my sister would ring up and ask all of the questions I had, like why was the waiting list so long and why did I have to go to Sydney for treatment. Cancer Council also liaised with the Cancer Care Coordinator at Prince of Wales Hospital to find out what was going on to help me better understand. Cancer Council also provided me with booklets and other support.
Once I finished treatment in Sydney, I stayed in touch with Cancer Council ACT and went along to different seminars. At one of the seminars, I found out about a support group that I started going to. I lived for them. It was helpful hearing other people’s stories and knowing that some other people had it worse than me. We all supported each other and I met lots of wonderful people who I think of often. Some of the people who came along to the group have passed away. My sister-in-law died a year later and my brother-in-law is now going through it. He says I’m his inspiration to get through it!
Initially, I was angry because the cancer had slowed me down. My life as I knew it had come to a halt, but I thought nothing’s going to keep me down – I’ve got places to go and people to see and I’m determined to fight! After two years of recovering I started travelling. I’ve done two trips and I’ve got more to go.
I think it’s important to trust your body and instincts and to be persistent with your doctors. It’s important to keep fighting until you get a proper diagnosis. You may not like the answer, but if caught early enough, prevention prevails and it can be beaten.
The thing I say to everybody is I believe in the power of the mind – the mind can do anything. I also believe in staying positive, asking lots of questions and asking for help. Remember to seek support from friends, family and support groups, because I couldn’t have done it on my own that’s for sure.
I would like to express my thanks to Cancer Council ACT, Prince of Wales Hospital Oncology and Radiation Unit, family, friends and overseas relatives for all of their kind thoughts, prayers and support throughout my journey and beyond.