I received a text from a friend containing a photo of me from when I was 24 years old, and almost immediately, I noticed a body I have become so unfamiliar with. The striking difference is of course a long forgotten flat abdomen region spanning across the entirety of my lower torso whilst further examination reminds me of the normal chest I had prior to starting the chemotherapy that caused my chest to be more akin to the body of a 14 year old girl. If a greater analysis was undertaken, then I can also connect with a completely carefree attitude evident in my face, however, I wish to keep all emphasis on the noticeable changes in my body resulting from the lasting impact of consecutive surgeries and the course of treatment tackled thus far.
There are many paths for this entry to lead down, and the singular route to be explored relates to the question about the importance of body image. Firstly, is it a reflection of my shallowness to even think about some scarring and an enlarged chest when taking into consideration the fact I am here, alive and smiling? Secondly, please consider the situations for many others, particularly women who some may argue lose some of their femininity when having a breast removed or have the need for a colostomy bag. Just to note, I do not hold this view about women, however, I have both heard and read this to be true, so wanted to widen the scope for discussion about the connection between Cancer and body image.
Ultimately, my current predicament is obviously preferred over death, and believe most others will hold the same position, however, a seemingly blanket view held from others about being superficial for placing emphasis on this topic is simply mirroring a misunderstanding about the impact of certain factors associated with Cancer. As noted in previous entries, I believe it can often be the secondary factors that haunt people who have experienced Cancer, and the only means for decreasing the impact is for educating the masses about some of the areas that may simply be overlooked by discarding these concerns by a belief that everyone should just be grateful to be alive.
I have always referred to the widespread impact a singular Cancer can have on many, particularly those closest to a person, and unfortunately, it appears my initial worries have manifested. I heard the news when getting into my car after having my latest scan. It was my mum calling as usual, however, immediately I detected something different this time when she said, “I don’t want you to worry but”.
Information surrounding my mum has come to light with further testing, and she is scheduled to have a Cancer removed tomorrow. Personally, I see a correlation between the recent turn of events and the stress associated with the challenges endured over last 20 months. My reasoning derives from research read when first discovering I had Cancer. The exact findings of the paper are not remembered in full detail, however, a trend was noticed in a Cancer diagnosis leading to an increased risk of health concerns for significant others. I am not at all seeking sympathy from others, merely, attempting to highlight the importance of looking at Cancer on a larger scale, especially how loved ones need to make space in their lives to care for themselves whilst having positive, healthy and appropriate avenues to channel the stressors involved in the circumstances. Lastly, I wish to outline the very pivotal point of remembering what worked for me may not be the best for her. Therefore, I need to take myself out of the situation, and simply reciprocate the unconditional love and support shown to me.
In approximately eight hours I will be Cancer Free! Yes, your read it correctly. I am currently waiting to be called to have the the final procedure completed on my left lung. Admittedly, fairly aggressive and evasive treatments have been used, however, purely taking an outcomes approach to reflect on the treatment received leave me in a comfortable position. The next step is to further expand on my existing goals to support my body reach a level of optimum health, enabling me and my loved ones to not again encounters such circumstances.
20th July 2015: Westmeed Hospital, Sydney, Australia
I am writing this entry, awaiting to be called for my first scheduled operation on my right lung. I am nil by mouth, a factor possibly contributing to my seemingly intensified medicated state. To my advantage, the medication is both managing the pain from the two procedures completed thus far whilst stopping any invasive or worrying thoughts affecting my outlook. The day at a close will be rather eventful, particularly when bearing in mind the story below.
At this moment, I should have had only one procedure, however, two drains adjacent to my wound were required three days ago to release a build up of liquid caused by an infection. Samples since taken have showed the procedure was successful, leading to the removal of the drains this morning. Prior to removing the drains, the nursing staff advised me the specific drain typically causes a degree of pain during the removal process. Interestingly though, the whole process was completed with a level of ease, and it was made possible by identifying with the concept of fear. On reflection, it seems I gained an understanding of the correlation between fear and anticipated pain. The term, anticipated pain was used to separate pain into two domains. One whereby obviously it is anticipated and another type of pain, namely, when it results from a sudden or unexpected event. Basically, I came to conclude if there was no fear, then the body would not be preparing itself for pain in the moments leading up to the expected event. Upon applying this theory, I was able to recognise the information provided by the nurses sent me into a state of fear, and therefore, I was expecting to feel pain. Once this was identified, I was able to draw on an inspirational story of Mick Fanning, a surfer who today was able to escape a shark attack unscathed. I envisioned what he must have been feeling before his encounter compared to the removal of two drains. The mental exercise enabled me to place the upcoming events in context, resulting in a distraction/blockage in my mind. In summary, I was not focused on the anticipated/expected feeling in my body, and consequently, any degree of fear dissipated whilst also leading to a removal of pain when the drains were withdrawn.
17th July 2015: Westmeed Hospital, Sydney, Australia
I believe I will now finally adhere to never focusing on timeframes in terms of my recovery. It was a point heard very early in my Cancer experience, and continually I have failed to apply the term within my life. Consequently, low periods surfaced when a timeframe was not met, and as a result it felt like the foundation of my belief system slightly crumbled with each disappointment. Numerous examples in regards to the topic of timeframes can be drawn upon, and recently, my time in hospital has reinforced the need to not think of timeframes.
I was meant to leave hospital on Saturday with all three procedures complete. I was then informed the departure date would be two days ago plus an additional admission was required, and now I won’t be out till Tuesday (at earliest). Although it is a small matter, it is another example of delays and possible disappointment. I was literally five minutes away from having the needed procedure that was the reason for keeping me here till Tuesday, and I was just informed the surgical team did not read the notes provided by the Endocrine team regarding the levels of Cortisol essential for the procedure. So, now it has been delayed till the appropriate levels are administered intravenously. Obviously, major differences exist between a slight delay and other more important areas in my life. Plus, I am possibly overreacting, however, it has again made me consider the very poignant point first exposed to at the beginning of my Cancer experience.
12th July 2015: Westmeed Hospital, Sydney, Australia
I am writing in a dazed and confused state from the events endured last night. The circumstances seem evidence of the obstacles to be faced over the coming period. It commenced at approximately 10pm when a sensation of being utterly lost in a cloud of opiates became overwhelming. Consequently, a negative mindset surfaced whereby I felt extremely vulnerable, and when reflecting it is difficult to describe, however, basically my pain increased to an almost intolerable degree, and it was not till 5am when my medication was changed, knocking me asleep.
I am now awake, have had blood collected twice, feel heavily dazed, and not in a position to do anything except lie in bed focusing on past quotes to keep me balanced. The feeling is a perfect example of what I have been trying to explain to staff members about the need to find the balance between having the capacity that allows me to engage in activities whilst keeping the pain away. Hopefully, someone will soon understand this predicament!
The time till my hospital admission is rapidly approaching, and I must state that a very surreal feeling in relation to the connection with myself is being experienced. The positive attitude, bursts of energy, and an overwhelming sense of freedom seems ever present, yet, I can feel a creeping sensation that is extremely difficult to define. If an attempt was made to explain the sensation, I would say a slight degree of anxiety only felt at night in the sanctuary of my bed is slowly building in momentum. I understand this is obviously normal, and am confident of managing the impact of the anxiety, namely, a fear associated with what could eventuate over the coming days.
The reasoning behind my confidence is rooted in the belief held about my future. A future made possible by:
1. Family members who continue to amaze me with a level of understanding consistently on display. I actually find it ridiculous how much ease has been added to this whole process from the support provided by my family.
2. Wide group of friends spanning the world that seems to be best described as a combination between a vacuum and trampoline. I feel the support in my life sucks away any concerns through an array of means whilst conversely having the capacity to bounce me back to normality with constant laughter and joy.
3. Yoga and surfing, two activities enjoyed on a daily basis whereby my body is moving to alleviate stressors and allow blood to circulate around my body.
4. Rocky Balboa for providing a strong, vivid and emotive catchphrase that ensures an anchor exists within my life. When my thinking can switch into a destructive mode, all I need to remember is the opening phrase whereby he states, “life isn’t all about sunshine and rainbows”. Those few select words have a powerful effect in helping me realise the reality of the hardships to be encountered in life, and it is these moments that will define my strength.
5. Confidence in the medical team working towards the best possible outcome.
6. Miscellaneous factors also need a mention, they would be grouped as music I have been exposed to, memories of past times and the dreams of a happy and successful future awaiting me.
7. Total belief in my existence!
I am now aware of my immediate future. On Thursday, surgery will be undertaken to remove the Cancer regrown in the same spot (Adrenal Gland). In addition, a further procedure, called Microwave Ablation will follow a week later if all plans proceed as discussed. The second procedure is foreign to me, and will remain unknown as a means of coinciding with my approach of avoiding over information. I am not at all suggesting I am being naive and relinquishing all decision making in regards to my treatment. Instead, I have every confidence in the expertise of the surgeon, and the detailed conversation had about the range of options left my parents and I assured the right decision is being made. Another notable point in terms of planning is the outstanding decision to be made in relation to whether Radiotherapy will be pursued post surgery. The surgeon brought to my attention the possible permanent damage should Radiotherapy be used. The best way I can describe my understanding of the risks associated with the procedure would be to think of myself playing poker. In the game, I would not be holding a very good hand, however, would be going all in. The reference implies I am risking all my chances on one attempt when the odds are not even in my favour. I am conscious the decision may vary with further consultation and information to follow, however, currently it does not seem to be in my best interest. I am also unaware of what other alternative suggestions are being made. Therefore, am solely focused on getting through the two procedures before thinking about any other matters.
I have commenced watching motivational clips virtually everyday, and it seems to have helped make positive shifts when comparing my mindset at present to how I was functioning prior to my previous surgery. Currently, I feel an overwhelming sense of finality, as this being the final stage of the process. I can completely understand how absurd it sounds, especially upon hearing the Cancer has also appeared on my lungs, however, my belief in my longterm health and wellness is not comparable to anytime in my past. There are many areas to contribute where these positive feelings derive from, and at the top end of my list would be the range of motivational videos being watched on a daily basis. The positive feelings and lasting thoughts anchored into my consciousness are the very reason for deciding to dedicate an entire wall in my room to motivational quotes and pictures. I am currently in the process of collating images and will show updates throughout the stages of development.
I woke up this morning after crying in my sleep. This is new terrain for me, and definitely not the ideal way to approach a day. The reasoning for my subconscious sobbing is obviously open to interpretation, however, it felt like an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and the feeling of loss present in my life. Thankfully, I am feeling much better as the hours pass, and, I am wishing for the dream to be a singular event. Honestly, what sort of existence involves unexplained crying in my sleep!