Well, I’ve been thinking about writing some blogs for a while now. But I’ve been telling myself excuses- that I should have done it ages ago, that there are so many things written about having cancer so why add to the pile and finally, that it would be weird for my patients to read about me, your doctor, and my cancer.
But actually it’s almost never too late to do something that feels right; I’m not trying to write a perfect tome about any one disease; and as far as my patients go, you are all real people just like me, so I’m sure you’ll accommodate any strange things I say! Besides, I find myself thinking about you often, as a part of my Darwin life and community which I miss enormously. I don’t think it can hurt to try to connect a wee bit in what may be the best way I can at the moment. For it is true that my brain is running on perhaps 2 cylinders instead of any V8 action these days, and as for my energy levels- well, I am imagining what it may feel like to be 90. You know that ageing thing- you still feel like you’re 25 in your little mind, but as I creep along the garden path at a snail’s pace, my body just ain’t keeping up at the moment.
I am currently at the very tail end of 6 months of chemotherapy here in Melbourne. How did I get here? I learnt that I had breast cancer in the “somewhat serious category” at the start of August after a mastectomy in Darwin on 30 July. I had waited nearly 14 days for my pathology result- I have no idea what is normal elsewhere but I can tell you that feels way too long when it’s your future on the laboratory table.
I packed my bag to get a second opinion in Melbourne and realised the truth the very night before we flew- I was probably not coming back until I had actually tackled the treatment suggested. I adore Darwin and steadfastly argue that the fewer choices we have there makes for a simpler, happier life. But I couldn’t ignore some less than ideal small town experiences I was having- they had found a small spot on my liver on CT and needed to lock in whether it was a metastasis or the more likely incidental cyst (which it was) but our only MRI machine was broken. As everyone in Darwin knows, we also did not have a PET scanner then, which I was keen to use. I had also been confronted by some poor hospital care I had experienced- simple things like not being given analgesia, but things that make a real difference when you’re on the receiving end. Meanwhile, I could not fault other Darwin services. The oncologist and surgeon I consulted treated me with the utmost respect and thoroughness, being the tricky patient that I am. I also used a breast care nurse who has topped any I have met since and whom I still call for advice, an outstanding lymphatic massage therapist who is top of her class in skill and kindness, and a second lymphatic therapist who went beyond the call of duty to help get me ready to fly after surgery. It was very very hard for me to admit that I didn’t feel I could do this process at home but in the end, apart from dislodging ourselves from our precious friends and community, I know we have done the right thing being here in Melbourne where there honestly is a PET scanner on every second corner, if you're bored and feel like you need one!
We arrived with 4 suitcases for what would likely be 9 to 12 months away from home, with our 6 and 8 year-old boys. We found a house to rent on the Mornington Peninsula where our various family members are and where we could get the agreed-on priority for recovery, a sea view, and then found a great local primary school for the boys. We had an overwhelming flurry of medical appointments, mostly at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and when the plans seemed clear, we told the boys the news- that it was no longer a 2-week holiday to see everyone but that we were actually staying for nearly a year. They were remarkable. They have consistently been resilient, cheerful, accepting and brave in tackling the immense challenges of being uprooted, becoming the new kids at school in the middle of a term with a lot going on at home. It’s taken us all some time to work out what bits of school uniform to wear, if you need a library bag, and who the nice kids are, but we all got there in the end. The kids’ experience at school has ended up being one of the best parts of this move- it has brought us all great joy and been a fresh slate for each of them to recreate themselves.
So I will finish this first blog at the start of my Melbourne journey, looking down the barrel of many months of chemo, radiotherapy and other treatments. But don’t you worry- the story gets better and happier! And as you know already, I do come out the end of the first 6 months!
Written with love and Darwin in mind,