Who would have thought when my long term school friend Mel went and copied me and got cancer in the same year as me, both in our thirties and each of us with two very young children, that we would joke about who had the good cancer?
We also joked we were the 2013 version of Delta Goodrem and Kylie Minogue, stars who have survived the very same diseases we have been brushed with. To date, that Delta and Kylie blog post I wrote on learning of the devastating news that Mel had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, still makes me teary. Especially since a third friend of ours, who is also in her thirties with two very young children has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in recent weeks.
Cancer competitions and jokes aside, we have always understood that there is no good cancer, and Mel made this point very early when she created her blog titled “I Got The Good Cancer” in jest.
Now, Mel needs our support!
Her fifteen months of gruelling treatment has not been successful to date after a year of different chemos and a stem cell transplant. There is a wonder drug that could clear her of this disease, but it’s not yet on the Australian PBS unlike the UK and Europe where it is readily available.
Mel will have three cycles of a drug called Brentuximab at a cost of $10,600 dollars a cycle and will then be scanned to see if Brentuximab is moving her towards remission. If so, she will need a full course of sixteen cycles at a cost of $169,600 dollars.
Mel has always aimed high in life and has for months been recruiting people to join the bone marrow registry worldwide. She is aiming for 100 new donors to sign up and is a quarter of the way there. She also helped to raise over $71,000 dollars for my treating hospital for women’s cancers despite her going through treatment herself and not having a women’s cancer. That’s the sort of selfless individual she is.
So lets help this Goal Shooter get to her goal!
Any funds raised in excess of funding Mel’s treatment with this drug Brentuximab will be donated to Lymphoma Australia, who supports research into one of the fastest growing cancers in the western world.
I’m sorry! I have finally reached the point that I might need to start drafting invites to my pity party. You were all expecting it at some point. Go on, admit it! Anyone want an invite? It’s guaranteed to be a blast. You all come over and we sit around in the dark. There is no food or alcohol, just a bald head with a eyebrow-less and lash-less, solemn, podgy face. There will be no music and no dancing as 95 year olds filled with chemo induced arthritis don’t boogie. Though there will be some empty, scattered pain med packets and the sombre host will very likely be dressed in pyjamas. Except don’t go thinking it is a pyjama party. It isn’t. Finally, when you are so bored and depressed that you just can’t stand it anymore, you can leave. Yes, the most anticipated party of 2013 is coming!
I’m 7 months into treatment which has (in no particular order) entailed; 3 mammograms, 4 ultrasounds, 2 core biopsies, 1 sentinel node biopsy, a full clearance of 21 lymph nodes from my armpit, some serious cording complications, 3 chest X-rays, 2 full bone scans, 1 chest abdo CT scan, 18 blood tests, 6 rounds of chemo, 1 lumpectomy, 1 mastectomy, countless dates with the surgeon, psychology visits, physiotherapy, tears, pain, 50 odd empty pill canisters, a bucket load of laxatives, tissue expanders, scars, nerve damage, grief, loss, ongoing (worst ever) spinal pain that has held me hostage for five weeks and caused a decline in my mental wellbeing, and a partridge in a pear tree.
I’m feeling like I have hit rock bottom with this. And I’m hoping I have as I can’t imagine it getting any harder. Though life is full of surprises right?
I am mindful of the procedures that still lay ahead… another mastectomy and reconstruction with implants in 9 days, and 5 joyous weeks going to the radiotherapy barbecue. I’m even getting some black radiotherapy tattoos even though I HATE tattoos, on my chest of all places. All of this is to be completed by mid October, in time for 5, maybe 10 years of hormonal therapy. But that’s enough about me, even I’m tired of listening to this situation.
Interestingly, none of this last crazy 7 months of treatment has affected me, made me more shocked, angrier or sadder than the out of the blue message I received nearly four weeks ago.
Are we still competitive in adulthood like we were in primary school? I have pretty much been diagnosed with cancer today. Will have a biopsy soon to confirm what we already know. Not in the boob though, it’s lymphoma.
So, do I win because it’s probably a better cancer to have? Or do you win because you will endure so much more? I’ll get away with one tiny incision to remove a lymph node! I think you are the winner.
At the moment, I’m hiding away not wanting to talk to anyone. Did you go through that? I hope so because I am hoping that phase passes and I can be even half as courageous as you.
Maybe there was something in the water at our Primary School. The timing is pretty unbelievable!
Hope you’re well and through or nearly through your chemo. We will chat soon I’m sure. Probably no work trips to your town in the near future but hopefully we’ll catch up to compare head scarves or something.
I hope we can both grow old and look back on what a crap year 2013 was!
This is someone who has been a great emotional support to me since January, visiting me in my home town through my treatment several times despite living several hundred kilometres from me. We reconnected this year and I have even blogged about her several times… the genius forensic doctor who I have written about here has devastatingly joined the cancer club, the club membership that noone wants or deserves, where memberships are randomly chosen.
What are the chances that two girlfriends who met in grade five at primary school and went all through high school in the same class, played tennis and netball together, would get diagnosed with cancer in the same year in their thirties, six months apart to the day?
As I am finishing chemotherapy, she will begin a gruelling six month course of fortnightly visits to her chemotherapy ward. I still cannot comprehend it and yet I know she has already started walking down her long chemo road. As my hair begins to grow back as cat fur, hers will just begin falling out. As I move out of the chemo brain drain and pain game, she is just being sucked in. Hard to comprehend really.
How will this news feel to our mutual friends? To the people we went to school with? Is this the beginning of a cancer cluster? Or is this just what happens as we age and we are somehow the chosen ones of an umbrella of diseases that claims the most number of Australians than any other?
This predicament has unsettled me greatly. Since January I have firmly stood at the centre ring as “cancer patient” in my own crisis. The road has been lonely. Now, I am joined by a friend. While still being treated for cancer my role and perspective has had to change, I need to put my feet outside the circle to make room for someone else’s crisis and be of support to her. I feel helpless and I wish I could do more. I worry about what to say. I think about how can I best be of support living so far away? Should I even complain about my own predicament anymore? We text often.
I’m beginning to understand the impact of cancer from the “outside looking in” as all my friends and family have experienced. I’ve been so blindsided by my own diagnosis I hadn’t really considered the impact that this year has had on my own friends and family who have watched me struggle and change, have watched me lose my hair, and put my dreams on hold while this disease makes me pause my life for a year of treatment. It’s not just about me anymore. We all have struggles. My friend’s diagnosis is teaching me so much already.
So to answer your question, “Are you the winner?” You were always the winner. You had the better fingernails, the better dress sense, better monkey bar skills, the better earrings, the better hair, better teeth, you were smarter, got higher grades, and had the conviction and drive to work towards a career that you had passion for. One of our close school friends, Bevan Lemon often laments that by his definition, you are one of the most successful persons from our school. But you have cancer now, so that might take you down a peg or two. I can’t wait to see what sort of magic comments Bevan makes as you lose your eyebrows! I kid, I kid.
So far, you have handled your diagnosis and treatment like a true champion and I wait with anticipation to see if you come up with a better blog. Or even if you’ll say, “fuck it, now I have cancer I’m joining Facebook!”
It will be hard for you in a way I have not experienced. Being a doctor means you can see the treatment path ahead. I was lucky, I was blissfully ignorant to the treatment realities. Your vast medical knowledge and experience means you are always a step ahead of your own doctors, accurately self diagnosing and being able to tell your team what tests you need if they even flinch for a second. You even have access to excellent friends in pathology and radiology to give you second opinions on scans and you were able to have your extracted lymph node hand delivered to your chosen expert. Though I’m surprised you didn’t run your own pathology on it. That would have really been something!
You will learn who matters and who doesn’t and what is important in this crazy thing called life. It will fundamentally change you to the core. You might start to reevaluate the relationships in your life as I have. You will learn that there will be times when you have to ask for help and you have to get people to look after you because you can’t. You will be surprised at the people that will be there for you and the ones that aren’t. You will learn to laugh at the stupid things people say or believe about why you got cancer, or how you got the “good cancer” and “how lucky you are”. Your children will be okay through it all. You will be surprised at how resilient they are and how strong you are.
But today, this doesn’t stop me feeling sorry for our 4 children under 6 years of age, and sorry for our families and friends and deeply sorry for us. Maybe a joint pity party is in order? Cancer sucks big hairy ones. Nothing about it is fair, or just, or rational. Nothing about it makes any sense and I am really sorry this has happened to you and your family. I would have preferred to not have had to share this experience of having cancer with anyone. But together, we will make the best of it.
If I could say something to those two little girls back in 1985, it would be… in your thirties you will face a hurdle like no other, but you are both a formidable pair with a wicked sense of humour. You will get through it. It is true, it will suck dogs balls. Big hairy ones in fact. And it will be sucky and hairy for quite a while. No, not hairy, hairy is the wrong word given what chemotherapy does. But for some reason, your lives will be intertwined in such a remarkable way after many years of limited contact. For the girls in this picture, the year 2013 seemed so unimaginable, so futuristic that it was the stuff of science fiction.
And now here it is, 2013 with an almost simultaneous cancer diagnoses which could also qualify as the stuff of science fiction.