Thursday, 27 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 5

"Cancer connects us to one another because
Having cancer is an embodiment of the
Existential paradox that we all experience:
We feel that we are immortal,
Yet we know that we will die."

-Alice Stewart Trillin

Started chemo today. Will find out in about a month if I am in remission. Not cured. In remission. Maybe now I will feel a little less immortal. That's good.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 4

My first night in the hospital getting used to all the routine. They took me for a CT scan this morning and the orderly asked me if I could walk. Not quite that bad yet I thought.
Lying in a bed, being fussed over, served food. Letting others explore my body. It's all very passive. Stuck in a well oiled bureaucratic hospital machine. Wearing hospital garments and tethered to an IV pole. Easy to start seeing myself as a blob. Stop being grounded. Lose a sense of my own vitality. Feel sorry for myself.  Become a patient.
It's all about attitude. My attitude. And as always I have the ability to form that attitude. Do I let my situation and environment dominate me, or do I live in this place the way I want to live, within the possibilities.
Can I still be something bigger than this place?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 3

Being admitted in a few hours. Chemo starting for a week tomorrow morning.

Was wondering today why I had been so nervous to give cancer a thought over the years. Learning about it a bit, how to avoid it, what it is, what treatments are available would hardly have been worse than avoiding the topic out of fear. People I love have died from it of course, but then it's unfortunately a fact of modern life.

All that sugar I ate (ha ha).

For some reason I kept thinking of "Subvert the Dominant Paradigm" all day.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 2

Checked my beehive today, they are doing really well. Nothing like an Ausgust hive of 60,000 bees busy as hell to give a feeling of energy and effulgence.

Feeling tired. Got very emotional at one point when I mentioned how many wonderful people like me and are rooting for me. I sometimes have felt very emotional.

Talked to Alix my nurse, may get in tomorrow.

Spent afternoon with Brian, Neev, Eron and Debbie. Had dinner with Nathan who is coming to see me every day. Got a great card from (his) Anastasia, designed and painted by her. Seems I rock like Jack White and Ash Grunwald. Two (temporary) tatoos inside. Thanks Anastasia.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis

August 23 / 2015

10 days since diagnosis with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Hopefully admission to Princess Margaret Hospital is tomorrow.

I have been nervous about the topic of Cancer (ha ha Tropic of Cancer) for many years now, since my father and three friends have succumbed to it.

Hearing the news 10 days ago was obviously a shock. For several days a feeling of dread or doom in the stomach, sinking feeling, hard in the middle of the night. Confusion trying to figure out a way to relate to all the feelings / thoughts that go through my head. What is the “right healing attitude” I should have here?? And do I have it?

A lot of time spent initially contacting family and friends in an ordered fashion.

The yoyo between thinking of getting through it and what if I die. I did not ask my contact at the hospital what my chances were, hoping I could maintain a middle path of “What will be will be”.
Someone told me to be angry and smash plates, which I didn’t feel. I felt this is my life now, and so still enjoy it. At times I felt good, even excited at the intensity, and that bothered me too, as if I was too accepting of the whole thing. Not knowing my chances pushed me to try to be completely open to the future. To try to be ready for anything. Then my nurse told me I had a good chance, so now I’m more hope and less “zen” about it. But often still that little flicker of dread in the background. I have enjoyed making up a fantastic list of all the great things I want to do when I get out.

I have received some excellent guidance for how to handle this which I gone over and over.

I could die here. Strangely still something of an abstract thought. I have had a life four years longer than my Father, and a dear friend from the past died over thirty years ago, but somehow this sort of reasoning means nothing. So many of my (our) ideas about life are trite. I feel very grateful for the life I have had, so frankly I’ve not done a lot of feeling sorry for myself yet.

It is a challenge.

I look at people walking past on the street and they seem so confident, in control, almost smug about their lives. Assumptions. Entitled to being alive. I felt the same way recently. Now I am grateful for so little. Just sitting in the sun is great.

The social connections I have had in the last 10 days have been insane. It seems I am connected to so many great people, and have connected to some I’ve not talked to in years. At times this was draining, and sometimes I felt I had to “cheer people up”. Not be too heavy. There was a fear of isolation so maybe I was over extending myself in my insecurity to mitigate against that. Wanting to be normal so others would be normal. I’ve been phoning, texting, emailing, Facebook posting and messaging, skyping and plain old meeting for dinner. Although sometimes tiring, I think this is good. 

And I’ve had so many arrangement to make, it’s been busy.

Someone referred just now to my "Health Adventure", that seems good to me. Although maybe there is some denial in there.

Often very tiring. Hard to climb stairs without lots of hemoglobin to supply oxygen to my muscles. And often waking in the night, feverish, pillow and pj top soaking.

Got a close haircut to pre-empt the chemo hairloss, glad I did it as it's like the new me having some sort of control.

I have also gone out of my way to milk the situation for any humour I can. Again perhaps my insecurity and desire to not alienate people. To cheer them up and cheer me up. It’s been good, although I sometimes suspect people are being too tolerant of my jokes.

Thanks to all who have made me feel so loved. I am very grateful.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Carer

Yoli with a small Wombat

Beauty Point, Tasmania, January 4, 2015

My friend Yoli picks me up at nine, with Henry her Maltese dog. 

She is one of the people in Australia who look after orphaned animals. Many nocturnal marsupials, especially wallabys, are killed on the road, if the females have a joey (baby or youngster) in their pouch it will starve inside its dead mother's body. Yolande is a "carer", someone known to contact locally who has the skill to look after these sensitive little critters. She worked for years at the Platypus and Echidna House in Beauty Point, and now, after taking an animal care course, works for a vet in Beaconsfield.

She shows me a wallaby joey, wrapped in a flannel bag, a surrogate marsupial pouch. An awkward creature, its long dark tail and legs (with huge black nails), stick out of the bag. Somehow almost bat-like, it's all dark skin, showing little hair, stretched over long limbs.

Yoli drives me to visit a friend, another carer. Loraine's place is in the country, a curious home clad on all sides with heavy stonework to represent a (one story) castle, complete with crenellated towers in the corners and several heraldic animal figures imbedded over doors.

Lorraine is a short, business-like woman in her seventies. She is in a hurry as she has family coming over later. She takes us through to a building surrounded by pens. Inside is her "hospital" where she treats animals. Shelves contain supplies and instruments. In one corner is an old baby incubator, donated for her use by a hospital. On the wall is a framed citation awarded Lorraine from the Australian government.

" Mrs Lorraine Lillian McDonald
Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)
Citation: For service to the conservation and care of injured and orphaned native animals in northern Tasmania.
Date Received: 26 January 2005"

She learned to care for these animals from her mother, also a carer. Animals are kept until they can be put back into the wild, or sometimes sent to a wildlife park and perhaps from there to the wild.

Lorraine looks at Yoli's joey and they discuss it's skin problems, dry appearance and closed eyes. Lorraine feeds the little thing, and applies some skin cream, but expresses concern. She feels there is infection somewhere, and is not very positive about it's chances.
We then visit some of the pens outside, one contains three young Eastern Grey Kangaroos, two females and a larger male. Beautiful animals, the little females come shyly over to us at the fence, one sucks its thumb (paw). They suddenly hop around the yard and I experience a sudden surprizing moment of intense delight in them.
In another pen a large wombat waddles quickly over to us. I reach in and give it a good scratch up and down its back, which it obviously enjoys.
Another pen has wallabys, and a smaller cage has small wombats in pouches. Loraine takes them out, and first Yoli and then I hold one of the small, chubby little marsupials.

I see a row of flannel pouches drying on the line. Altogether we have seen about ten rescue animals.

As we leave there is a horrible screeching sound as I close the door on my side of the car. I imagine hinges that need lubrication until I realize it's the voice of a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo in a cage just beside our parking spot.

Yoli and I drive to the Lillydale Falls. A short walk through giant ferns and gumtrees takes us to the beautiful little cascade. Yoli suggests I strip and get under the deluge. I strip, but only down to my underwear, and climb slowly over slippery rocks to stand in the down-rushing water. Maybe finding naked old men frolicking in your scenic waterfall is OK in Tassie, but when a family arrives I'm glad I stayed partially clothed. 

We go to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Sitting on the patio Yoli tries to feed a bottle to the wallaby joey but it's not taking it. Yoli has tears in her eyes, realizing the little animal won’t live. But I feel compassion for Yoli, I know she suffers from frequent migraines (there is a stretched look behind her eyes) and has had to struggle. She has a big heart and lives with the sadness of life.

She gets a sudden call from a veterinary hospital, and we drive to Launceston and enter an affluent looking business, the Animal Medical Centre. A vet has received two wild animals from individuals after road encounters and is doing what he can, even though it's of no benefit to him and a holiday as well. We are greeted by the receptionist and the doctor, an energetic young man named Rob. Yoli requests that the vet put down her joey, the receptionist reacts with annoyance and looks at Rob, but he accepts the request without comment. We move into the large treatment room and the vet gives the wallaby a quick injection of green liquid and the little body, now toxic, is wrapped in heavy plastic for disposal. Rob and Yoli have a discussion about the two rescue animals, both mature, a Ringtailed Possum and Blue Tongued Skink, who the vet has X-rayed for free without finding any obvious problems.

We leave with the animals in two boxes and Yoli drives me home to my cousin's place, Blue Dog Hill. We take the animals out of the boxes. The lizard is very beautiful but just sits on the tile floor looking stunned. The possum is a fascinating animal, long thin tail with bare skin on the inner surface, strange splayed hands and feet, bug eyes - caramel coloured and staring intently. It seems better and soon makes a break for it across the room, ending up under a huge couch. I manage to lift the furniture so she can untangle the animal from the struts inside. Yoli leaves, we are very pleased with our day.

On returning to Canada, I get a message from Yoli that the two young kangaroos I liked so much are dead. Lorraine had to put them down, as stress during a storm aggravated symptoms caused by the coccidiosis parasite they suffered from.

I am left with a strong memory of the rush of joy they granted me.