Wednesday, 13 February 2013


"Cancer, the disease we all fear", says TV's Dr Oz, before launching into a colourful display on antioxidants
"Is there any history of cancer in your family", asks the GP, squinting at the X-ray, CT scan, ultrasound result.

"Don't eat those, they are carcinogenic",  says everyone about something ... rice cakes, processed meat, red food colouring ... whatever, we are all an expert on what we've heard.

The women in my mother's family, most of them nurses, considered medical problems the most interesting topic of conversation - their own problems and those of their family members, neighbours, neighbour's friends, the local shop keeper's auntie's next door neighbour's former teacher, as well as the royal family and movie stars. This gave them an endless variety of subject matter and, as they were knowledgeable in medical terms and treatments, some authority.  Conversations took place over cups of tea, back fences, in letters and on the telephone and were repeated over cups of tea, back fences, in letters and on the telephone to others. I was privy to descriptions of hysterectomies, appendectomies, tonsillectomies, complications in childbirth and heart attacks.  Often the agenda included treatment of abscesses, boils, seizures, arthritis, osteomyelitis and hernias.  Before antibiotics sulphur was prescribed for infection, big square pink tablets that had to be crushed in honey, or the site was painted with mercurochrome, so pink it was magenta- but banned now because of the mercury content. But, I don't remember any talk of cancer, not in the 1950's or the early 1960's. 

By the time my mother was diagnosed in 1972 we were a little more familiar with the subject.  Of course a diagnosis will kick you out of the comfort zone and bring you up to date very quickly, so 
"Yes, Dr Oz", we do know that fear.  
"Yes, Doctor, three generations of my family have been affected by cancer, starting with both my parents."
"Yes, everyone, we have run around like mad things trying to avoid the carcinogens, eat the anti-oxidants, try to latest fad food or scrub or supplement. 

When my mother died of cancer at 54, that was considered a young age to go.  When I was told I had less than three years, probably only one year, to live at age 43, that was too young and now we hear it's younger people - in their 30's. I have no answers, I only have my story.

       You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have left. Anon

My cancer journey.  In April 1991 my doctor sent me for my first mammogram, which showed nothing, followed by an ultrasound, which found a patch of thickened tissue and then a biopsy. On my way out of the specialist's room another specialist said to me, "Well, at least we know it isn't cancer".
And, suddenly they had found an extremely aggressive cancer that was wide spread. I was rushed into surgery and had the whole breast removed and the underarm lymph nodes. They couldn't find the edge of the cancer; it was in the skin down my arm, in the tissue of the shoulder etc. I was stapled together and the surgeon gave me the bad news. He said I had less than 3 years, probably less than 2 years and I should make plans. Later on he told me he felt it was less than one year but he didn't have the heart to tell me. I felt sorry for him but I wasn't worried. I'd had an amazing encounter with God the night before which kept me on a high for several years.

I was a divorced mother of three - two natural children and a long term foster child. I had moved to Queensland four years before, away from old friends and relatives. However, after 8 years on my own I had a lovely male friend and we were talking about marriage.  Looking back I wonder what we were thinking! R was 10 years younger, never married before, still saw his parents daily, was 'taking a year off work',  while I had a ton of baggage, a gaggle of kids and a house full of 'stuff'.

We married ten days after I left hospital, in July 1991. The wedding took place in the paddock by the dam. It was very hot for mid winter and our guests huddled together in the small patch of shade offered by an acacia tree in the centre of the paddock. I still had some of the staples in my chest.

When I was well enough they hit me with strong treatments to extend my life beyond the expected one year. I had three months of sickening chemotherapy - fortnightly infusions that took five hours and led to 24 hours of vomiting, then a month of radium treatment and another three months of chemo.  One day a nurse punctured the bag while hanging it up and a few drops of one drug was spilled.  It soaked through my dress and burnt the skin on my stomach. I stopped treatment.

Me: I don't want any more chemo.
Prof of Oncology:  But you've only had 5 and a half months.
Me:   I feel I'm being poisoned.
Prof of Oncology:  But you need 6 months of chemo.
Me:  Why.
Prof of Oncology: That is the dose. We always gave everyone 12 months treatment and now we give everyone 6 months.
Me:    Maybe 5 and a half months will be enough.

Treatment left me with a shrivelled lung and shoulder, damaged thyroid, dead ovaries, damaged stomach lining, damaged immune system and damaged nerves in the right arm. My body went into fear-of-starvation mode and I put on  weight. I had two years of natural remedies to help with recovery and continue to take supplements. In the first eight years after the big surgery doctors also removed both ovaries, the gallbladder and several benign lumps from the other breast.  And I survived.

So, coming up to 22 years on, I still struggle with treatment damage but my kids, including a grandaughter, thrived, grew to adulthood and have their own lives and adventures. R and I live in a house we are building ourselves. We work a small farm and both have part time jobs and many interests.  Life is so full we run out of daylight and lamplight.  I sometimes feel in awe and sometimes I am mystified.  

But there will never be a sad ending for me.  I've already lived past my use by date and I consider that 22 years to be well worth the trouble. Whatever I have left is a big bonus.  Thank you God.


There is a comments facility below for your comments or encouragement - 
but it's not like facebook
there is a process to keep the spammers and hackers out.  

Click comment
type in the box and then 
select from the drop down menu for your identity (anonymous is fine if you aren't on google) and then click publish - but that's not the end .....
you will be asked to 
retype some numbers and letters into another little box, it's not the easiest thing to do, but if you get it wrong you get a second turn.... like a game.  

Once you've done it you'll find it easier the next time, 
and I will reply to your message so it's worth it....  
 (smiley face)


  1. Thanks for the email Jen.
    Loved your story of your cancer journey, you have never shared that with me, love Jen

  2. You have certainly been through a lot but you have the right attitude.


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