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My cancer story...

31 Dec 2012 3:47 PM - Have I learned anything? I hope so!

December 1997... I had not long finished 6 rounds of chemotherapy and was "looking forward" to a month of radiotherapy to start in the New Year. 

It only occurred to me a little while ago that it has been 15 years since I received my cancer diagnosis (for the record, it was the weekend Princess Diana died). 

I remember the time very well.  I discovered a lump one evening and damn it if it wasn't still there the next morning.  For some reason, which I can't explain, I rang the doctor that morning and made an appointment for the same day.  Normally I would have procrastinated in the hope that the problem would go away if I ignored it (I have learned that problems rarely go away and I am now more likely to act promptly). 

To cut a long story short, I saw my GP on the Thursday and she wouldn't let me leave without first making an appointment to see a surgeon (bit of a clue right there that this wasn't going to be good).  I saw the surgeon the following Tuesday and he operated on the Friday.  A referral to an oncologist, a few more tests (blood tests, bone marrow biopsies and galium scans) and I started my first chemotherapy session the following Friday.  All in all, 15 days from lump appearing to chemo with a diagnosis of Hodgkin's Lymphoma along the way.  Quite a blur really and to this day I don't know why it had to happen so fast...surely a few days to get my head around it wouldn't have hurt and maybe even have helped me adjust and prepare for what was happening to me.  I was single at the time with no family in Melbourne to lean on so there were quite a few practical issues and logistics to organise. (Having a good support team in place is really helpful and you need different people for different jobs...the funny one, the practical one, the listener etc).

I was working as an HR consultant in those days and I opted to take time off work while I was having treatment.  It was a personal choice.  I had a feeling this was a pivotal moment in my life.  I wanted time to focus on being healthy and to give my body a chance to recover...this was what my body was telling me (others may get different messages).  I also didn't want my clients feeling guilty about making demands on my time and I didn't want to feel like I was letting a client down if I wasn't up to the task on a particular day.  I also discovered being sick and on the medical roller coaster was practically a full time job! What with the doctors visits, blood tests, chemo, recovery etc.  I also joined a cancer support group and a meditation group. 

Anyway, I was lucky.  The first two rounds of chemo were the worst (I'll spare you the gory details) and then it wasn't too bad. Learning to give myself daily injections was challenging to say the least (the first time took me about an hour to summons the courage but I gradually got better at it).  I had my long hair cut short.  I didn't lose all of it but when I look at photos I now realise just how thin it was and it has never recovered its original thickness...c'est la vie.  I got to spend time with family and friends that I wouldn't have otherwise had the time to do.  And it also made me brave.  Brave to try things I had wanted to do but had talked myself out of (hip hop anyone?)  Brave enough to step off the corporate treadmill and immerse myself in the world of preventative medicine and natural health.  Yes, I am one of those people who say their cancer did them a favour.  I know there are many who would argue vehemently with me about that (and with very good grounds) but it is part of me now and I have learned so much as a result. 

I still see my oncologist, now every couple of years.  It doesn't do me any harm to have some blood tests and to remind myself how far I have come and how lucky I am to still be here.  I admire and respect him and I believe he reciprocates. I think this type of relationship is extremely positive for any cancer patient (or anyone living with a chronic disease for that matter).  We enjoy robust conversations while he is examining me.  When I first told him I was studying naturopathy many years ago, he was openly sceptical, but at my last visit he was quizzing me on herbal treatments for insomnia.  Quite a turn-around, highlighting the fact that evidence from mainstream trials for the use of herbal medicine is growing and is at least on the 'radar screen' for some medicos. 

As 2012 draws to a close, I am glad I remembered my 15 year milestone.  I am taking a moment to appreciate all that I have and all that I am.  I am still a work in progress and always will be.  I'm still learning.  I still make the occasional unwise choice but provided I recognise that and learn something from it, then that's ok.  At least I am now much more aware of the choices I make and their impact on my health.  I try to keep the bigger picture in mind (not always easy but I try).  I know I'll never be perfect and I am learning to accept my flaws and imperfections.  They are what make me unique. 

I can only encourage you, at the end of another year, to stop for a minute and acknowledge all the good and not so good in your life so far and reflect on how you have grown and how you would like to grow. 

I wonder what I will learn over the next fifteen years.... 

Yours in good health,


Kaye Wright
Melbourne CBD

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