On Friday, I attended the 2010 TI year induction session. It was a little weird, this time last year I attended the 2009 TI induction session, thinking that 2009 was going to be the last year of medical school. Its interesting how quickly things change your entire life. It was only 1 week after that session that I started to get a stomach ache, and only another week after that that I had surgery, and then another week again where histology results confirmed that it was cancer, with only a 40% survival at 5 years.
In the past, I have often reflected, usually around birthdays or the new year, where I was the year before, and where I might be 1 year in the future. Never, with any of my reflections, did I even come close to predicting what happened in 1 weeks time this time last year. To go from a fully functioning person, with a future ahead, plans of travel, dreams of medicine, kids, grand-kids, to fighting for my life with cancer. And then, 1 year on, to be told that cure is no longer the goal of any further treatment.
It makes you realise just how fragile life is, how just in a blink of an eye, everything changes. Most of us, of course, don’t think these things will ever happen to us. That is exactly how I thought 1 year ago, yet for reasons beyond my control, I am now contributing to keeping the average life expectancy from getting too high.
Of course all of this talk about how none of us know the future, and how we should seize the day, make the most of life, live life to the full, etc. etc. seems a little unhelpful, and a little too cliche for my liking. But these are the phrases often repeated when such circumstances as these are reflected on. I’m not convinced that I have wasted away my life, I don’t feel as though I have regrets, I don’t believe that my life could have been lived differently. I am actually quite content with what I have achieved and how my life has turned out.
Rather than regretting or lamenting the past, what I lament, is the loss of my future. I’m a person who needs something to achieve, something to look forward to, some direction or plan for where I am going to.
Cancer has stolen that from me…
And that guts me to the core…..
And so, I have decided, that if cancer is going to have the last word to say in my life, I’m not gonna wait around doing nothing while it slowly kills me. I’m going to hit my TI year next year, chemo in hand. I’m going to make my best effort to finish my TI year, graduate with the hardest earnt degree of my life…. or die trying.
The medschool has been incredibly gracious and will accommodate me and my likely adhoc attendance to the best they can.
Five years ago, God made it clear to me that medschool was where my future lay and it was He that set this path in motion. It’s hard to know what God is planning now, but I see no reason to let cancer be the reason I don’t fulfill this calling.
I will follow God’s calling to best of my ability…….. even if it kills me.
And clearly for me, these are not idle words.
Thanks for listening.
It has been incredible over the last week to see the support that has come from all corners of the earth. Most of it has been in the form of well wishes, with the occasional taking the form of some other things. Hannah and I have been deeply moved and touched by all the support we have received. We acknowledge the fact that there is very little that most people can do at the moment, especially considering that I am as healthy as I have ever been at the moment, so we are not in any kind of real physical need.
One such example of this support has been baking!! Of course, anyone who knows me knows that baking is definitely the way to my heart. Hannah managed to win my heart through just this avenue (of course there were other simultaneous avenues as well). Today’s blog goes out to Michelle Kennedy who brought round a cake of which she said I would not be able to guess what it was till I cut it… She was right!!
I’ll let the results speak for themselves. Good on ya Michelle. 🙂
When I started this blog, it was initially meant to keep people up to date with how I am going with my chemotherapy whilst I was out of action for the year. The original intention still remains, however, the expectations that I started with have changed. Even though my odds of survival were never great (40% at 5 years), there was somehow at the back of my mind the notion that I would beat those odds. However, as statistics do in their strange way, they have proven that there is a basis for such figures as I am more or less relegated to the 60% non-surviving category.
Now, as I enter a new phase of the journey with cancer, this blog will fulfill two purposes: the original one to keep people up to date with how I am doing, and a second one, to provide some kind of creative outlet that documents my journey that maybe months long, or a few years short. I’m not sure what form this outlet will take, it’ll likely be musings, thoughts, and experiences along the path to my eventual demise.
For those that know me, I’ve never been one to be particularly private about stuff, and I see no reason to be so now. From what I can tell, most people seem grateful that I can share my experience with them. Some people will no doubt not want to hear about it, which is fine, whether you chose to read this blog or not is up to you. In my experience though, those that embrace the hard things in life are the ones who flourish the most, including the hard things in other peoples life. I don’t write this blog for sympathy, or to garnish attention, but to hopefully provide insight into a dying mind and soul, and to allow those who want to journey with me through this to be able to do so.
Finally, my faith, which is integral to my identity and purpose, has never really featured here much. This is likely to change. Knowing about your death is something that helps you re-prioritise things. My faith always has been, and always will be a priority in my life, but I’m chosing to engage with it on a more public level because it is issues of life and death that raise these kinds of topics to the surface for discussion.
Thanks for Listening.
Well, I would love to begin this post with great news… unfortunately I will begin and end it with really bad news. Two days ago I had my oncology appointment and was given the results of my 3 month follow up CT scan after my last one showed an enlarged node.
The results are as follows:
- The existing enlarged node is now at least twice as big, from 9mm diameter to 23mm diameter
- There are multiple new nodes in the aorto-caval region, running up the aortic chain that are significantly enlarged. These nodes are particularly large vertically, up to 4 or 5cm in length which can be seen on the coronal section of the scan.
- One further small node of 4mm in the sacral region of unknown significance that was not there previously.
These results are pretty much as bad as it gets. This is all recurrence that has occurred within 6 months of the first line of chemo, which makes it even worse. This is considered a rather aggressive recurrence of the cancer, and the goal of further treatment is no longer cure (although still a very remote possibility), just elongation of my life.
So, the plan from here initially considered possible surgical resection of the nodes, but that has since been ruled out, as there is unlikely to be any benefit gained from surgery when weighed against the risks. Chemotherapy will restart again in the next few weeks, once I get a portacath reinserted. This will be a different regime than the last one, and I will loose my hair on this one and look like a proper cancer patient!!! (I had so many comments on how well I looked last time, I think it was cos I kept my hair). The portacath of course means that I will be back on daily prophylactic clexane injections since I am now officially a clot risk after the last IJV thrombosis.
The depressing part of all of this (apart from the fact that I’m looking at my eventual demise) is that I am probably the healthiest and best I will be right now, and its likely to be all down hill from here. I have been really appreciating all the support I have had from everyone over the last few days. The next phase of life will be interesting to say the least.
Finally, the last leg of our trip was in the Philippines. This part of the trip was 7 days spend in Panabo, about 1hr north of Davao, the biggest city on the Island Mindinao, which is the biggest island in the Philippines (did you catch all that?). This was not a travel and be a tourist trip as the rest of our travelling had been. I have visited this area a number of times over the past 10 years, including a 3 month visit back in the summer of 05/06. The original intent was for Hannah and I to only spend a few nights there as a visit and to say hi to old friends. However, this changed as we found out that some other friends where planning on doing a short term trip there. We decided to extend our stay for a week (they were there for 2 weeks) and join in on the activities!
Largely, our time involved working with kids, putting on feedings, and preaching/sharing. The feedings were in areas of very high poverty, where the children were not always guaranteed a good meal each day. I also had good opportunities to share with everyone how my health has been doing, as they had heard about it, but not in detail. They have been keeping Hannah and I in their prayers over the last year, which is always encouraging.
The 7 nights here were the longest we had stayed in a single bed for our entire trip, so it was nice to settle down somewhere for a bit, but I definitely had the travel bug again by the time we had to leave. We then hit Bangkok with a ridiculously short changeover of flights (we cut it real close) in Singapore, and 2 nights later began the 13th flight home to NZ.
We spent 5 nights total in Laos. The original plan as per the itinerary was to hit southern Laos via Cambodia, but as time unfolded, it became clear that we had taken on a fairly ambitious timetable that was rapidly running out of time. So, in the end, we decided to take a plane from Siem Reap to Vientiane flying Laos Airlines. Laos Airlines incidentally are one of the few airlines in the world that keep their safety record out of the public eye….. hmmm….
We were told by an australian and british couple that we met in Hoi An, Vietnam, that Vientiane was not too much to get excited about, so with that in mind, we arrived at 8pm at night, and departed at about 7.30am the next morning for a 12 hr bus ride up to Luang Prabang.
The bus ride was officially the worst bus ride ever!! Two hours into the trip, we came upon a bridge that had dropped away at one side, which meant no buses or heavy trucks could get past. So… wait…. wait… and more waiting, for the bus doing the reverse journey occupied the next 8 hours of our day. at 5.30pm, we finally got on the bus heading north, about 30 min before dark. We were starting to make contingency plans just in case we had been left in the middle of the laotion jungle overnight! We made it into Luang Prabang at a bright 3.30am.
The next 4 nights were in Luang Prabang, which is a really nice little French colonial town in the middle of northern Laos. It was relaxed and scenic, one of the location highlights of all our travels. We went elephant riding with a company that rescues them out of forestry work and rehabilitates them, the first company we felt treats them properly. We ate, we slept, we wined, and we dined….. all chilled out and ready for northern Thailand, the next leg.
Cambodia was a country that was really split into two parts. There was the Phnom Penh part, which involved the killing fields and the Teul Sleng museum (also known as S21), and the Siem Reap part, which was all about the old cites of Angkor.
We spent 2 nights in Phnom Penh, at a guest house we found out was patronised by Elton John 1 year earlier, and visited the killing fields and S 21 on the same day. It was kinda surreal to see the site of such a huge atrocity, that has been made infamous on a global scale. 2 million Cambodians died during Pol Pots regime, which is 1 in 5. The population dropped from 10 million to 8 million in 3 years. At the killing fields, they have exhumed a large number of the graves, but have left the rest to lie in peace. There is a giant monument there that is filled with the bones of the exhumed bodies that is meant to be a reminder to the world of the atrocities that happened, and to serve as a warning to not let it happen again.
The S21 museum/former prison is where the regime used to take prisoners and ‘interogate’ them in order to get confessions of subversion. The neighbours at the time report hearing blood curdling screams through the night as the prisoners were tortured, and then taken to the killing fields for their execution. The prison used to be an elementary school that was converted. Pol Pot’s regime did not believe in education and shut down all the schools during his time.
After the history of Phnom Penh, we moved on up to Siem Reap, where its all about Angkor, and the temples there. The most famous one being Angkor Wat. We got a 3 day pass and a driver and hit them hard, so much so that we skipped the 3rd day. It is a SERIOUSLY big place, with SO many temples and ruins. We figured that by the end of the 2nd day, when everything started to blur, and I had taken something like 400 photos, that the 3rd day really wasnt going to add anything to the trip. So, we spent the final day relaxing in Siem reap, and getting our feet pedicured by fish.
Photos of Cambodia can be found here: Photos of Cambodia