Five weeks ago, I was sitting on the steps, in the small circular grassed amphitheatre at the front of the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney. I had just seen my Gynaecological Oncologist, Associate Professor Rhonda Farrell, I called my partner to let him know that I had received the news that I had elevated Inhibin B blood count indicative of a malignant Granalosa cell tumour, a rare form of Ovarian cancer. Since then, a lot has happened.
Two weeks ago I had major surgery – a total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy and removal of the omentum and two lymph nodes. I stayed for two weeks in Sydney with my delightful son and his equally delightful wife (and gorgeous dog, Hugo) as I rested.
Last Thursday I was sitting on the same steps outside the hospital, calling my partner again but this time with the news that the lab results after the surgery revealed that there were no evident cancer cells remaining. I had tears of gratitude.
From hereon, I will need to have regular blood tests and a physical check up every three months, then every four months and eventually, I will only need blood tests every six months and an annual visit to see Rhonda in Sydney… for the rest of my life. Given that she is very friendly and caring; and it is in the interest of my health, it will be a joy to see her.
One of the moments I recall vividly in the hospital was when Rhonda came to see me the day after my surgery. She walked in, and held my hand very gently and told me about the surgery. I felt a wave of care and kindness flow from her hand through my whole body. Even now, writing this, I feel that warmth. Truly a sense of deep gratitude that I was blessed to have her on my medical team.
As I reflect back over this time there were three sustaining factors that held me in the hands of Grace.
Many things in my life dropped away, quickly. I withdrew from seeing people face to face so as to keep clear of getting a cold or Covid prior to the operation. Fortunately, it was the end of the teaching year so it flowed pretty effortlessly into not starting any new programs in 2022 until I knew more. I tidied up my legal affairs – I changed my enduring guardians and power of attorney’s, and updated my will. I cleaned out my cupboards. I jokingly referred to this ‘offering’ as research for my ‘Death and Dying’ programs. There is nothing like the firsthand experience of looking closely at your mortality and all that means.
The questions that arose for me through this time were:
I had many opportunities for integrating my practices and reflecting upon my beliefs. A few people let me know, one person in particular a few times, that they praying for a miracle. I was very open and felt blessed to receive prayers and well wishes for my recovery – I had a lot to live for – and what I discovered was that my personal reflection was around the question: Can death be experienced as a miracle as much as living?
I was genuinely curious. If death was going to be the outcome, I wanted to be able and willing to walk towards death not fighting it. It is one of a few paradoxes of the healing journey that I came across. I write this, with care and yet wish to speak to my experience while acknowledging that it can be extremely difficult for those left behind – to grieve, to want to get angry and to feel scared. One of my friends was sure I was in denial and questioned me, on a few different occasions, to probe further. She was angry that this illness was happening to me. This was not my experience.
My beloved partner of 25 years, is 13 years older than I am. He had definitely slipped into thinking that he would be the one to die first. This health challenge really knocked that sense of security on the head and it has been a wake up call for him – which is enlightening and liberating for both of us.
Another source of information during this time was Kelly Turner’s book, Radical Hope. 10 Key Healing Factors from Exceptional Survivors of Cancer and Other Diseases. (Thank you to Caz Heise)
While I only had time to read the first few chapters I picked up a key piece of information that helped me to prepare for surgery – the importance of engaging in HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – to build up muscle mass before my planned surgery and recuperation. The book also inspired me to clean up a few parts of my diet and find strong reasons for living. I will finish the book before I pass it on to someone else in need.
It is time for me to rest, heal and recover. I have found some wonderful Qigong practices. I am practicing slow and gentle Feldenkrais movement and taking in lots of deep relaxation and sleep! It is a practice unto itself to watch the weeds grow. I am not sure how that gardening trowel found its way into my hands this afternoon!
I came home to my partner having filled the fridge, my grandchildren’s paintings, my son-in-law having mowed the lawn, my daughter’s flowers and home made food and my own bed! Simple pleasures.
Thank you again for all your love and support on this life enhancing journey that I have been blessed with.