Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's been a while

It's been a while since I've made a post. Fighting off illness, being lazy, visiting Hobart has gotten in the way.

About a month ago my Mum went into hospital with stomach pains after about 6 months of "not feeling right".  I got a call from my Dad on the Wednesday night saying it was probably just gallstones.  After a scan the week before the doctor found a large number of small gallstones that he thought were causing the pain and she was scheduled in for surgery in a weeks time. My dad said not to worry. I didn't.

Thursday night, another call from my Dad. He hates the phone, so it was unusual that he would just call to shoot the breeze or tell me someting I already knew. His voice sounded very commanding, like it does when he's trying to explain something to me, I think he thought that might be comforting.  It wasn't. It was scary. I was scared before he even said the words, "they've found a tumour".

I didn't know what to think. At this stage, a tumour is a tumour - it didn't mean anything to anyone except my Mum who was about to be cut open. It all happened so fast it didn't feel like it was happening at all.

My dad cried, I cried, I called my ex, I booked a flight home. I wasn't thinking straight, and I booked a flight in the wrong direction. My lovely ex who has taken care of me a lot over the past month, calmed me down, fed me an icypole (oh, I should also mention I was in the middle of the world's worst flu) and eventually I went to sleep.

He stayed and helped me pack in the morning and then, in a daze, I was at the airport, then on a plane.

The ride home was painful. It was slow and on the decent my ears and sinuses went crazy. The pain was unbearable and I was convinced that I'd have some sort of brain aneurism on the way down. I've always been a worst-case-scenarion thinker. I thought about how inconvenient that would be.

I went straight to the hospital. I lovely private hospital on the main road out of the city.  I pumped every bottle of antiseptic I saw on my way in in some vain attempt to kill any germs I might be harbouring. My dad warned me that the nurses might not let me hug Mum since I was sick.  I walked into the room, and it felt weird. The only time I had been in a hospital room over the last few years was to visit my ex's grandmother. She had a stroke years ago, she can't speak and can't move her hands. She just points and smiles. She's lovely, but it's always so sad to visit her.  It felt weird to think that my Mum would be in a hospital bed.

When I saw her she looked tired, but well.  she was hooked up to a drip and had tubes coming out of her nose.  It was like a TV show. She hugged me, but after that I stood far back.

Over the next three days I spent a lot of time in that hospital. I fixed her hair, bought her pyjamas at K-mart, spent a lot of time bonding with my Dad, who took more than one day of in a row for the first time in years. Probably ever.

That weekend was surreal and before I knew it I was back home and back at work.

Since then, the results came back. She has stage 3 bowel cancer. They found it in 6 out of 16 lympnodes which is worrying enough for the doctors that she has to have chemo.  At the moment she's on pills, soon she'll get some implant in her chest and she'll go on a drip for a bit.

She hates her oncologist, thinks she's incompetent, but she's well. apart from being thinner she looks absolutely fine.  It's a cliche but I never believed cancer could ever happen to me. I've had close friends parents go through it, there's even a volunteer at work that's had 3 bouts of cancer in his short life.  Despite that, it never feels like it actually exists.

The worst thing about it is all the waiting. It took over a week for the results to come in, it took another 2 before she started treatment. She'll have 6 months of chemo before we know for sure. But it's positive. Everyone refuses to believe there's any chance she wouldn't make it. To look at her, I'd think the same.

I asked her when I was over what the survival rate was. She said 50%. I didn't really think that was good enough, 50%? Is that all? I didn't say anything else, but it upset me.

That little percentage has left me an emotional wreck for the past week.  I have tunnel vision, and at the end of that tunnel is another worst-case-scenario.  Apparently you aren't meant to think about that.

How can you not? At the risk of sounding incredibly morbid and self-indulgent I spend a lot of time thinking about my own death. Sometimes I have terrible panic attacks about it. Sometimes I can't sleep.  How does someone not think about mortality? That seems impossible to me. 

Anyway - I'll be back in Hobart soon, to see how she's going. She's back at work, emailing me cute pictures of animals and bad jokes every day, but I'm struggling to finish this because it's not really over.  Just part 1 in a series really. Hopefully a very short series with a happy ending.


  1. I know that you know this, but I'm here whenever you need me.

    And I understand what it's like to deal with the very close mortality of a parent.

    Don't ever think you have to be alone in your anxiety or crappy days or sadness.


  2. I've been through this too, with my mama who had aggressive breast cancer that was picked up early enough. I was living in Hobart at the time so I completely understand how it feels to be so far away.

    All my love and very best wishes to your mama, and you and your dad and brother.