Posted on January 15, 2015
I am the same person as I was this morning, but somehow, I’m different.
I have terminal cancer.
Since being introduced to the possibility of hope of a curative liver resection nearly 12 months ago, I’ve been able to live in the hope that my always terminal cancer will not terminate me. I’ve gone through 3 major surgeries, 8 chemotherapies, 25 radiotherapies, 7 blood clots, 3 bowel obstructions, a nasogastric tube (oh my fucking god, that tube), several hospital admissions, and an admission to the palliative care team, that I coped with while hanging onto the chance that one day I would be one of the lucky ones to be discharged alive. I really, really believed that it would happen.
It was never going to be easy to get me to this liver resection. The surgeon, a brilliant and compassionate man, he fought to give me every chance, even though he was clear from the start that an actual cure was very unlikely. He performed two procedures on my liver to try and get the healthy remnant to grow and regenerate before operating, to try and make it safer for him to try. When the first procedure did not work, he tried another, much more untested procedure, and this morning the results were in.
My liver has not grown, at all.
However dreadful that was, he didn’t take away the chance of the liver resection. He offered us the chance to make the choice over the next week whether we wanted to give it a go (and there is no time to dilly dally, my cancer is no longer stable and my liver mets are growing again), but as it looks likely that my liver will never regenerate, the chances of me dying, (he pulled no punches, if this happens I would never leave hospital, and I would die slowly and agonising, and worse still KNOWINGLY, over a five to six week period of multi-organ failure, including a stint with dementia) will be 50%. The chances of him, his words “being of any benefit to me” around 1 – 2%. He is clear that he thinks the risk is too big to take, the odds swing too wildly against me. I trust this man, he has tried everything to give me a chance, and his face showed his great sadness at having to give me this news.
He asked us not to make this choice, this impossible choice, today. Next week we have to see my oncologist, and find out how long he thinks chemo can give me. I was still responding to chemo when I last had it, and no one knows how long it can keep things at bay. He said that perhaps we can live in the hope that in 1 – 2 years, if I can survive that long, something else will come along that can help, a trial, or new drug, one that is “not there yet”, and “obviously we would need a lot of luck for this to happen”. But the poor man, his eyes bored into me, and he said “If you want me to do this, I will do it, but I don’t want to be the person who kills you. Because then that chance is gone forever”. It must be awfully hard to be a cancer surgeon and give people news like this, every day.
The chemo that I had before, it was always to get me to resection. To get me a cure. Now, the sights, sounds and smells of the chemo ward are all coming back to me. Another picc line, 3 weekly hook ups, 2 weeks of half life, one week of good life, and all this to give me only time. If I go back, chemo will render my liver so fucked that resection will be off the table altogether, and a line will be drawn in the sand. There is a tiny chance that my liver will grow if the resection is done, he has seen it before, when other regenerating procedures have failed, sometimes the liver still regenerates after resection, but his eyes told me that he didn’t think that would happen with me. And even if it did, it was almost certain “that if the liver grows, cancer will grow back with it”.
I didn’t want to cry in front of my children. And I didn’t cry until I saw them, but then, the floodgates opened. I know so much now about what it means to be human, to not be able to keep on being strong, to not be able to hide the pain and fear from them was my worst nightmare, and this afternoon, it came true. So, we had to tell them…as gently, and as hopefully as we could, what today brought. They were pretty clear in their choice – no operation. It seems obvious, but it doesn’t.
I want to believe I can live, and still live well, for however long that might be, in the absence of any real hope. To believe that I can lose the feeling in my toes and fingertips from the platinum based chemo that took more from me each time I had it than it felt like it was giving back, and still live well. To believe that I can lie in bed each night propped up on pillows, as the chemo has stripped my digestive system of any of it’s good bacteria, and vomit and bile rises in my throat each night…and still live well. That I can go from scan, to scan in the hope that things can stay stable for a little while, that I can have what the surgeon calls “good time with your family”, that I can walk into the appointments to get these scan results and somehow not die from the sheer terror of it, the waiting for the number, for the months, for the slow decline, for the knowing….oh god, the KNOWING…and still live well. I wish someone could tell me how I can do that.
I had an offer accepted on my dream house. I planned to finish my studies. I was going to write a book. I planned a life, and somehow I have to believe I still have one. Do I move to the house? Do I go back to TAFE? Do I start a book I might never finish? Anything else is tantamount to giving up. And I just don’t know how to do that.
This was me, this morning. When the world looked a little shinier, and my babies hadn’t started to look translucent, faded, once again less mine. I don’t look like I’m dying, but for the first time, I feel like. A little bit at a time, but almost inevitably.
I only hope I can rally.