John passed away 10 months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was a healthy man normally who rarely went to a doctor. He was experiencing pain in his upper torso on and off. He thought he may have caught a virus from the fellas at work, with some of them complaining of different symptoms. I'd made an appointment for him to see his GP but he said to cancel it as he was sure he was ok. The next day he rang me asking if I could get back the appointment. The pains were bad.
Three days later we were told by the doctor that the x-rays showed what looked like cancer. We were sent to an oncology specialist who confirmed straight away and told us that it had spread to the liver, spine and brain.
At worst scenario John had six months, maybe twelve with treatment, to live.
We were both devastated. We'd been together six years, and were looking forward to spending the rest of our days together.
We were sent straight to a major hospital for further tests, and that was the beginning of radiotherapy, chemotherapy tablet form, chemotherapy intravenous with many trips to the hospital and a diet that included so much medication. John was not one to take tablets; in fact he usually avoided them as his thinking was, "if you have pain killers, you're not allowing yourself to know how bad you really are."
In this case, he was taking all treatment that could possibly help him. He hoped that not only would it help him, but maybe even cure him. He still avoided taking any pain killers if he could but eventually he would, of course, be forced to do so. For the first couple of months, having had the radiotherapy and the tablet form of chemo, he was feeling not too bad, and he'd keep asking the registrar if there was a chance he'd beat it. But, "No" was the answer. He was told it would get him one day. Just when, no-one knew.
It was a very difficult time for us both. For John coping with the cancer and all that came with it, and me watching everything and helping in any way I could. I worked full-time but wanted to be with him every step of the way, so while he insisted that I continue to work, whenever he had an appointment or treatment or time in hospital, I'd take my work with me. My type of work enabled me to do that on quite a few occasions. It was our last journey together, and there was no way I would not be with him.
He'd also started falling over. His left leg used to give way on him. I had had to hire a wheelchair at one point. It was when his leg started swelling that they looked further and realised he had blood clots in his leg. And the only way he could go home from hospital was with me injecting him every night to prevent the clots growing and possibly going to his lung and killing him or going to his brain and causing a stroke.
So I did that until he ended up in palliative care two weeks before he passed away.
When the cancer tablet was no longer effective enough, he was given chemo intravenously. He had only one shot of this and then it had to be abandoned. He was falling over and tests taken showed he had meningitis disease and the not only could the chemo not penetrate through the spine lining where the meningitis was, but it was causing him to be unsteady on his feet and fall over. He was put on another tablet, it was a last option. I felt this was more of a way of making the medical world feel better for having given something, rather than helping the patient. John knew it wasn't helping.
During all this time, John lost weight and he aged. But it seemed to be in the last few weeks that it worsened incredibly. The cancer in the brain took over. He was confused and disorientated. It was frightening. He had been falling asleep a lot throughout the illness, and we knew that that was part of lung cancer, but now when he was asleep, it was almost a relief because it was like having my old John with me again. He started refusing his medication and eating or drinking. And as much as I knew he wanted to die at home, we had talked of palliative care in hospital if it got too much for me.
I knew the time had come for him to go where he could be taken care of by people trained for it. And they did do a good job of keeping him comfortable. I was in there all the time I could. I had, of course, gone on leave from work when he turned the corner for the worse.
I was and am very proud of John. He fought the battle with everything he had. We talked of our love, and how much he wanted to stay here with me, but he said he was tiring fast. I knew he was, but he had to keep fighting because he wanted to live. He had reason to keep going, but the disease proved too much.
I remember someone giving him some health shop tablets for his immune. He said at the time, "When you're fighting cancer, you try anything." It was when a palliative nurse was helping me organise to get him to hospital that I knew the time had come to stop trying to save him. The quality of life was no longer there, so let it go. He did not want what it had turned out to be.
If you or someone you know has lost someone to cancer and would like to talk, call our Cancer Helpline (13 11 20) and speak with one of our experienced nurses. You may also find the following helpful: