What do you want me to do? Get depressed?

Wednesday 11 April, 2012

Just over ten years ago I was diagnosed with gastric cancer. I was 26 years old. My symptom was indigestion, which became worse and more frequent over time. After a couple of doctors' visits where they prescribed medications for an ulcer, which didn't help, they organised a gastroscopy.

At the gastroscopy appointment, once the sedatives were wearing off, the doctor came to me and said that he hadn't seen anything like this before and I should have a CAT scan before I left the hospital that day. I was in hospital for tests before the surgery (a week after the gastroscopy). After the surgical registrar went through what would happen in the surgery, where they would remove all of my stomach and 5cm of my oesophagus, she then said that before the actual surgery they would insert a scope into my navel to see if the cancer had spread, if there was any sign that it had then they would not do the surgery. They would just make me as comfortable as possible.

"Do you understand?" she asked.

I understood.

She said that from what they had seen from CAT scans and the gastroscopy the chances of NOT doing the surgery were high. She then started to cry. I patted her on the shoulder and said that it was okay. After this I was told by a number of doctors that I was in denial, which I wasn't! After about the fifth time I was told this I cracked.

"What do you want me to do?! Get depressed? Sit here and feel bad for myself?! WHAT?! Is that going to help?! Is that going to give me more energy to get through whatever I will be going through?! Is it the best way to spend my days, which from what I'm being told may not be many?"

The poor doctor was shell shocked and just said that, "Most people in your situation aren't as 'calm' as you are".

During the ten and a half hour surgery, they saw the cancer, it had grown through the stomach wall! They thought now that it would have spread, but the surgeon decided to go on. From the first time I met the surgeon I had great respect for him, if anything could be done by way of surgery, this guy would do it. I was in hospital for two weeks (normally four weeks is minimum for total gastroectomy patients, but then the average age for gastric cancer is 60+).

It was at the end of these two weeks that the histology came back. The membrane surrounding the stomach (the peritoneum) was intact, the chances that it hadn't spread were good, very good, although chemo and radiation treatment would follow (just in case).

Once at home I started going for walks, I needed to get my strength back. One day as I was walking down the hill from my flat, I had to stop to catch my breath. I looked out over Melbourne city. The colours were vibrant, the fresh air invigorating (not surprising since I had just spent two weeks in a hospital bed). I thought then, "Wow, only the very gifted or the very unfortunate would be able to have this feeling." The feeling I had was of being alive! "I am so lucky to be one of the unfortunate!"

During my recovery and treatment, the doctors told me that if it wasn't for my attitude I wouldn't have got through it as well as I did. A positive attitude, without being in denial of the facts, I believe was vitally important in my recovery! From then on I did search for the things that mattered to me and didn't dwell on the trivial. It did take a number of years but I found that being a nutritionist was what I really wanted to do, so I am now studying a Bachelor of Health Science, Nutrition.

Updated: 11 Apr, 2012