How to survive without a carer

Tuesday 24 June, 2008 by Lynne

I was about to travel overseas for a holiday when a bout of diarrhoea and some incontinence hit. I thought I should get a quick check up as third world countries are not known for medical care. The GP was concerned and rapidly sent me to a gynaecologist in Melbourne who said I looked great, then felt my abdomen and immediately sent me for a vaginal ultrasound (there was a cancellation on the same day).

Later that Friday, whilst finishing off my Christmas shopping so I would be all organised when I got back, I got a phone call from the gynaecologist - the ultrasound had shown I had a 15cm mass, about the size of half a brick, on my left ovary and she was referring me to a gynaecological-oncologist first thing Monday morning.

I had to work that weekend which I was grateful for however I am not sure I earned my pay - the mind continually returned to what was I to do. As a confirmed workaholic I had few friends and no functioning family - could I do this without support? On Monday I was informed that I was being put into hospital later that week and would be in for about 10 days. As I lived in rural Victoria I would need someone to take me home - it was finally decided that I could travel on the train, using a taxi at the other end.

The surgery went well, the lack of continuity of staff was challenging and with almost no visitors the days were long and it takes 6 days to get the results. I was told that I would be getting chemotherapy within 2 weeks, this turned into 3 as Christmas is a difficult time to organise to get into another specialist. I was given lots of literature and had the expectation that there would be lots of support during the process which did not actually eventuate.

The chemo was given in 3 week lots. Eight hours on a drip sitting up in a comfy chair, then home with a couple of anti nausea drugs and repeat the whole process 3 weeks later. Seemed OK in theory, but having 5 days initially and finally 10 days on each cycle where you can't drive and cooking, cleaning and even putting out the rubbish is a challenge. I think the loneliness of 5 months by yourself with only a 10 minute talk to the oncologist every 3 weeks in front of 5 others all getting their chemo takes some organising.

Firstly I would fill my fridge with things I like to eat and luckily a local vegetarian food outlet at the local market made up dinner packs which I could freeze and then just microwave. Bananas and nuts became a bit of a staple. I tried the carrot thing - juicing - but the washing up defeated me in the long run and I found I could buy beta-carotene in powder form. I have a cat and getting up to feed him I think saved me - he was particularly insistent when I had not moved for a while and great company - saves talking to oneself.

When I had got through this period, I then got out my tent and went camping for about a week. I would walk, slowly at first but progressively more and especially at National Parks the staff and other campers were wonderfully encouraging. On each cycle I would have to start from scratch again and although towards the end I never did get back to the 15km up hill I achieved at the beginning I was still around the 8km stage. It was probably the chemo but the beauty of the bush and the colours of the sunsets were more spectacular than I have ever seen before. During this time animals and birds seemed to be attracted to me and my campsites always had some small creature hanging around.

Although by myself in the tent I had more people around me than at home and this was comforting. I had always been worried about the final dose - I was fairly sure that I might not be able to look after myself and on investigation the only option was to go to hospital this was not what I wanted.

By now I had the buying of food sorted out - standing in a supermarket line was always the hardest thing I had to do, so I shopped late at night, Saturday is the best for no queues, my bedroom now had every comfort including a DVD player, computer, books, phone and it was only the trek to the bathroom that challenged me, with my pulse hitting 180 after a slow stagger there and back.

Well I made it through, stronger for having done it myself. I found my meditation improved and was a great source of comfort. I am now 2 months post chemo. The CT scan is clear and the doctor gives me an 80% chance of staying well, but ovarian cancer can be quite a difficult cancer to remove.

My hair is coming back and my pathology is just about back to normal. The chemo has left a few scars, the nerves in one foot are damaged and I have a few kilos to loose - definitely not doing the waist tape measure check at the moment and the GP says I may be pre diabetic.

I worked 4 days a fortnight from home during this whole time - but have now been told I should not work for 3 months. So the cat and I are now having an extended holiday - I even started to run this week.

Updated: 24 Jun, 2008