"Relay means celebrating the survivors, remembering our loved ones who have passed and hoping that one day we will find a cure to this horrible disease."
I joined the Warrnambool & District Relay committee in 2013 as the Carer and Survivor Co-orienteer.
I wanted to help try making a difference after losing my partner Cindy to melanoma more than two years ago, and seeing my dad battle with cancer for almost seven years. He is still battling and receiving treatment weekly. During his battle in 2012 he raised over $100,000 for the Ballarat Base Hospital oncology ward while still receiving treatment. In our eyes he is a true Aussie hero; a true inspiration.
Travelling back and forth to Melbourne for Cindy’s treatment was hard physically, emotionally and mentally. It took a toll on us both, especially after we received the devastating news that the cancer had spread and they could not proceed with the treatment plan. I will always be thankful having dealt with a great team of doctors and nurses at both the Alfred Hospital and Colac Area Health. They tried their utmost to save her, right up until the very end.
There are a lot of moments that stick in my mind, but one in particular will always stay with me. A week before Cindy passed away one of the many fantastic oncology doctors at the Alfred came and told us he wanted to have a chat. He explained that he was on rotation at the Alfred and that he would be at a different hospital the following week. He wanted us to understand that things weren’t looking good and that Cindy only had a short time left – such a difficult conversation for a relatively young doctor to have. I felt so ill. I knew things weren’t looking great, but deep down I held some hope. He explained that he felt like he had to have the chat as he would have preferred it coming from a familiar face instead of a new doctor. His honesty was appreciated by all the family.
I would like to share a story that Cindy wrote during her battle. Writing was a way of coping for Cindy. It’s titled So, like, you know, like whatever!.
You know when you hear teenage girls say “oh my god, like, my whole world just like fell apart, you know.” It’s usually in reference to their favourite shop being sold out of the dress they, like, so needed to buy, or their favourite TV show being axed, or god forbid, they find Justin Bieber has a girlfriend or Barney off How I met Your Mother is actually gay!
Looking back on the day I was initially diagnosed with melanoma, I felt like the bottom had just fallen out of my world. I had avoided hospitals and doctors for so long, but ironically I had called in sick to work this particular day. My car had been broken into and the engine seized at work two weeks previously, and this was the day I finally had arranged to pick up my car. However my sick leave message had not reached the right person at work and I was still on the roster, so I ended up going in. Calling in sick was never my thing anyway.
As I was racing out of the mechanics, I asked him for a receipt for the insurance company detailing the work that had been done. It wasn’t until I was pulling in at work that I looked down to the “description of works completed” to read just one word … “Head job.” I work in an emergency department on the fringe of St Kilda, but I’m pretty sure there is not a woman on a street corner who charges $3300 for a “head job.” Granted, the mechanic is older so perhaps he did not understand the gravity of that phrase. All I could do was laugh, and when I arrived at work it seemed that others were in need of a laugh as well.
While trying to convince a colleague to read the damn receipt my sleeve slipped down and he noted a mole on my left shoulder. I assured him that I was born with it and that it was fine; just read the damn description on the bill!!!! But he persisted. Finally I told him that if he was so concerned then there was a mole on my leg that he could be concerned about. He had a brief look and then another emergency doctor – someone I admired, considered a friend and, although always sensible and professional, always made me laugh – overheard the conversation and asked if he could take a look, as he was to become the Dermatology/Melanoma Registrar for the hospital the following year. Things suddenly moved fast. I had been at work 30 minutes, and now after peering at my leg briefly with a grim look, the “soon to be” melanoma reg had me upstairs surrounded by professors.
Picture this: I had my left ankle propped over my right knee so that the mole on the inside of my left ankle was viewable through all of the instruments. One by one, the professors came in and looked at the spot. Then I was asked if I would mind if their students could view the lesion, as “this kind of opportunity is extremely rare.” End result: ten people placing their head in my groin to gain the best viewing angle of the lesion. Doctor Sensible had elected to stay as moral support (something I will be forever grateful for), and kept me amused as he suffered through my glares of disbelief as each head bent over my groin, one after the other.
The blur of the next 12 hours resulted in being in theatre the next morning and having the lesion/mole biopsied. My mind was simply jumbled. It was only when I left theatre and looked at my surgery discharge papers that the thought crowded in. There it was in capital letters: “Discharge Diagnosis: MELANOMA.” What did that mean? Was it skin cancer? What was the difference?
I dealt with it the only way I could. My defensive/coping mechanism kicked in – sarcasm. It’s what I do best. I really only let my guard down and allowed myself to cry in front of one person – Dr Sensible (who incidentally claims that he has only ever had one patient who has cried more than me). He was down to earth and completely, almost brutally, honest. There was no sugar-coating it.
After surgery and seven months of recuperation I was given the all clear. It had been a suspicious-looking mole. It was now gone and there was no evidence of any remaining melanoma in the surrounding tissues. I returned to work and it wasn’t until September 2011 that I felt a suspicious lump mid-thigh while playing the drums. After naively believing that not one tiny, itsy macroscopic cell could escape the pathologists, I was being told the melanoma had metastasised to the lymph nodes. Three more bouts of surgery followed and yet another hell of a scar.
By Christmas the cancer had spread to my liver, spine and lungs, and then in January to my brain. I just keep remembering a poem from my childhood – I will not quit.
Cindy lost her battle in the Colac hospital surrounded by her family and loved ones on Friday 10 February 2012.
To me, Relay means celebrating the survivors, remembering our loved ones who have passed and hoping that one day we will find a cure to this horrible disease. As a young person, I hope to be able to make a difference.
[Pictured above is Sean (in yellow), his father, sister and her partner.]