Earlier this year (2018), I consulted my GP about a mild but persistent pain on the right side of my abdomen which made taking deep breaths difficult. I thought it might have been a lung infection which required antibiotics. After a CT scan showed some nodules external to the liver and in the omentum, further tests were indicated. A colonoscopy, gastroscopy and then PET scan showed no abnormalities so a procedure to gather tissue samples was undertaken. The samples showed secondary gastrointestinal cancers with no known primary.
Shock, disbelief and despair were our initial reactions. This year was going to be my first year of retirement from full-time teaching. My husband, Graham, and I were looking forward to a March holiday in North Queensland and overseas travel to spend time with our son, Jack, in London. Fortunately, Jack was able to make arrangements to work remotely and returned to Australia several times and will be back to organise my 70th birthday gathering.
I started Chemo at Epworth Eastern within four days of diagnosis. All the Oncology staff were lovely. We were surprised to find that there are so many people in a similar circumstance who pass through this ward every week. It’s like a parallel universe; patients and their supporters, receptionists, doctors, nurses, food and drink providers, masseuses, volunteers and — on some days — a harpist!
After seven chemotherapy treatments, it seems the side effects for each treatment have a unique quality. I have learnt to expect the unexpected: frozen fingers and toes, hair loss, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, balance problems, lethargy, sleeping difficulties, itchy skin, shedding skin, flashes of paralysis in hands and feet, diarrhea, inactive taste buds, blistered lips, mild nausea, watering eyes, numb finger tips and loss of appetite. For me, most of these side effects are manageable. In regards to quality of life, my loss of appetite was my biggest concern because tastes and textures were not conducive to eating enough to sustain a healthy weight. It also resulted in an alarming disinterest in food and its preparation, and this from an avowed ‘foodie’, who has always loved preparing, cooking, sharing and eating.
Our Oncologist, Dr Prasad Cooray, suggested I try to resume my regular gym sessions and that I trial an appetite enhancing drug, Anamorelin. After a two-week trial of taking this tablet daily, my appetite began to improve, and this improvement has continued. As this drug is not available on the PBS, the John Logan Foundation offered to cover the cost of this drug for the first two months. We were most appreciative of this generous offer. Eating more and exercising regularly have proved to be a most effective dual strategy for my physical and mental health. I am on a break from Chemo at the moment, but I will resume treatment shortly.
Graham, Jack and I are so grateful to all our family, friends and colleagues who have been so loving and supportive. We are also thankful that we are in such good hands with our medical experts; Dr Prasad Cooray, the Epworth Eastern Oncology team and the John Logan Foundation.
Sue is pictured here with her son Jack and husband Graham.