It feels like 2016 is coming to a close. Christmas trappings have already long been in the stores, we’re planning Christmas functions at the office and both my daughter at high school and son at university are
midway through finished exams already.
Ok, so I have been writing this post for a month and a half, and everything above is old news. In fact, in a approximately two hours 2016 will be over. I’m not the quickest writer around.
Anyway, two thousand and sixteen has been quite a year for me personally. Diagnosed with cancer. Surgery. Chemotherapy. Some difficult changes at work. And in my church community. Five months off the bike. Yet I am thankful to God, my doctors, my family and my friends that this end of the year I am clear of cancer and have just completed the Tour of Margaret River. A bike race for those not familiar, and a milestone of which I’m proud as it represents getting my fitness back in some sort of order post-surgery and post-chemotherapy.
I would like to tell a little more of the story that is 2016 for me. Telling the story is cathartic for me, both simply in the writing but also in the opportunity it affords my friends to share in my life.
Chemotherapy happened for me on 30 March 2016. And when you say it like that, it sounds easy. Just one dose of 630mL of a little cocktail named Carboplatin aimed at killing any and all cancer cells in my body. But as I was to discover, it was a far more tumultuous ride than I anticipated (as if I knew).
The initial week or two was something that I had expected, in terms of nausea and needing to lay low due to risk of infection. All of this went, if you will, “to plan” and I felt that I was coping reasonably well for the circumstances. The pain due to the haematoma in my abdomen continued during this time, persisting a lot longer than the surgeon expected. In the end, the pain took about 3 months to reduce enough that I needed no painkillers to mask the abdominal pain it caused me.
However, I had not at all anticipated the effects of fatigue that kicked in after 3-4 weeks. I described the effect as feeling like I had been “hit by a train”. Every day. After only having been awake for a few hours. For someone who has always had a relatively high levels of energy I found this to be an entirely new and quite debilitating set of experiences.
And for someone like me, who in their twenties struggled to understand or empathise with a university friend going through chronic fatigue, this experience truly opened my eyes experientially in a whole new way. I thank God for this new insight, albeit that it was what I can only describe as an excruciating and painful experience.
The additional trouble that I experienced with my health was a peculiar dull pain in my right forearm, which came on when I attempted to sleep and which I found absolutely debilitating. This was a totally new experience for me, and one that taught me something about myself and my ability to cope (or not as the case may be) with pain. I have always had a reasonably “can-do” positive attitude in respect of my ability to walk through and overcome pain in my body. With this new pain, I found sleep quite literally impossible (ask Ainsley!), and it’s effect on me was quite revealing – in terms of me getting to know myself and my limitations. The only way I discovered to reliably sleep during this time was to take strong painkillers (oxycodone) and go walking immediately before bed, most often for 2-3 hours. This had the effect of providing me with a huge quiet time every day for prayer and reflection – a time which I believe was of huge value to me and my recovery. However, it also also took its toll in terms of the hours I committed to it (every day) – I ended up walking every night for 2-3 hours from late April through to the end of July.
My oncologist was never completely certain what the cause of the pain was, but he suspected nerve damage as a result of the chemotherapy drug – the cannula for the chemotherapy was placed in the right forearm which was the one which give me all the trouble. He was not certain in his diagnosis as this type of nerve damage is documented to occur with other chemotherapy drugs but has not been associated with drug I was treated with. If it was nerve damage, he had told me that the body will heal but takes quite some time. Over the course of my recovery, I tried a number of different permutations, including less strong painkillers but nothing but the oxycodone and walking seemed to work. So long walks in the midnight hours were a fixture for some 3½ months.
For those of who saw them on social media, my Instagram “night walk” pictures provided me a little bit of a record of my nocturnal wanderings. A passive-agressive need to share my pain perhaps?
As you may have guessed, one side-effect of this challenge sleeping was that I did not ride from the day of my surgery on 23 February through until 30 July, when I was finally able to sleep normally again. Getting back on the bike was both a joy and an agonising reminder of the fitness I had surrendered over the 5 months off the bike.
It took me three attempts to finish SPR’s (my club – South Perth Rouleurs) Tuesday recovery ride (Little Ring Tuesday) with the group – ok, there is some debate about it being a “recovery” ride but it certainly is one of the lowest intensity rides on my usual training calendar. Anyway, the first two attempts involved shortcuts and getting dropped. The third, while involving no shortcuts did involve getting dropped and was my second-slowest attempt on record. Oh well, at least training works.
To provide a goal for the training efforts, I signed up for the Tour of Margaret River, which was held on 11-13 November. Three months to get sort-of fit. Eighty-three hours of training over 2,400kms. Not a massive amount but I was happy with the training and proud of my TOMR result.
Onward and upward.
Oh, and by the way: I had another CT scan and received the diagnosis that my body is again cancer-free on 27 July 2016. Yeah!
I wanted to finish this post by thanking the people in my life for their friendship over this year.
My family. Thank you Ainsley, Cameron, Jarrad, Lauren, Mum, Dad, Matt, Megs and Ash. In particular Ainsley – the whole in sickness and in health part of our wedding vows has been brought into stark relief – thank you from the bottom of my heart.
My SPR friends. To my close friends, to the committee crew and everyone else I ride with. Your friendship and your cheering me on has meant the world to me. And a special thank-you to Belinda – there is something about being on a similar journey together, it has meant a lot.
My church friends. One of the first set of calls I made on getting the cancer news back in February was to some of my closest friends at church, asking them to pray. Thank you for praying, for crying, and for hoping with me.
And thank you to my work colleagues for your support during this whole period. It has been deeply appreciated.
And everyone else. Cancer is one of those things that brings some things into sharp focus on a personal level. And what stands out is the relationships in my life. Nothing else comes close.
So – thank you all. My life is richer and fuller with each one of you in it.
From here, my oncologist tells me that I am watched a little more closely for five years for recurrence, after which, if I remain clear, will have lowered my risk back to the levels of the ordinary person on the street.
Here’s to beating cancer.