In September 2014, I took myself off to the Doctor because I had a simple cough and thought I had a touch of pneumonia. I was placed on a six week course of antibiotics. I picked up a little with the medication but I still had a persistent cough that just wouldn’t budge.
At the same time, there was a virus doing the rounds – the dreaded 100 day cough. It was at this time that my father was diagnosed with asbestosis and I became quite mindful that this cough just wasn’t right. My husband had a niggling sensation that something was amiss too.
In March 2015, I went back to my Doctor. I suggested to him that I thought I may have pneumonia again and a further chest X-ray confirmed my suspicion. During this visit, my GP noticed that my fingers were looking quite enlarged (which I now know as clubbing) and he requested a chest scan.
Because I had to wait for my results, I decided to go to Melbourne to visit my sons. I made an appointment to see our old family doctor, whom has known me for many years. By this time I was becoming a little anxious. My Melbourne doctor made a phone call and got the results faxed straight to him.
I will never forget his words and the look in his eyes. “I’m so sorry Jodie; you have a mass on your lung,” he said. Strangely enough, I shed no tears and very calmly asked him, “Okay, so what’s next?” I was bought up with an understanding that you don’t get caught up in the problem, but that you look for a solution.
I phoned my husband Peter with the shocking news. Pete drove down to Melbourne straight away to support me with the hardest thing I have ever had to do as a mother which was telling our three children.
The next day we saw a respiratory specialist. It would be the longest 10 days of our lives waiting for a definitive diagnosis. The whole family was now caught up in this tidal wave and we couldn’t feel the solid ground under our feet. Ten days of emotional highs and lows, waiting, wondering and hoping. Ten days of scans, blood tests, biopsies and other tests.
My husband and three children together with their partners and my family became my rock.
In mid April, I received a confirmed diagnosis of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (adenocarcinoma ) with chest node involvement. As a family, we made the heart wrenching decision that I would remain in Melbourne because I needed to be close to treating hospital.
During treatment, I lived with my eldest son and his fiancée to commence my two month treatment plan. My immediate family, sisters, brothers, friends and loved ones all rallied. They organised a roster system so that somebody would always be with me to help me out – driving me to my appointments, staying with me throughout treatment, being by my side and providing me with a shoulder to lean on.
At my first appointment with a team of specialists I was told that the cancer was inoperable and that I would need radical treatment. The radical treatment consisted of chemotherapy every Monday for five hours and radiotherapy five days a week. Without any hesitation, I said to my lovely oncologist “Let’s do this”.
I felt that every hour without treatment was time wasted. During my treatment I kept telling my family and friends that I was the lucky one, as lucky as someone with lung cancer can be.
Into my third week of treatment, I hit a wall. I became extremely unwell and was admitted to hospital with a low immune system. All I knew was that I needed to continue with my chemotherapy. I was petrified about missing a single treatment day.
I had started to lose weight and my oesophagus was burning. During treatment eating became nothing more than a biological necessity. I slurped on vitamised food and smoothies to keep my energy and weight up and to give my body the best chance of dealing with what it was going through. I always said that I would never eat mush but you do what you have to do to sustain your energy and health.
Cancer treatment is an ugly process. Powerful drugs attack the cancer cells but the rest of the body feels the side effects. I was unable to complete my last dose of chemotherapy because my body unable to take anymore. My lovely medical oncologist reassured me that this wouldn’t stop the radiotherapy going ahead.
I remained in Melbourne for a further two weeks as I didn’t count on the pain generated by the burning radiotherapy. Throughout the treatment, my children looked after me and my son had to help me to bed. On one of these many days I looked into the eyes of my eldest son and said “Love, when did I become the child and you become the adult?” I am a nurse and a mother and that was my job, not theirs.
I watched as my family and friends stayed positive around me but will never forget those things they couldn’t hide- their silent tears, the sorrow and the fear in their eyes. Eight weeks of treatment and dependence on others has taught me a lot about life. It has also taught me the difference between a friend and a true friendship. I always thought I needed a lot of friends in my life but to have true friends is completely different.
Don’t look to the sky for angels playing harps in the clouds. They walk amongst us holding our hands, driving us to specialist appointments and running simple errands. My husband, children and family are my angels on earth together with my true friends.
After weeks of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, needles and tests, my life returned to something like normal. No one passing me in the street would know that you have a lump of cells inside you that is sapping my energy and life. No one will understand the chain of thought that every niggle and ache can set off.
I returned back to nursing, three weeks after treatment and there I remain. The support, friendship, positive attitudes of my work colleagues has been over whelming. I have been unable to work at times. When I am up to work, my colleagues let me pick my shift. They know I love my job and that I want to remain active and able to help others. It is when we care for others that we are doing the best for ourselves.
If I could pass on one piece of advice to other patients, it would be to remain positive. There will be days when it seems too hard. Cry, laugh and just hold onto those close to you. Never lose hope as sometimes hope is all you have.