The fact that many changes occur after a cancer diagnosis I think is pretty obvious. But exactly what changes and to what extent do these changes occur? Did some parts of my life change more than others? When did these changes occur? And are these changes driven by want or necessity? To explain this I have divided my life into four segments; work, education, personal life and enjoyment.
Pre-diagnosis I worked fulltime for a major water supply company. I was working in the field undertaking environmental tasks along waterways before moving into an administration position. I worked out of two offices, both located an hour and a half from home. A normal day would involve me drive to one of these depot and generally be at a desk for majority of the day. I generally worked from 7am to 4pm, Monday to Friday and I enjoyed my work and I am one of the lucky ones that enjoyed working for this particular company. The plan was to move up within the company.
Whilst I was being diagnosed and during the initial few months after the diagnosis I stopped work all together. The extra spare time however did not mean that I sat on the couch binge watching the latest series on Netflix. Rather the time was used organising my entire life; past, present and future. I felt a sense of urgency in having all aspects organised. Superannuation, insurance, doctors appointments and consultations, support groups, etc. During this time I was also having further exploratory procedures including keyhole surgery. I am extremely lucky that my work continued to pay me during this time. They also organised a massive working bee on our new property to allow us the opportunity to focus on my upcoming treatment.
After I recovered from major surgery I felt the need to continue to work. Some people may shake their head at this decision. Here I was with Stage IV cancer, with a workplace that has unlimited sick leave, why on earth am I going back to work? Why am I not out doing fun and adventurous activities whilst I still can. Well, to be honest, work makes me happy. I enjoy having a task to complete and feeling as though I am contributing. It was a chance to think about something else besides the cancer and to give me some sort of normalcy. Again, work and my managers were fantastic in organising work that I was able to complete from home. I once again felt like a part of the world, if only a little.
I am currently working a few days a fortnight from home when I feel well enough. This is a big change from the 40 odd hours a week with 15 hours of travel.
Before my diagnosis I was studying for my Bachelors Degree in Applied Science. On average I was completing five subjects a year; two in the first and second semesters and one over the summer semester. Without big noting myself, I was doing very well with a Grade Point Average of 6.4 out of 7. Much of my free time outside of work was spent studying with about three hours after work and at least 10 hours over the weekend dedicated to it. I had a year and a half left until I would have completed my degree.
During the initial diagnosis, hospital stay and recovery I missed a lot of the summer uni semester. The option of catching up was not possible, so I applied to be able to withdraw from my subjects without a negative impact on my grades. Given the situation, my university did not have an issue with this. I took a leave of absence for the first semester of 2017 with no clear timeframe on when I would continue my studies. This left me feeling a little empty inside. I loved learning and I was enthralled with most of my subjects.
I recently made the decision to continue back with my studies. I will however only be undertaking one subject per semester. These is a chance that I may need to withdraw depending on upcoming treatment. Thankfully my GPA didn’t take a huge hit during my absence. I desperately want to graduate, however I will take me a little longer now.
A month prior to my diagnosis we had moved into a new house, so my personal life had
already been through a big change. We had moved from a small rental in the suburbs, to 3 acres in a semi-rural town. My time at our new house pre-diagnosis was spend working in the gardens and trying to bring the property under control. Nothing made me happier than pottering around in the garden on a weekend. We have an orchard, vegetable gardens, native plantation, and loads of other components that make up our property.
Discussion were had on bring alpacas into the back paddock, along with introducing some chickens. Grand plans were in the works, and we were excited. I was a member of the Country Fire Authority which involved training at least once a week and incident callouts. A year prior to my diagnosis I started to attend training less due to being
increasingly tired. We now believe that this was due to the cancer. After moving house, I had applied for a transfer to a fire station that was closer to my new location with the intention of continuing my service.
After the diagnosis the grand plans we had for the property didn’t elicit the same level of excitement as before. Many of our ideas seemed futile and unnecessary. We didn’t know whether I would be around to see any of them come to fruition. Anything, such as alpacas, that would need
long term care were put on hold or scrapped altogether. Every decision that was made was considered with greater care. The question was always asked, is this something my partner could look after alone? We didn’t however want to just simply stop. We just placed more consideration on each decision. My CFA transfer was put on hold until further notice. At this stage I had no idea in what capacity I could continue to volunteer.
We are still careful with decisions that we are making, however we are making additionsto the property. We have recently adopted a 6 month Bull Arab puppy and taken ownership of three chickens. We have decided to stay optimistic that I will have many years ahead of me, so we will continue to live life as such. At this stage I still have not continued with my CFA transfer and I am not sure when this will happen. I do plan on going back, but time will tell with this will be possible and in what capacity.
Many of my spare time activities were conducted outside. Camping was a big part of our
life for sometime time prior to diagnosis. Other injuries a year before diagnosis meant that we needed to take a break from camping, but we had always planned onundertaking it again in the future. I am also an avid wildlife photographer. Most weekends and even on my way home from work, you could find me in a park somewhere in Victoria with my big zoom lens. I regularly took part in bird photography outings with a local group and visited the Western Treatment Plant which was always a rewarding trip. My partner and I enjoyed day trips to different location around Victoria and regularly visited the local cinemas.
Post diagnosis and our camping break is still ongoing. Due to chemotherapy side effects I
am sensitive to the cold so most outdoor activities are restricted, especially just now during winter. My photography has been somewhat limited to birds that are on ourproperty. I no longer have the energy for large day long outings, I therefore have stopped undertaking my regular group outings. Instead, I now have a monthly cancer support group gathering. Trips to the Western Treatment Plant are a big no no. The treatment plant is full of bacteria that normally the human immune system can handle. However, a chemo immune system is a little more suseptable. Times when I am feeling well and not working now generally involve gardening, as long as the weather is nice. If it’s under 10 degrees celsius, overcast or windy, the neuropathy stops me from venturing outside. On these days I read a lot and contemplate my next blog post.
What does a normal week look like?
My weeks a now split into ‘good weeks’ and ‘bad’ weeks. I have a chemotherapy cycle every second Thursday and this marks the start of my ‘bad’ week. For the next five to seven days I have constant nausea and neuropathy. I spend the days reading, watching tv, drifting in and out of sleep and eating, eating, eating. I eat constantly as it makes my nausea more bearable. But it’s not healthy snacks that make me feel better, it’s salty, fatty, unhealthy foods such as potato chips, biscuits, fried foods and Gatorades. During this week I also am unable to eat or drink anything cold due to the neuropathy. So no cereal with cold milk and no fruit juice out of the fridge. If I want something like a juice I need to plan ahead and have a glass of the juice sitting out of the fridge until it gets to room temperature. This is the week that I do not like socializing. I don’t go out and I try to make it so that no one comes to the house. It’s also during this week when my partner puts up with my moods. I get increasingly frustrated with feeling constantly sick and not being able to do simple things such as taking a cold egg out of the fridge.
After seven days my nausea has generally gone and the neuropathy had become bearable. This marks the start of my ‘good’ week. I still need to be mindful of cold weather, but I can normally start to venture outside more frequently. This is the week that I try to do some work and also start to organise myself for the next chemo cycle. Anything that I need to achieve in the outside world gets done in this week. All the shopping for the ‘bad’ week, any appointments are seen to and people are once again able to visit me. During this week I feel almost normal again, back to my old self. The Tuesday prior to the next cycle is when the reminders come back that I have cancer. This is the day when I have to travel to the Peter Maccallum Cancer Centre for my blood tests and consults. Then Thursday comes around and the process repeats itself.