PostHeaderIcon SARCOMA! cont'd Part Two

A week or so later, Caroline came with me to see Doctor Porceddu, the oncologist. Very easy to talk to, he explained the situation. It was not so rosy a picture this time. These sarcomas tend to recur, and without further treatment, there was a sixty per cent chance of that happening. With radiation, it was reduced to forty per cent, or lower. Forty years ago, your arm would have been amputated by now, mid forearm...and he sliced my arm with his hand to demonstrate.
‘We have found, however, that with radiation, the odds are the same as amputation. So that is what I recommend. You can think about it. You need not do anything. But those are the odds.’
‘I don’t believe I have a choice,’ I replied, and Caroline nodded in agreement. ‘It seems I have no alternative but to have radiation.’
‘So what is the next step?’ I asked, trying not to show shock at this conversation.

Sandro Porceddu told us that the radiation unit at princess Alexandra Hospital was very well organised. That he would arrange a C T scan of my thorax, liver and axilla to make sure there had been no metathesis. I would be contacted by the hospital regarding an appointment for a Planning Day, when a mould would be made of my arm and a time each day (for six weeks) would be made, weekdays only.

The forms duly arrived for me to fill out, and I prepared myself mentally for the next journey. I knew I must keep busy, and not lie in bed awake for too long. Morbid thoughts creep into the mind and depression is not far away if one leaves time to think. There are aspects of my present life that are deeply depressing to me, and these I must deal with as best as I can. I must try to remain cheerful. My recently departed partner, Norman, phoned to say he would be up on Sunday to collect a few of his things...oh dear, I steeled myself for the pangs I knew this visit would bring. I wanted his belongings gone, however, so I must weather this storm.

He looked awful, thin and uncared for. His haircut did not become him as my cuts had done. He mumbled a lot, muttering softly at times, and I was forced to ask him to speak up. I know I lifted him intellectually when he was with me, but he had regressed. Sad for me. I made him welcome, offered him the mulberry tree to pick the luscious, laden fruit. So we picked and ate heartily together, just like old times. I put on afternoon tea, which he tucked into. He looked at the tealeaves remaining in his cup, but put it down silently. I knew what was in his mind, and asked would he like me to read the tealeaves? This is what I did for eight years, so why not again? He agreed with my deductions. I listened dutifully as he told me how marvellous his new lady was, how supportive and helpful. Just as I had been, I mused. ‘She sounds wonderful,’ I said, ‘I hope you will be very happy.’ Not meaning a word, but my dignity depended on my saying the knife twisted...

I phoned Raymond asking him to help my ‘ex’ load the furniture. He complied, and the job was done. Meanwhile, I potted the spinach plants he had brought up, and planted some of the capsicum seedlings. I thanked him. I sat at the outside table and watched as he tied the load on, so efficiently. He asked could he have the lettuce I had promised him, and we went to the garden and cut it, a lovely specimen indeed. ‘I’ll get going then, ‘ he said, looking at me. We had spent three hours or more together. He suddenly advanced on me, kissed me right on the lips, not fleetingly, put his arms round me and hugged me...held me. I responded of course. My body has always loved the feel of him. And then he was gone. No thankyous, or enquiries about my well-being. The deflation set in. Perhaps that is all he is capable of doing and saying. As he boarded his utility, I said, ‘You poor thing...!’
‘What do you mean?’ he asked, shocked.
‘You poor thing...for missing out on me...’ He looked at me quizzically, not comprehending I am sure, and left.

I have been to our U3A musical movies twice, and enjoyed both immensely. There is always good company in such a small crowd of thirty or so, and this is good for me. I have continued with my transplanting cucumbers and pumpkins, and have been raiding the mulberry tree. I eat about a hundred at a time! We have held two French classes on my verandah, and I have attended my Sustainable Gardeners outing. I have had a ‘500’card night, which is bitter sweet in a way, because I miss him at this event. But I needs must press on, I know. Keep busy. I have the two demons to control.

I phoned PA Hospital to enquire if the CT scan would disturb the adenoma in my duodenum. Quite a worry for me. All of the staff were wonderful to me. Ultimately a doctor Dwyer phoned me to explain that the radiation should not affect the adenoma, and in any case, by far the most urgent and important issue was the sarcoma in my forearm. The dose of radiation was quite large, but still not large enough to cause damage to the duodenum. They must prevent it spreading elsewhere to prevent further surgery.
‘ I have been told this means amputation...’ I ventured, hoping, I think, that he would somehow say that this was not necessarily so.
‘That’s right,’ he confirmed. ‘I’ll see you on Monday,’ he said, ‘and I am looking forward to meeting you.’ How nice. They are all charming. But it felt like I was going to pieces. All that reference to ‘amputation’ was so scary...terrifying really. The reality sort of sank in.


Katy insisted on coming with me to my Planning Day. Armed with my parking permit, we arrived to find it did not work. Jack was on board and must be taken to school where he is in the Prep Grade. Katy dropped me off to see to Jack. As I spoke to the girls at Radiology Reception, Scott approached. ‘How did you know I was here?’ I asked, incredulous.
‘I didn’t,’ he replied, ‘this is just a coincidence.’ He escorted me to the Nurses’ Station, telling me he had arranged for Ben to do the CT scan, and that the latter was to look out for me. However, it turned out that I must have a blood test to see that my kidneys were functioning satisfactorily, so I proceeded down the rabbit warren of hallways and floors to find Pathology. I was lost, but as usual, a kind chap took me all the way to this department. My form was marked URGENT, so in no time it was done and I returned to Radiology. And waited. I had told the nurse about our parking problem, and she phoned Oncology and obtained a new number to punch in. She phoned Katy with this information. Katy arrived having parked successfully. All was well.

I was summoned to a cubicle where a canula was inserted in a vein in my arm, by a student nurse. It was the second she had done...and it showed. Poor girl, she did her best. Ben appeared and we went to have the scan. He asked the usual questions about allergies, but he mentioned ‘iodine’ this time. Yes, I had tried to take a few drops of iodine when I had first been diagnosed with the duodenal adenoma, but found that my heart raced so much that I was forced to cease the treatment. He took this seriously, and called in a doctor. They both listened to my story, and explained that the only way to have a thorough scan of the liver was by CT scan. If my heart reacted badly, I was in the right place, but it was my decision. I opted for the CT, but must admit, when Ben cautioned me that the dye was going in, to feeling apprehensive. All was okay, but he said I must wait a little longer to ensure there was no reaction.

I had arrived at the hospital at 8.15 am. It was eleven by the time we left Radiology. My appointment in Oncology was at 11.15 am, and I was famished! Katy nutted out a food bar, where I ordered a toasted sandwich and bottle of water. We raced to Oncology where we waited on comfortable chairs and I ate my morning tea. A pleasant (are they anything else?) young woman sat with us and explained the procedure that would soon take place. She was a technician and would assist. I would receive some tattoos on the site instead of the mould. It was better. They would do another scan of my arm, but no dye this time. It was all practically painless.

All of this took place. I lay still for ages as three of them measured, considered and marked as Sandro Porceddu had indicated when he made a brief visit to this room. Then we saw a nurse who gave some advice on what it would be like during the radiation. I should apply some aqueous cream. Towards the end, it could blister, and need dressings. She advised against going on my proposed trip to the Jenolan Caves in December, which left two days after treatment would cease. But I should feel all right, perhaps tired, and hopefully could drive myself home and back at weekends. There was a waiting list, and the earliest I could start was the 26th October...the very day I was guest speaker at the Rochedale Probus Club! They arranged for an appointment at 2pm, allowing me time to speak in the morning, and get to the hospital on time. Wow!

I now had two weeks or so to see to my home and garden. Even if I did come home at weekends, I should get the weeding done, and seedlings transplanted. It would mean I would see ‘Oliver’ and ‘The King and I’ at the Zamia with my U3A group. My oncologist said he would phone with the results of the scan in a couple of days, to allay any fears I might have...fears indeed. No-one called.

I had been given an appointment card with the time of my first treatment inked in. On the back was a number, which changed weekly, that I was to punch in to the machine at the gate to the Oncology car park. Okay. Katy said she would accompany me to the first session, and show me which lane to get in when I was driving there subsequently. But first I had to be guest speaker at the Rochedale Probus Club on that very day! The engagement had been booked for 10 am. My radiation treatment had been deferred until 3 pm, which was fine, giving me time to make my speech, have a cup of tea, do a book signing, and drive to Katy’s home at Moorooka where we would have lunch before going to the hospital.

I did it...entertained about sixty people with my talk about my life and how I came to write the book Sex in Your Seventies. They love it. I talk about my early days at Logan Village, the ignorance, the move to Brisbane where my farmer father became first a carpenter, then a builder, then a church builder with two fine edifices to his credit, St Philips at Thompson Estate (Annerley) and St at Nundah. The latter was Archbishop Halse’s favourite, so he told my father. It was Brisbane’s only modern Gothic church. I talk about my upwardly mobile journey that began when I first caught on to ‘mental arithmetic’ at Greenslopes State School. A scholarship to the Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School, World War II intervening, becoming a librarian for the US Army at sixteen, nursing after the war, marriage and four children. Finding myself alone at 65, I established an art gallery at North Tamborine, but was jolted into going to Griffith University at age 71, obtaining my BA and BA Hons. It was during this period that I was encouraged to write the book.

So here was this writer, this mini-celebrity who had done a book-signing that morning full of smiles and confidence, and who now was nothing more than another nervous patient commencing the treatment that she hoped would ensure her more good years of life. We reported at the desk, putting my card in the basket. We took our seats.
Some time later, my name was called and I accompanied a young woman to the treatment room. As instructed, I took off my shoes and lay on the treatment couch, a bit like an operating table, but wider it seemed. An extra leaf had been inserted to make it even wider. My feet were positioned in two fixtures that held them securely. I was to lie still, let the three attendants do the moving of my body, especially my left arm, which was marked, moved, nudged, twisted, adjusted, propped and manoeuvred. It was marked with a marker to indicate the six tattoos that showed where the radiation was to be directed. A ‘bolus’ was attached to my arm in this area. Measurements were taken and recorded. The table was lifted to about the technician’s eye level, the hovering machine was rotated to where they wanted it. Lights were switched on and off. I was told not to move ANYTHING! They were leaving the room...and twenty bells rang. I counted them, twice each day. There was a bit of a whirr for quite a few seconds, a ding and the three returned. The machine was rotated so that it could ‘zap’ the underside of my arm, and they left the room twenty bells. Again the procedure...and they were back. Cautioning me not to move yet, they lowered the bench to normal height and removed the bolus. They offered me a rope to haul myself up, but I declined, as I could easily get myself off the bench. I put my shoes on and one of the girls walked me out to the waiting area. Phew! Katy and I found our way out (via the orange arrows) to Reception, where I picked up my card with tomorrow’s appointment time marked.

The machine is a linear particle accelerator, commonly referred to as LINAC. It is a ‘type of particle accelerator that greatly increases the velocity of charged subatomic particles or ions by subjecting the charged particles to a series of oscillating electric potentials along a linear beamline; this method of particle acceleration was invented by Leo Szilárd, but patented in 1928 by Rolf Widerøe’ (Wikipedia).

The Linacs at Princess Alexandra Hospital have individual names. I was assigned to ‘Marie Curie.’ When MC was being serviced, I was treated at ‘Wilhelm Röntgen.’ Or once at ‘J.J.Thomson.’ Mme Curie had an achingly interesting life. Because of her family’s poor circumstances, the reciprocated love she had for Kazimierz Zorawski was doomed, and she suffered rejection by his family, which he was unable to oppose. Through hard effort, she ultimately earned a degree in mathematics at the Sorbonne, where she met Pierre Curie, who became her husband. Together, on 26 December 1898, the Curies announced the existence of ‘radium.’ They had two daughters, Irene and Eve. Marie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Eight years later, in 1911, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.” Marie Curie died in 1934 from aplastic anaemia contracted from her long-term exposure to radiation, the damaging effects of which were not then known. No safety measures had been taken in the shed where she carried out her work. Interestingly, Zorawski went on to become a mathematics professor at Warsaw Polytechnic, and, ‘as an old man, would sit and contemplate the statue of Marie Curie which had been erected in 1935 before the Radium Institute that she had founded in 1932.’ (Wikipedia).

So it went. On specific days, I saw a physiotherapist who gave me special exercises to do in order to prevent losing any movement in my hand. She provided an elastic sleeve for my arm, covering the affected area, which would prevent swelling. It felt good, and would also serve to protect the area from the sun. It was rather alarming to learn that this area must NEVER be touched by the sun again! Then I saw the occupational therapist who agreed with what the physiotherapist had suggested. She was most concerned with how I was coping...had I hit the brick wall yet? No, I was fine, and they both thought I was doing very well, especially for my age.

I saw Doctor Pat Dwyer, a nice young man who has triplet daughters (I was told by the nursing staff). He was Dr Porceddu’s offsider. Just checking. And I asked about the results of that CT scan. Oh yes, there was this area about one centimetre across in the upper right lung that will have to be watched, probably another scan in January. It could be an old infection, maybe not. Oh dear! What next?

And so it goes on. I can request an early or late appointment if possible. I try to get an early treatment on Friday, which allows me to drive home to the mountain at a reasonable hour. If I can have a late morning treatment on the Monday, I can sleep three nights in my own bed! When I am home at the weekends, there is a mountain of work to be done...especially in the garden. The weather has been hot and dry, and I think of my poor vegetable garden during the week when I am in Brisbane. As soon as I arrive home, I have the hose on. Having three big tanks, there is no water meter, and I can usually hose all I want. So far, I have not lost too much of my crop, and I always take with me on Mondays a huge pile of spinach and lettuce, very welcome indeed.

As the weeks passed, I did indeed hit a brick wall. The hot weather didn’t help. I stayed one week with Katy, the next with Caroline. They always have lunch at Colin’s place on Mondays, so of course I joined the home that my father had built for me, now owned by my ex-husband. He is still grieving his girlfriend of twenty or more years, who died last year. The whole place is a shrine to her. Her bright smile is everywhere. He would appreciate some company, so I stayed with him one week, and was looked after well. It was restful after the tumult of the little ones at the other two places. It was a good and fruitful time in many ways.

My forearm began to look sunburnt, and the staff worried about the surgery scar. I applied the aqueous cream diligently, and followed all instructions regarding exercise. They said I was doing well. They were amazed that I drove myself home the sixty-five kilometres each week-end, and I observed that I was one of the few who came alone to treatment. I quite envied at times the couples where partners accompanied their spouses in such a supportive way. I did find out, however, that a lot of partners were worn out with the travelling, the caring, the visiting. At least I had not caused much disruption to the households where I was staying.

I was a good guest. Although I regularly watched ‘Home and Away’while at home, I knew the male heads of the households disliked it intensely. So I missed out on it largely. Katy taped it successfully sometimes, and we watched it later. And Holly and I might watch it while her parents went for a walk! We managed. But I never complained.

The Oncology Department was running a colouring-in competition for Christmas. They supplied a box of assorted old pens and pencils in the waiting area. I coloured in two pictures, and took two home for Bridget and Jack. The latter complied, but Bridget gave her completed picture to her mother, with deep affection. I bought tickets in the Christmas hamper assembled from donated items. I made use of the tea-making facilities, and would sometimes take a sandwich to have for my lunch. I made new acquaintances, listened to people’s stories. Joy and Victor seemed to find me. I read more gossipy magazines than I had read for years.

Then at an appointment, my oncologist asked me, ‘Have you told anyone what you do? What you guest-speak about? Have you mentioned the book?’
‘No, I have kept pretty quiet,’ I replied, ‘I haven’t said a word...’
‘I think I’ll tell the girls,’ he said, meaning the staff, ‘They’ll love it!’ And it appears that he told some about my book, Sex in Your Seventies. It certainly brought a smile to faces...and that makes me happy.

On my last visit, we talked about the suspicious area in my lung. Yes, a follow-up CT scan was scheduled for 10th January, thorax, abdomen and pelvis this time. Then a visit to his private rooms on the 13th...a Friday!!! It is unnerving indeed for me to even contemplate this procedure, and the resulting information hat it could provide. The possibilities are frightening in the extreme, and I am trying to keep my anxiety at bay. So I must keep busy. But my energy levels are not high enough to allow me to do too much, so it is a battle.

I was given some cream to put on my poor red arm after the last treatment. I saw the physiotherapist and the occupational therapist. The latter said I should be proud of myself for getting through the treatment as well as I had...and so cheerfully. How nice! I drove home in the rain, nearly two hours. I bought fruit on the way, got petrol and tried to control my thoughts. It is still difficult for me coming home to an empty house. I gathered my mail from the shed, heard my phone messages and made a cup of brew. No more until January! And my son was due to arrive back from the UK in two weeks, after five and a half years! It’s on with the show!