peter A cross

ramblings from a troubled mind

Posts Tagged ‘Monty Python

The Russians are coming and Gant’s mind is going

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I’ve been trying to work out why I have had so much trouble writing about the last two plays I have seen: The White Guard and Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, finally I think I have worked it out – they didn’t really move me. Well ‘der’ I hear you say. It’s no easy thing sometimes to work out, not what but why a certain play has or has not worked for you. Don’t get me wrong I mostly enjoyed them both but neither had a “wham bam, take that you sucker, now sit up and pay attention” affect on me.

I blame Terminus; it was such a standout that whatever has followed has been a let down.

The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov as envisioned by Andrew Upton:

Russia is falling apart and revolutions seem to be happening daily. In one house, in the Ukraine, Lena (Miranda Otto) tries to keep her ragtag family together through the threat of advancing and conflicting ideologies.

On the cavernous stage of the Sydney Theatre the warring armies of monarchism, socialism, democracy and communism all fight for dominance. A large(ish) cast of 14 strong do their best to describe the futility and farce of war and the importance of family and love. Otto, the sole female in the cast represents I guess some kind of mother Russia while her husband, children, nephews etc all rush headlong backwards and forwards singing songs and drinking vodka to an unknown future represent the past and possible future that would become the USSR. Okay even I think I am reading far too much into that metaphor.

The set, designed by Alice Babidge, and the music, Steve Francis, that accompany the set changes are really the big winners in this production. Yes there are good and in some cases strong performances, Patrick Brammall as Leonid but in the end, by the time I had reached the car park, I had pretty much moved the entire production to the back of my mind. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it – it just didn’t grab me in ‘me vitals’.

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson:

Emily Tomlins as Madame Poulet

A couple of years ago I was pretty scathing about a certain play or more correctly a certain production of one of Anthony Neilson’s plays. I remember leaving the theatre in a bit of a fury at, what I felt, was a badly directed piece of nonsense, I’m talking of course about The Wonderful World of Dissocia, so I had no great expectations of this night out to see Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness;(EGAFoL) – even just the name set my few remaining teeth on edge. The hardest thing in winter is to leave the comfort of the sofa and the lure of the telly, and venture out into the wind and rain to see a play. I’m glad I did – mostly.

Have you ever wondered what happens to a troupe of actors who have stayed too long in one show? EGAFoL is that troupe. Gant’s gallant troupe of troubadours has been touring for too long. Their simple stories of loneliness and unrequited love have taken an unnatural edge and become a mixture of madness and grotesque melancholia; from the girl with pock filled pearl producing face to soldier in love with the ‘jam tart’ tart.

In the style of Victorian melodrama with a dash of ‘Around the Horn’ and a hint of ‘Monty Python’ thrown in Neilson’s world unravels in front of us.

Now I love a tent show (set design Renee Mulder) as much as the next fellow and I do love a good frock on stage, and the frocks are VERY good in this production thanks to Romance Was Born balanced with strong performances from the tight ensemble of four so in theory we should be in for a very entertaining night out – and again mostly we are.

The strength of the story telling is more in the fantasy than in the reality. I know what the hell does that mean. Simply, I enjoyed the tall tales but true section much more than the cold light of reality thrown over us by a Little Nicholas Ludd (Lindsay Farris).

Neilson is at his best when he lets his mind run free with a suitcase full of characters like ‘Ranjeev the Uncomplicated’ and the more bizarre the character the happier I was but somewhere near the last third of the play, after the story telling stops, the play runs out of steam – it kind of, sort of, you know stalls. Luckily the madness of the finale saves the play – or at least for me it did and I left in a much better mood than when I walked in.

And – how could I forget – Sarah Goodes direction was pretty darn slick. I can’t wait to see more of her work.

However I have been spoiled – spoiled by a trio of Irish actors who do no more than stand and tell a story for almost two hours. No tricks, no blood, no seeping pustules just a story.

I wonder if I will be over my love affair with Terminus by the time I get to see The Seagull?

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Cancer and the Angry Gemini – ‘da shiz fo shizzle’

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Peter six months before the operation

Peter six months before the operation

They say the third time is the charm, well if it is true then I am really charmed.

This is my third cancer diagnosis; first my tongue, then a kidney and now the good old fashioned prostate. I know I am not the only person out there who is going through this, in fact many friends past and present are fighting their own battles everyday and I draw strength from their courage and humour. I am not asking for or expecting any form of sympathy, I am doing this entirely for me. In fact those of you who know me personally will vouch for what a stubborn, ungracious coot I am and I do not take kindly to offers of help or any form of molly coddling.

I was going to do this last time I had a bad diagnosis but never really got around to putting finger to keypad. This time I am hoping to keep a kind of on-line diary about the next few months and my treatment. Not because I am some Farrah Fawcett Major or Joan Didion ‘wanna be’ but it helps clear my mind and it may help someone else who is reading it, (that’s my ego assuming that others are reading the drivel ‘what I rite’).

So first the background: In 2003 I was diagnosed with throat cancer. It was a little irritation right at the back of my throat that first gave my GP and me a hint that something was wrong. Orange juice would really sting and I found that I was constantly trying to clear my throat. I took the news pretty well; I mean what can you do? There is no point sitting in a puddle of self indulgent wailing. It becomes one of those things that you really just need to get on with and fix as soon as you can.

I tend to be rather pragmatic about such stuff.

So I had the meetings with the surgeons; the ENT man who would cut my throat open from ear to ear and excise the lesion then take a flap of skin from my wrist and sew that into my tongue; then the Plastic Surgeon who would try and sew the tongue back together and reconnect the nerves etc; finally meeting with the Radiotherapist who would over the course of four weeks zap what was left of the cancerous cells out of my body. All pretty standard. I was ready, well as ready as you can be.

At the final surgical consult; this is where a group of surgeons of related disciplines all sit around discuss if this is indeed the best option, I was thrown a curve ball, from out of left field the Radiotherapist said that I would have to have all my molar teeth removed in case the radiation made them crumble and break. This threw me, I mean what the…? It was one of those things that you least expect to happen, it had played no part in my plan for what was coming. Doubly annoying I had just spent the year before having all my old fillings taken out a replaced with sparkling new white composites. I was pissed at this; I took an instant dislike to the radiotherapist, something I still haven’t let go of. Let me tell you that removing twelve (12) molars all at once is not the most pleasant of experiences; its day surgery and when you come out you’re feeling none to bright. But what can you do? You can’t argue because you are already feeling overwhelmed, so in the end you suck it up and have the buggers ripped out.

With teeth removed and my gums starting to heal I checked into St Vincent’s Private. I had been a card carrying member of my private health fund for years, so I was expecting the best. The nurses couldn’t have been nicer; I had a lovely room looking over Victoria Street straight into the Hospice; that made me slightly nervous.

So anyway the next morning I was taken in to the theatre and a very nice lady Anaesthetist put a very sharp needle in my arm and I drifted blissfully off to sleep. They told me later I was on the ‘table’ for just over fourteen hours; that was the best fourteen hours I would spend for the next few months.

Post Op Peter 2003

Post Op Peter 2003

I woke up, briefly, in the ICU, more drugs and some very strange dreams. I spent a few days there then they pushed me back up to my room and for the first time I saw my reflection. A tube stuck out of my incredibly swollen throat, another one up my nose, approximately 40 odd staples across my neck to hold my Adam’s Apple and other unnamed organs in, various drains to catch the seepage from the several wounds situated all around my by now wasting body.

Oh yes let’s briefly talk about muscle mass, muscle ‘dun last too long’ once you stop going to the gym. I had gone from a decent 78 kilos down to about 60 kilos in what seemed like minutes. To say that I was frail was putting it kindly. I made Posh Spice look like Mamma Cass. Trust me this is not an exaggeration.

Anyhow after I think about two weeks I was able to go home and finish my recuperation in my own bed. Never have I been happier to crawl between my very own flannelette sheets than that first night after release.

Eating was going to be a problem, since essentially I had no teeth to chew with and my throat although healing was still pretty raw and I had to get used to using my now repaired and replaced ‘new’ tongue which seemed to have a mind of its own. Soft food, milk arrowroot biscuits and lukewarm cups of tea became my diet, plus mashed fruit cup of pears and/or apples.
I was given a two week window before being sent back to the nasty tooth fairy for radio.

Rest and recuperation and for some reason I developed a kinky fascination with the Food Channel on Fox; taunting myself with delicious looking dishes I couldn’t even begin to consider eating.

Cancer and the Angry Gemini – the saga continues:

With strength returning thanks mainly to the many packets of milk arrowroot biscuits and mugs of tea consumed while watching Jamie Oliver carve up a leg of Tuscan Lamb I started the weeks of radiotherapy that would finally eradicate the cancerous cells that had been lurking inside my unsuspecting throat.

Every day at 9:15 I would make my way to the radiotherapy centre in St Vincent’s Clinic and there surrounded by others all under going treatment for one form or another of cancer I would change into my hospital gown with the gaping back and sit quietly reading the latest issue of New Idea waiting for my turn to be ‘zapped’. Patients in varying stages of treatment; the luckier ones near the end of their regime, although exhausted by the physical toll the therapy takes on you, had a certain air of triumph knowing that they had got this far and the end was in sight.

The 'Zapping' Machine

The 'Zapping' Machine

For fifteen minutes I would lie on the thin and extremely hard metal bed while my neck from left to right was pounded by hidden rays. After the first few sessions I actually managed to sleep through the treatments. It was here for the first time that I actually had to ask for help; unable to get up from the bed and by now weighing in at a hefty 45 kilos in my croaking voice with a tongue refusing to do what normal tongues do I had to be lifted from the bench and propped back up on shaky chicken legs.
Then dressed and determined I would make my way home to the Food Channel and more soggy biscuits.

It’s funny the things that run through your mind as you shuffle up the street in the middle of winter; I remember one strong thought, “Please don’t let anyone think I am an AIDS victim”. Emaciated and angry I still had my vanity, as misplaced as it was.

The thing with radiation is that at first it seems very easy, there are no visible effects but after three weeks and taking no notice of the nurses who had said, “Make sure you rub a good moisturising cream into the radiation burns to limit the damage to your skin,” I found that indeed the skin around my neck began, quite literally, to melt. So out with the moisturiser and I applied it liberally to the area, a bit like basting a side of lamb, or my case, of mutton.

The upside of radiation, yes there is one, is that I no longer have to shave most of my face or neck, that radiation kills everything, indiscriminately. The downside is that most of my saliva glands were blasted as well, leaving me, permanently, with that cloying dry mouth, you know the feeling where your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth as if you have been out too late having a night on the tiles.

By the time treatment ended and follow up visits to the surgeons had been made almost three months had passed. I was not aware of the movement of time, my world became one of one foot in front of the next; each moment was the only thing that counted. I made no plans, I saw no friends, (ego again) and I began to build up the fortress walls that I thought were needed to keep me safe.

Chris Berger, Richard Lyle, Me (not my best ever pic)

Chris Berger, Richard Lyle, Me (not my best ever pic)

About this time, in New York, a friend of mine was producing the first Australian show to open on Broadway and I decided I needed a treat, a little reward; actually I think I just wanted to escape. My housemate, Richard, was going over for opening night and the day before he was due to fly out I decided why the f**k not. So I made him drive me into town and I bought a return ticket flying Qantas to NYC. Such is my madness. So for the next fourteen days I indulged in shows, shopping and dinners at Sardi’s, all thanks to the wonderful people at Visa.

Getting back to Sydney and feeling strong enough to go back to work I rang my employer and asked when they wanted me back. His response was less than satisfactory; he was of the opinion that I should be made redundant and take a minimal pay-out. For the next few months lawyer’s letters were exchanged. In the end I kept the job but my boss rarely spoke to me again. I became, for want of a better description ‘the fart that lingers in the room that no one will claim’.

People ask me often, “Do you now think of each day is a gift?” Honestly no, each day is just each day; good things happen and bad things happen but I didn’t have a ‘road to Damascus’ epiphany and suddenly become this being of love and light. I’m still the selfish, self centred, grumpy ‘ol coot’ I was before the Big C.

Skip forward three years, 2006 another crisis but that can be saved for later.

Cancer and the Angry Gemini – I mean it’s just ‘offal’

 Now where were we?

Three years after my throat had been worked on a little of the anger and resentment that had been building up in me had started to dissipate. I was back at the gym, I had gained weight (back to 69 kilos) and I had two sparkling new partial dentures, (uppers and lowers), thanks to a very kind cash gift from a very close friend who shall remain nameless.

Michael Ossher

Michael Ossher

The anger that had been bubbling under the surface of my recovery finally started to move thanks to my Trainer, Michael Ossher. When I was finally ready to go back to the gym and begin weight training again he was coincidentally in his last year of training as a psychotherapist and he proved to be the perfect sounding board for me. I’m not an overly emotional person in my day to day life however I had begun to resent my friends for what I perceived as their good fortune, health and wealth and my lack thereof. Michael never said anything, overtly, but he encouraged me to train while he patiently listened to my ranting and never judged me and he let me find my own path out of the mire of self pity I had sunk into. I owe him a huge debt of thanks for that.

However about June or July of this year, (2006), I began to feel stiffness in my neck that I immediately put down to muscle strain. I found it harder and harder each day to actually turn my head in any direction, the only time it felt even mildly better was after a hot and I mean scalding shower. My housemate who for some reason or other tends to worry about me watched with growing concern as I once again began to rapidly lose weight. I would sit on the couch swallowing numerous Panadol to try and make the pain go away. I would break out in drenching sweat, I couldn’t raise my head, I stopped eating and retreated to my bed, never leaving it unless I had to go to the loo.

During this time I was also participating in a trial of a new treatment that would help restore fat to my face. Fat that had been lost during the great cancer of 2003. ‘Sculptra’ which was normally $1000 per session was being given freely to people who had suffered from massive facial fat loss. In a strange coincidence the doctor running the trial was also the Plastic Surgeon who had put my tongue back together. The reason I mention this is primarily after passing out in his surgery and having no idea where I was I decided that perhaps it may be time to visit my GP and deal with what was happening.

Denial is a long river and I swim it confidently.

A day later I lay in isolation, on a bed in the infectious diseases ward of St Vincent’s Hospital watching with panic as everyone that came into my room was forced to wear a mask, trying to take in that I was being treated as if I had every possible communicable disease known to man. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t swallow; everything I tried to eat ended up in my lungs causing secondary infections. I literally became one of Kevin07 ‘aspirational’ voters. Finally after a week of being force fed a variety of tablets the size of fifty cent coins and, you guessed it, more massive weight loss my lungs collapsed. The last thing I really remember is grabbing the empty ‘pee’ bottle and projectile vomiting into it.

I woke up, if that’s the right word, in ICU in a large room surrounded by windows with oxygen tubes stuffed up my nose and a nurse sitting outside monitoring me. I was her only patient and it didn’t make me feel special. I felt like a Monty Python sketch with all the machines going ‘ping.’

The 'Mask'

The 'Mask'

Breathing was incredibly hard; oxygen was being forced down into my lungs. I couldn’t finish simple sentences. I had to wear a full face oxygen mask, one of the most claustrophobic experiences of my life, especially as the first mask was faulty and every forty seconds or so refused to pump air.

I can’t describe the feeling of panic I had when, for probably less than a minute, the nurse would disappear from my eye line.

Eventually they let me out of the Isolation Room and into the general population of ICU, still unable to stand or really move. I sat there in a large recliner rocker while a 20 something year old intern inserted a catheter in to my frightened and shrinking willy. (I know this is a lot of unasked for information).

Once more my lungs collapsed, I don’t think it was cause and effect.

My ex boyfriend Thomas flew up from Victoria to be with me, as the end seemed more than possible; Richard my housemate was the mess that only he can be; the Doctors asked me if I ‘crashed’ again did I want them to pull me back or… It was an easy decision and without a seconds hesitation I said, “No let me go.” I signed all the appropriate papers and made what peace I could with myself, the world and God. There were tears, none from me, and suddenly we were all resigned that this was it.

I must like a challenge because two days later I was on the road to recovery and the antibiotics they had been pumping into me to fix the infection that had caused the cysts on my spine started to work.

Thomas Burge

Thomas Burge

I was returned triumphant to the ward, no longer isolated, but heres the thing, as they say in American TV shows, one of the multitude of scans that I had been through had discovered a lump on my right kidney and of course it was cancerous and of course it needed to be removed and of course they couldn’t do that until this 42 kilo piece of humanity had regained some strength and weight.

Discharged and sent home to regroup and rebuild I was told that in two weeks time I would be back and they would whip out the offending organ. So I did and they did and once again there was some good news; the cancer was not related in anyway to the previous cancer of 2003.

I had spent just under two months in hospital, three weeks in ICU; I had forgotten what it was like to sleep in a bed larger than a stretcher.

Who would have thought two tumours in three years?

Thomas went back to Melbourne; he had stayed with me for almost a month. Who says that ex boyfriends can’t be your closest friends?

Richard from that day on has always looked nervously at me whenever I sneeze or complain of a pain in my neck, naturally being the caring and considerate person that I am, I will often clutch my side and feign agony or to really scare him, I’ll lie on the floor in the kitchen pretending to have lapsed into a coma just as he comes home from work. To quote Alan Bennett, “Oh how we laughed.”

That brings you up to date on most of my health issues until 2009.

Cancer and the Angry Gemini – what a bummer:

Are you all still with me?

Let’s flash forward a few years, three in fact, to 2009. Everything seems to be moving along nicely. All my checkups post cancer operations are really good. In fact, it’s been over five years since they took out the tumour on my tongue and the follow ups for the kidney operation are really encouraging, so life is pretty okay.

In 2005 after finally being made redundant by my Boss, (with a decent pay-out this time), I needed something to do so I started to write. My thought pattern went something along the lines of: well since I find it hard to speak now, I really don’t want to work in hospitality and I still seem to be really opinionated and there is no point just sitting in cafés drinking coffee and reading The Daily Telegraph everyday I should do something, I know I’ll write a TV series. So I did; over about five months I wrote six episodes of a series aimed primarily at SBS or the ABC, set in the wonderful world of politics (something I new little about) called “A House Divided”. I found it easy to write and I seemed to be pretty good at it.

Me in the winter of 2007

Me in the winter of 2007

Of course no one bought it but the exercise was good for me. I started to write a few opinion pieces for Sydney Star Observer, SX Magazine and The Sydney Morning Herald, I contributed to an ‘E-Book’ called ‘I Am A Camera’Read here, people were positive about my scribbling. I joined the Australian Writers’ Guild, made contact with a group of film and television writers and became reasonably productive. I finished one screenplay and started on a second.

Everything seemed to be moving nicely forward.

Near the beginning of 2009, maybe a little earlier, I started to have some bowel trouble.

I apologise now because it will be a little graphic for a paragraph or so.

I had what I liked to call ‘incidents’, I found it difficult to walk from my house in Darlinghurst to Surry Hills without having to go, very quickly to the loo. On more than one occasion, I didn’t make it in time. Are you getting the picture; stuck on Oxford St. and unintentionally messy.

You think I would have learned by now that if something is going wrong with my system, see a doctor, but no not me. I made allowances and planned my outings carefully always making sure that wherever I was going had 1: parking and 2: a toilet. I changed cafés because Lumiere didn’t have an onsite toilet. Soon I was set in my new routine and the ‘incidents’ never quite disappeared but they certainly diminished.

I had had a colonoscopy in 2008 and although the results were clear my Prostate was certainly larger than normal. We, the doctors and I, attributed this to my lack of weight. In probably March 2009 I started to experience some real pain in ‘me nether regions’. We thought this was probably Irritable Bowel Syndrome. So with the help of Nurofen and limiting the amount of walking around I did again I established a routine.

Every year, for the last three years, I have been earning some extra cash as an Exam Supervisor at one of the girls’ schools in the Eastern Suburbs. This year I had problems. As most of the supervision requires endless walking up and down rows of desks I found that I needed to sit more often than stand; the pain was building. I’m usually pretty good with pain but this was one of those dull aches that seem to throb incessantly away.

I decided that it was time to stop delaying and see my old friend the doctor.

You see what I mean

You see what I mean

Wednesday 12 August: 

I really dislike digital rectal examinations, there I said and I mean it; it’s invasive (obviously) and you don’t get dinner before or after. My doctor is a hummer, as he worked away with swab and finger he hummed; I’m not sure if it was to distract me or him. His beautiful dog Rosie wisely slept through the entire event.

Within twenty minutes of the ‘fingering’ I was back up to St. Vincent’s Clinic and waiting to see a new doctor, one who specialised in ‘that area’, the bum, the anus, my butt. Again with the finger but this time no humming, just a sort of grunt which may have come from him but could also have been mine. He booked me in for a colonoscopy the next day with the sole purpose of taking a biopsy.

So the news was; yes there was a problem, he wouldn’t be able to be more specific until he had done the biopsy, in all probability I would need radiotherapy and a course of chemo, the worse case scenario was ‘a bag’.

Thursday 13 August 2009:

The day is spent at home never far from the loo. It’s a day of fasting and drinking the cleansing of the bowel ‘preparation’.

 Again too much information but I had to do three loads of washing that day, you can guess why.
 
Friday 14 August 2009:

I gingerly made my way, early, up to the 6th floor of St Vincent’s Clinic for my 12.30 appointment. Finally I was invited in, told to change into the gown with the ‘gaping back’ and popped onto a bed. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep but every now and then from behind the curtain to the left of me someone who had just ‘been done’ would let out a rather loud and worrying fart. No one said a word; I suppose it is really a rather normal sound for the recovery room of the colonoscopy centre at St Vincent’s.

I was wheeled into the room, rolled onto my side while the very nice young Anaesthetist put the needle into my wrist, we seemed to be chatting away rather well, in fact I said in my best jaunty voice, “Can I get the good drugs, the ones Michael Jackson took?”; then I woke up in the recovery room, with no memory of anything that had followed the injection.

I can see why Michael Jackson became so enamoured of whatever drug they are pumping into you before you have a procedure.

After an orange juice, a cup of tea and one or two noisy farts I was allowed to dress and join the other post probees.

Another cup of tea, some comforting words from the doctor and I was told to report back on Thursday 20th for the results.

Thursday 20 August 2009:

The 'bad' cells

The 'bad' cells

So I made it to my appointment and had confirmed by my new doctor his previous diagnosis, ‘a tumour in the rectum’, his words not mine, very treatable he thought with a combination of radiotherapy and chemo. He gave me the number of a Radiotherapist at Prince of Wales Hospital and I promised to make contact with her and work out treatment dates etc.

A third tumour, who would have thought?

My intention now is to write each week, much more briefly about what is going on and how the regime is progressing. As I said way back at the start of this I am going to be doing this for me as a way of cleansing and clearing my mind. If it helps or assists anyone else that would be great.

I will try to do it with as much humour and honesty as I can; I am sure there will be times when it will be a rant, times when I rail at the unfairness of life in general, but hopefully this ‘diary’ will dissipate most of the anger.

For those of you who read this far, thanks.

Cancer and the Angry Gemini – have I got a deal for you!

Centennial Park, Sydney

Centennial Park, Sydney

I’m in the ‘Indian Summer’ phase. That’s the safe time between diagnosis and treatment. It’s a good time. You feel as if you have finally owned up to your cancer and have started to take positive steps to deal with it. The great thing is though that nothing has happened but you feel better about yourself. ‘King of the World.

I made my first appointment Tuesday, (25 August 2009), to see my brand spanking new doctor, Robyn. We’re going to work out the timetable for everything that is to come, treatment-wise. This time I’m off to The Prince of Wales, not as handy as St Vincent’s but much more cost effective.

One of the things I learned very quickly after the 2003 event was that, even with private health care, getting healed ‘ain’t cheap.’ I have to admit I was probably very naïve. I had been paying into my health care fund for a long time and I thought I was covered; I didn’t take into account ‘The Gap’: the amount between what your doctor charges and what Medicare and your fund will reimburse you for. I guess I was expecting to pay something, maybe $300 or $500 dollars for incidentals.

Silly old cancer patient me.

In the end the two funds paid probably about 75% of the total amount. This left me just over $15,000 out of pocket. I wasn’t amused. I wondered what they would do if I refused to pay; put my old tongue back in?

So I learned, fast. By the time 2006 rolled around I remembered my grandfather’s favourite saying, “Get out there and kick the tyres son.” Sure, he was talking about cars but the same principle applies. Apart from everything else that’s going on you have to negotiate just how much this is going to cost you. As long as you are upfront then usually there are no hidden surprises.

So in 2006 as I lay gasping for breath in the Isolation Ward at St Vinnie’s we haggled about who would do what to me, when, where and how I would pay for it all. We came to a mutually agreeable result. I would be admitted as a private patient but there would be no gap. Happy with that, I lay back and coughed up a lung.

Another thought in passing: who do you tell? Some people, clearly not me, like to keep private things private and they don’t want anyone to know that they are ailing but at some stage you have to tell someone and, trust me, if you tell one person then everyone will know sooner rather than later. People’s reactions can be curious; they can range from the solicitous fruit basket to the well meaning, “Anything, and I mean anything, I can do for you, just call,” to the few who avoid even mentioning the word. All reasonable reactions and perfectly understandable, far be it from me to tell someone else how they should react to my diagnosis.

Anyway, back to my ‘Indian Summer’, next week the planning starts so, until then, I am going to enjoy my beer and the Sydney sunshine.

Cue lights, cue sound of birds chirping, and action on Doris Day singing, ‘Que Sera Sera.’

Cancer and the Angry Gemini – I mean it’s just ‘offal’

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 Now, where were we? 
 

Three years after my throat had been worked on a little of the anger and resentment that had been building up in me had started to dissipate. I was back at the gym, I had gained weight (back to 69 kilos) and I had two sparkling new partial dentures, (uppers and lowers), thanks to a very kind cash gift from a very close friend who shall remain nameless.

Michael Ossher

Michael Ossher

The anger that had been bubbling under the surface of my recovery finally started to move thanks to my Trainer, Michael Ossher. When I was finally ready to go back to the gym and begin weight training again he was coincidentally in his last year of training as a psychotherapist and he proved to be the perfect sounding board for me.

I’m not an overly emotional person in my day to day life however I had begun to resent my friends for what I perceived as their good fortune, health and wealth and my lack thereof. Michael never said anything, overtly, but he encouraged me to train while he patiently listened to my ranting and never judged me and he let me find my own path out of the mire of self pity I had sunk into. I owe him a huge debt of thanks for that.

However about June or July of this year, (2006), I began to feel stiffness in my neck that I immediately put down to muscle strain. I found it harder and harder each day to actually turn my head in any direction, the only time it felt even mildly better was after a hot and I mean scalding shower. My housemate, Richard, who for some reason or other tends to worry about me watched with growing concern as I once again began to rapidly lose weight. I would sit on the couch swallowing numerous Panadol to try and make the pain go away. I would break out in drenching sweat, I couldn’t raise my head, I stopped eating and retreated to my bed, never leaving it unless I had to go to the loo.

During this time I was also participating in a trial of a new treatment that would help restore fat to my face. Fat that had been lost during the great cancer of 2003. ‘Sculptra’ which was normally $1000 per session was being given freely to people who had suffered from massive facial fat loss. In a strange coincidence the doctor running the trial was also the Plastic Surgeon who had put my tongue back together. The reason I mention this is primarily after passing out in his surgery and having no idea where I was I decided that perhaps it may be time to visit my GP and deal with what was happening.

Denial is a long river and I swim it confidently.

A day later I lay in isolation, on a bed in the infectious diseases ward of St. Vincent’s Hospital watching with panic as everyone that came into my room was forced to wear a mask, trying to take in that I was being treated as if I had every possible communicable disease known to man. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t swallow; everything I tried to eat ended up in my lungs causing secondary infections. I literally became one of Kevin07 ‘aspirational’ voters. Finally after a week of being force fed tablets the size of fifty cent coins and, you guessed it, more massive weight loss my lungs collapsed. The last thing I really remember is grabbing the empty ‘pee’ bottle and projectile vomiting into it.
I woke up, if that’s the right word, in ICU in a large room surrounded by windows with oxygen tubes stuffed up my nose and a nurse sitting outside monitoring me. I was her only patient and it didn’t make me feel special. I felt like a Monty Python sketch with all the machines going ‘ping’.

The 'Mask'

The 'Mask'

Breathing was incredibly hard; oxygen was being forced down into my lungs. I couldn’t finish simple sentences. I had to wear a full face oxygen mask, one of the most claustrophobic experiences of my life, especially as the first mask was faulty and every forty seconds or so refused to pump air.

I can’t describe the feeling of panic I had when, for probably less than a minute, the nurse would disappear from my eye line.

Eventually they let me out of the Isolation Room and into the general population of ICU, still unable to stand or really move. I sat there in a large recliner rocker while a 20 something year old intern inserted a catheter in to my frightened and shrinking willy. (I know this is a lot of unasked for information). Once more my lungs collapsed, I don’t think it was cause and effect.

Thomas

Thomas Burge

My ex boyfriend Thomas flew up from Victoria to be with me, as the end seemed more than possible; Richard my housemate was the mess that only he can be; the Doctors asked me if I ‘crashed’ again did I want them to pull me back or… It was an easy decision and without a second’s hesitation I said, “No let me go.” I signed all the appropriate papers and made what peace I could with myself, the world and God. There were tears, none from me, and suddenly we were all resigned that this was it.

I must like a challenge because two days later I was on the road to recovery and the antibiotics they had been pumping into me to fix the infection that had caused the cysts on my spine started to work.

I was returned triumphant to the ward, no longer isolated, but heres the thing, as they say in American TV shows, one of the multitude of scans that I had been through had discovered a lump on my right kidney and of course it was cancerous and of course it needed to be removed and of course they couldn’t do that until this 42 kilo piece of humanity had regained some strength and weight.

Discharged and sent home to regroup and rebuild I was told that in two weeks time I would be back and they would whip out the offending organ. So I did and they did and once again there was some good news; the cancer was not related in anyway to the previous cancer of 2003.

I had spent just under two months in hospital, three weeks in ICU; I had forgotten what it was like to sleep in a bed larger than a stretcher.

Who would have thought two tumours in three years?

Thomas went back to Melbourne; he had stayed with me for almost a month. Who says that ex boyfriends can’t be your closest friends?

Richard from that day on has always looked nervously at me whenever I sneeze or complain of a pain in my neck, naturally being the caring and considerate person that I am, I will often clutch my side and feign agony or to really scare him, I’ll lie on the floor in the kitchen pretending to have lapsed into a coma just as he comes home from work. To quote Alan Bennett, “Oh how we laughed.”

That brings you up to date on most of my health issues until 2009.

To be continued.

Written by peteracross

August 28, 2009 at 16:41