If there were ever an argument against planning, this would be it. A couple of weeks ago, I figured because I had a bit of time off scheduled before my allograft, that I would book a trip for Matt (visiting from London) and I to Cairns. We would swap the dreary Melbourne chill for tropical weather, sandy white beaches, resorts with swim-up bars, a glass-walled treehouse amongst the Daintree Rainforest and a jaunt to the Great Barrier Reef. It was going to be amazing, and I was looking forward to it more than anything in the world.
Until my PET scan results came back.
When I walked into the haematologist’s office five days ago, roughly two hours after my PET had been completed, he told me straight up: “Your PET: it’s not good.” My heart sunk. He went on to explain that there had been “substantial growth” of the cancer spot that had showed up six weeks ago on my scan - substantial enough to warrant a major change in plans. In six weeks, the lymphoma cells had decided to go crazy and go on a free-for-all spree across my body and as a result I have a growth in my chest, several deposits in my abdomen and another in my arm. This was not what I, or the doctors expected, and all I could do is stare at that scan, breaking out in a cold sweat, wondering, why, just why won’t this thing go away and let me get on with my life?
For an allograft to be effective, there has to be minimal cancer present. If there is too much lymphoma, it simply won’t work. Unfortunately my lymphoma had reached the limit of “too much”. So the doctor told me we would be switching to Plan B … or is it Plan C, D, E or Z? I’ve lost track now.
Which is why I now find myself back in Ward 2 at Peter Mac, hooked up to a drip, while I get more chemotherapy in a bid to shrink my cancer down to a manageable size so we can still go ahead with the allograft. Instead of diving into the deep blue seas of North Queensland, I leapt straight back into that murky teal green colour of a hospital bed.
The chemotherapy is called Hyper-CVAD. I had two rounds of this chemo before my auto stem cell transplant – it was pretty nasty stuff that made my eyelashes and eyebrows fall out but it also put me into remission. It’s really the only thing that’s shown any considerable clout in the fight against my lymphoma, so I’m hoping it’s still at its fighting best this time around. I need it to be.
In early August, I will get another PET. If the cancer is small enough, we will go ahead as planned with the allograft on August 27. If the cancer isn’t, I will undergo another round of Hyper-CVAD, then go into the transplant.
Neither situation is ideal, as it places me at high risk of toxicity. The toxicity levels in my body could lead to deadly implications during the allograft. Having the aurograft and allograft in such close proximity was always a danger, but throwing the extra chemotherapy into the mix has shaken things up a notch. In a word, I am terrified.
The doctors have made it very clear they are still working towards a cure, and I am still as hopeful as ever. I have dreams of reaching the end of this nightmare, my body, broken and battered, shaky on its feet, but filled with pure elation because I went to hell and back and made it. But I also have to be realistic. There is a very real chance that I could lose this race. And if it wasn’t my life in the balance then let’s face it, I would have given up ages ago.
So needless to say, I had to cancel that trip to Cairns. Kindly, the accommodation providers I booked with in Cairns gave me a full refund with no charge when they heard my story, but I guess it must’ve been hard for Colin from Beach Hideaway Cabins (complete with friendly ocker Queensland accent) to take the $170 from me after I’d just blubbered into the phone that I wouldn’t be making it because I had chemotherapy. Unfortunately the people at Tiger Airways haven’t managed to show me the same compassion yet though, it’s a sad world we live in sometimes.
Anyway, if anything, this experience has given me a chance to be reunited with some old friends. The PICC line is back in my arm, I’ve been peeing in a pan for days, Big Bertha (my IV drip monitor) is by my side again, a big bag of chemotherapy is slung high on the drip, inside its ominous-looking sun-protecting black bag and of course, there's the wonderful nurses here at Peter Mac who all know me by name (either looking at me as if my puppy just died or wisecracking, “I thought I told you we didn’t want to see you here again.”) I’ve also welcomed an unrelenting river of loud, wonderful, colourful visitors (some of them drunk, admittedly) to Peter Mac and the gloves, gown and orange ‘duckbill’ mask guests must don before they come into my ward (due to a flu outbreak) have provided many laughs and magical photo moments (see below).
|The 'speck-duckular' respiratory masks at Peter Mac as modelled by the lovely Jacqui.|
I’m sorry that people have to read this; I really wish I had some good news to bring for once, I really do. But you hear of people defying the odds all the time, and maybe I’ll make it to the successful list - it’s not over yet. A man in ward 2 the other day told me “You’ll beat it,” with such certainty I almost whole-heartedly believed him. I’m 30 years old, I have (supposedly) one of the most treatable cancers that exist and my body is not going to go down without a fight. And as much as it hurts me to see my situation tear up those people that I love, I am also constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have them here in the first place. There is still fun to be had, my friends, and there is still hope.