Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Admission accomplished!

So much to report this week that I think I will have to split this into two posts. But above all, two main, potentially life-saving things have happened:

1. The "Flying Dorts" cycling team completed their 200km Ride to Conquer Cancer with flying colours over the weekend, contributing a whopping $18,000+ towards vital cancer research at Peter Mac (pictured below - this photo is now blu-tacked above my daily cell count whiteboard for inspiration)

2. The stem cells are in! About 8 million stem cells were taken from Megan via apheresis yesterday morning and brought to me in the ward in the afternoon, and administered by drip. Not much really happens for a few days until these stem cells grow and develop new white blood cells and hopefully the "takeover" begins. 

I'll focus on the first point for this post, but to prevent me (and you) from getting lost, I will cover events in chronological order. 

On October 21, I checked into the BMDI (Bone Marrow Donor Institute) apartment that will be my home for the next few months (apart from the 3-4 weeks I spend in hospital). These apartments are run by a charity called the Fight Cancer Foundation, of which Hugh Jackman is actually a patron (there is a wing named after the Jackmans in BMDI house). It's a great apartment and only a short stroll from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, so we've been lucky to secure such a facility.  

My first five days of chemo were administered in this apartment by Hospital in The Home (HITH), which was great because it shortened the time I had to spend in hospital significantly. It was kind of like having your own Mary Poppins who popped in every day with her collapsable pole (to hang the chemo from) and bag of goodies, though there was no 'Spoonful of sugar' song with it, thankfully.  The chemo, Rydarabine, was given as a 30-minute infusion every day and was pretty gentle stuff. I didn't really get any symptoms and remained very active over these 5 days, getting out and about.

Then arrived Saturday, which was a big day. As well as being my hospital admission day, it was the day my cousin Kate, brother Sam, sister Jacqui and dad Keith set off on their massive 200-kilometre challenge, The Peter Mac Ride to Conquer Cancer. The ride began in Albert Park and ended in Healesville on the Saturday, then it was all the way back to Albert Park on the Sunday. Amazing feat and so proud to see all four manage the whole ride without giving up – they should all be proud, as I am. What a team!

The "Flying Dorts" crossing the finish line
That Saturday morning I decided since my family was tackling a brave 200km in two days, then the least thing I could do is drag myself out of bed at 5am to see them off at Albert Park. Typically, it was a freezing Melbourne morning, drizzling and grey with an icy wind blowing. But it was inspiring to see all the cyclists in their yellow vests, and of course as I hugged the four members of my team and wished them luck, it was impossible to hold the tears back. A moving moment, an amazing event that raised $6.2 million for Peter Mac, making it the biggest single fundraising event in Australia. We raised more than $18,000 (and still counting, I think) of that total and that was thanks to the generosity of our friends, family and supporters. Having been through the list of donors on the website, we have been so touched; some of you have been beyond generous. At loss to thank everyone individually at this moment, please do know that every donation has meant so much, and that includes everyone who attended the range of fundraisers we've held over the past weeks. 

Megan and I at her High Tea fundraiser
I’ve also started digging into my wonderful box of letters presented to me by Suze and Mars at the High Tea (which was great, thanks everyone who attended and to Megan and Mum for putting in the hard yards to organise and cook). I have decided I will read one letter a day while in hospital and have been very touched by what I have read so far. In the last few weeks, fundraising for this ride has taken me to a trivia night, a Grease movie night (so much fun singing along, forgot what an awesome classic the film is), Megan’s High Tea in Traralgon and unfortunately I missed my brother’s gig in Bendigo but heard it was a huge success! I’m sure the ‘Moxie band’ will be getting more bookings, my 31st next year maybe? In the meantime, my story has also appeared in the Latrobe Valley Express, Bendigo Advertiser and The Melbourne Times. Am happy to admit I am a bit of a media tart, just send any enquiries via my agent :)

My wonderful box of letters

News travelled as far as Bendigo ....

It's been an action-packed time. After my last pre-transplant test about 2-3 weeks ago, my PICC line was removed from my arm. It had been my companion for three months. I remember getting it put in back in July was so painful, not physically, but mentally because it signified the start of a very difficult period of further treatment. The time of relapse was a very dark period for me, it floored me, probably even more than the original diagnosis did, and put a big dent in my spirit. Three months later (now) I feel that psychologically I am in a much better place. When I start worrying about the transplant outcome, I tell myself not to worry about something that hasn’t happened yet, but that is easier said than done. I think about it every day, how can I not - it's my life? When my mind wanders to a life in remission – growing my hair back, going back to work, getting my independence back, getting my strength back, I stop myself, as it hurts too much to think that maybe that won’t happen. I have thought about the alternative, death, too, and I know I definitely fear that a lot less than I used to. It's not a nice thing to think about, but it really is something I do have to think about. 

But one positive thing about all this, is that I have tolerated the chemo very well so far which has allowed me to do a lot of things that other cancer patients simply cannot do. Like go to Queensland, for instance. Two nights in Brisbane, two nights in the Sunshine Coast (thanks to my cousin Dan and his lovely girlfriend Stace). 28 degrees, catch-ups with some wonderful friends, swims in the ocean, pool and Jacuzzi (which wasn’t possible with my PICC line nor with the Hickman’s Line I got inserted last Monday – I made the most of this week of line-less freedom!) Amid the drudgery of hospitals and appointments, my life has glimpses of awesomeness, and I am grateful for that.

Gotta love Brisbane ....
So Saturday afternoon I was admitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. My room in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit has a view of the city skyline, ensuite, plenty of space for visitors and iPod dock. Penthouse ensuite apparently, a nurse told me. Breakfast included, room service, the culinary delights of Lygon Street only streets away … I have already busied myself making the room more 'homely' with a few decorations and things, since I'll be here for a while. 

Since my admission I've been feeling pretty good; I think I am just glad now that I am here and getting on with it. In the past weeks, out there in the real world, I wasn’t really thinking about it at all, I was just enjoying my freedom, and I’m pretty sure in about a week, the back-in-hospital blues will set in, but for now, it is just on with business. 

On Sunday night, I got a special visit from four members of the "Flying Dorts" cycling and crew team who informed me they have signed me up for next year's ride! 2013, here I come. Apparently there were a few sore bums and tired muscles but they all fared pretty well, and as I've said before, I'm immensely proud. $6.2 million will go a long way, and I am so confident that in the years to come we will be able to eliminate cancer once and for all. 

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