Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pedalling a good cause

Last time I wrote, I had good news. I’d had one round of chemotherapy, and the CT scan that followed had shown that despite the slim odds of this chemotherapy succeeding, the lymphoma had shrunk. I never saw the scans, so I really didn’t know just how significant the response had been. But the doctors were happy, so I was happy too. And this was the first good thing that had happened to me for a while, so I revelled in it.

So I went into round 2 of the chemo and once again handled it pretty well – I battled some fatigue and low blood counts, but overall I held up OK. After round 2, I got another PET scan, my seventh so far (I have had so much radioactive tracer injected into me I am surprised I am not glowing right now). I think it is pretty obvious to anyone who has been following my blog how much I hate PET scans, not just because I usually have to get up early and fast for them, which makes me hungry and grumpy, but also because they often bring anxiety, and sometimes heartbreak, too.

I had my PET on a Wednesday. On Friday, I still didn’t know the result. On this day, I was sitting in pathology at Peter Mac, waiting to get a blood test as part of my weekly routine, and I bumped into the lymphoma nurse. “Did you get your PET scan results?” she asked me. “No, I haven’t heard anything, yet,” I replied. “Well, aren’t I glad I bumped into you then,” she said. “You had a complete response.”

It took me a minute to process this. In medical terms, a “complete response” when talking about a PET means there is no cancer showing on the scan. I wasn’t expecting this at all. I was hoping it would have shrunk, but I wasn’t expecting the scan to come back completely clear.

Now, of course this does not mean I have no cancer in my body. As I later discussed with the head of the transplant team the following week, there is “no doubt” (his words) that there are still microscopic cancer cells floating around my body. They are just not big enough for the scanner to pick up. But this is the best result I could’ve hoped for. And to be honest with you, a few months ago, I had serious doubts about whether I would ever have a clear PET scan again. I think my doctors had serious doubts too, if the truth be known. After discussing the result, one of the doctors from the transplant team came to me and shook my hand and said, “I am very, very happy to see you again.”

After my negative PET scan, I managed to fit in a long weekend to the Grampians, where I spent time at my cousin’s amazing house at Hall’s Gap. A wonderful weekend with wonderful people - and the steep walks were all worth it!
So now, it is hoped that the allo-stem cell transplant will eliminate those microscopic cells, those cells that the chemotherapy just can’t seem to eradicate. I have finally reached the final frontier, my only and last chance at a cure. For a while the allograft just kept slipping so far away that it started becoming some kind of elusive dream, I felt like I was never going to get there. But I am there now, and suddenly I am a bit nervous. I’ve been through a stem cell transplant before, but this one is far riskier and far scarier, and I really don’t want to go through it all again. But I have to.

There are still no guarantees that the allograft will work. In fact, according to medical research, the chances of it not working are greater than the chances of it working. But right now I refuse to even think about that possible outcome, I just can’t. I know how dangerous it is to get ahead of yourself in this game. I have to always bring myself back to now – I will cross bridges once I get to them. Right now, hope is keeping me going, and even if it ends in disappointment, it is better than having no hope.

Today I got a phone call from the transplant team. A bed has become available for me in the third week of October, the exact date to be confirmed. It is important for me to go quickly into this phase of treatment in case the lymphoma decides to go crazy again, like it did back in June/July. So I have three weeks 'till I face this big, hopefully final, fight.

Of course it shouldn’t matter in the scheme of things, but of course it still really does bother me that this means I won’t be going to Harvest Festival to see my favourite band, that I will miss the Coldplay concert I intended to attend with my sister (yes, I know it is totally uncool to like Coldplay but I don’t care what you think), that I will miss Spring Racing Carnival and a whole bunch of other stuff. But once again I have to look at the bigger picture. On November 11, it will be a year since my diagnosis and I will most likely be in hospital – how fitting that things should come full circle like that. But a year ago I was just beginning my journey, and hopefully this time around I will be finishing it. It’s so hard to believe that this cancer fight has taken up almost a whole year of my life. I can’t even remember what ‘normality’ was, and going back to it seems a long, long way away.

But as well as my stem cell transplant, there will be another big, massive event in October which will no doubt also be a challenge for those involved: the Peter Mac Ride to Conquer Cancer.

This is obviously an event close to my heart – Peter Mac is like my second home. The doctors, nurses, support staff, everybody in that place has been so amazing and made my journey that little bit easier. I feel so lucky to live in a country where these facilities are available. Peter Mac also carries out important research – just recently they had a world-first breakthrough in the fight against leukaemia and lymphoma. What I also like about supporting Peter Mac is that the money goes towards all cancers – not just one specific kind. It breaks my heart that people diagnosed with rarer diseases such as brain cancer and pancreatic cancer face a 5% chance of survival due to lack of funds and research. Once the funding is allocated, it can make such a difference: for example, 15 years ago, leukaemia killed 90% of patients, now that figure has turned on its head with a survival rate of 90%.

My sisters, brother, dad, cousins and my uncle have bravely taken on this monumental task of riding 200 kilometres in two days to raise money for this cause. If they don’t raise their fundraising targets this month, they won’t ride.

Here is the link to my family’s team – called the ‘Flying Dorts’. Listed in the members you will see my sisters Jacqui and Megan, my brother Sam, my uncle Mick and my cousin Kate. You can donate online, and it doesn’t matter how much, every bit counts.

There are also several events to attend: my cousin has organised a Grease movie night fundraising event in St Kilda, all proceeds going to Peter Mac:

For Gippslanders, my sis has also organized a high tea fundraiser in Traralgon:

My brother is also playing a fundraising gig at the Basement Bar in Bendigo on October 16. 

So October brings its share of tough challenges, and like those cyclists who will take to the roads of the Yarra Valley and ride a ridiculous distance, I can’t wait to get to the other side and say, ‘I made it.'

No comments:

Post a Comment