Archive | August 2014

A break from the doom & gloom

 

Before getting back to my ordeal in the hospital, I’d like to take a small break from the doom and gloom and tell you a little bit about my recent holiday in South Africa during the month of July. It was a most welcome vacation since we hadn’t had a break for the last year and a half due to my 2nd relapse and consequent treatments. Anyhow while we were visiting family there we decided to break away for about 8 days, so that it would be just the 5 of us having some quality time together. We decided to travel to the Eastern Transvaal which is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and on our way there, we travelled through the Kruger National Park. We first visited a place called Blyde River Canyon where we stayed at a lovely resort in a 4 star self catering cabin. We had barbeques at night under the stars and it was just stunning. On our second day there, we decided we wanted to go on a walking trail. Upon enquiring at the reception about this, we were informed by the lady behind the counter that the Guinea Fowl Trail was the nicest to go on as it wasn’t too challenging and was suitable for the whole family. We were told that it was 2 hours long. Upon setting off we were in high spirits. The scenery down into the canyon was breathtaking and the weather was perfect. Although we were crossing over at certain points into the Leopard trail where there had been some recent sightings of them which made us a little uneasy, we kept the faith and pushed on.

I don’t know to this day what the lady at the reception desks definition of not too challenging was, but 3 hours later when we found ourselves crawling on our hands and knees up steep, big rocks, treading perilously on very slippery mud and wading through freezing cold rivers, I started seriously questioning her credibility! 4 hours later and I had never been so happy to see two things; one the sign that said ‘End of trail’ and two, the tarmac road! By that time we were hot, tired, thirsty and biting each others heads off. If we’d known it was going to be so damn long, we’d certainly have taken a backpack along with extra water in it, not just one small bottle each!)  Upon arriving back at the cabin, I retired to the bathroom with a glass of sherry and a long, relaxing foam bath. It was there that I had time to reflect on the day, and realized that despite everything it had been totally spectacular. You see, I like being challenged every now and then and stepping out of my comfort zone and this particular experience was the epitome of that. I was also deeply touched by how my whole family reacted while we were on this hike. All four of them became very protective of me. I was ordered to the middle of the pack, where the one in front could lead the way (that being my eldest daughter Rochelle) and where the person at the back was the most vulnerable to attack by wild animals (that being my husband). As much as I protested and wanted to swap places, no one would allow me. Everybody drank just half of their water because they knew that towards the end, I would end up needing it more than anybody else. When I was finished in the bathroom, I went and gave them all a long hug, telling them how much I loved them and appreciated what they did for me. My awesome family!!!DSC00693

A few days later and we were ready to move on and were busy packing up the car early one morning. The girls had gone down to the trampolines to get a last jump in. I wasn’t fully aware of where Jaco was, but while I was packing up the last of the groceries in the kitchen I suddenly heard a violent rustling of a plastic packet and a few stray things falling to the floor. At first I assumed it was Jaco taking some things to pack into the car, but alas we had made the classic mistake of leaving the sliding door open to allow wildlife in. Looking out the kitchen window, I saw to my utter dismay a baboon making off with one of our grocery packets clutched in its grubby little paws. At that precise moment I wasn’t aware of the fact that Jaco was innocently trying to take a pee. Judging by his reaction, he must’ve thought I was being raped or murdered because I immediately started hollering like a mad person. I screamed ‘Jaco a baboon has one of our packets…help’! He said afterwards that he didn’t hear that, he just heard the major performance I was making. He came running down the passage with just his underpants on. On seeing him I shouted, ‘Go and put your pants on’! With that I raced outside in pursuit of the little blighter. At the edge of the dense bushes the baboon stopped and proceeded to tear open the packet and, dropping the packet in disgust it strolled away arrogantly, upon discovering that the packet only contained clothes washing powder and fabric softener. I arrived not long after that to retrieve the packet and Jaco was not far behind me, this time with his pants on and a pole in his hand, which he said afterwards he would gladly have shoved up the baboons rear end if he’d had even the slightest chance to do so.

Another installment from our holiday to follow soon!

 

This entry was posted on August 30, 2014.

The continuing nightmare

Right after receiving the devastating news, the nurse working with the doctor handed me a book on breast cancer which would provide me with the information that I needed to make more informed choices. I don’t remember walking to the car in the parking lot of the hospital. What I do remember however is that I immediately started to pour over this book. I felt this overwhelming sense of panic utterly consume me and I wanted as much information as I could lay my hands on as quickly as possible. I just wanted the cancer out…it didn’t matter to me at the time what it took. The only problem was that through all my sobbing and tears I couldn’t see the pages of the book properly. I looked over at Jaco who was driving us home. He was crying too. What really struck me at that moment was the girls who were laughing and playing in the back seat. At 6 and 4 years old, they had absolutely no idea of the fight that their mother was up against and the paralyzing fear that came hand in hand with it. After putting the girls to bed that evening, Jaco and I went to bed ourselves. Clinging to each other, we sobbed.

The next task at hand was to break the news to family and friends. It was at this point where I was actually grateful that I would never have to tell my mother about my diagnosis. She would not have handled it very well at all and I’m pretty sure to this day that I may very well have given her a heart attack given that, that is what she died of. I would never have been able to live with myself if I’d been responsible for her death. I wasn’t able to phone my father and tell him either, as he’d had a stroke about 10 years earlier and had lost most of his faculties. At the time he was in an old age home where he could obtain the best care. The most difficult phone call I’ve ever had to make was the one I made to my older sister Karen, who at the time was living in the UK. We both started crying over the phone, but then not long after that quite a remarkable thing happen. I can only describe it as a gradual calm coming over me as I spoke to her and explained what was happening. The tears stopped and in a strange reversal I found myself comforting and reassuring her. The same process repeated itself again as I explained over and over to others what was happening and what the future held, while my sister was making arrangements to fly out and see us. Being in a foreign country with no real support system at hand, I was so grateful and looking forward to seeing Karen. In fact I desperately needed the comfort and reassurance of her presence.

Sarah & Karen

In the mean time surgery had been scheduled for 4 days time. I had been given two choices by the doctor. If they went in during surgery and found that the lump was small enough to remove it without causing much outward distortion to my breast, then they would perform a lumpectomy. If it was too large however, then they would have to perform a mastectomy. At the same time he did mention that my lump didn’t appear to be large enough to warrant a mastectomy, so I wasn’t too worried in the days building up to surgery which were taking agonizingly long.

Finally the morning of my surgery arrived. Although there was an tangible sense of dread and apprehension in the house, I was so glad that I was finally going to be getting rid of this cancer. There was of course also that sense of fear that always comes with surgery and the associated risks attached to it. The girls must have picked up on my anxiety because they became impossible in the car on the way to the hospital. As the crying and fighting amongst themselves escalated in the back seat, so did my agonizing headache. On driving through the gates of the hospital, I threw the very last cigarette that I would ever smoke out of the window. Once I’d been shown to my room, Jaco helped me to get settled in and comfortable in bed, but the anxiety had become too much for me. I was suddenly overwhelmed with nausea and ran back and forth to the bathroom several times. Jaco alerted the nurses to what was going on and they and the doctor decided to give me a sedative to calm me down. I remember Jaco sitting on the bed and stroking my forehead while holding my hand…and then nothing. I don’t remember him and the girls leaving and I wasn’t aware of being wheeled into surgery.

 

 

This entry was posted on August 28, 2014.

How my journey began

It was April 2003 and we had been living in the UAE for just over a year. I was still reeling from my mothers death and struggling to come to terms with living without her, whilst smoking one cigarette after the other without giving it a second thought. I, or rather Jaco (to be really out there and honest with you all) detected the lump in my left breast at the 3 o’ clock position.  He later told me that the lump had been coming and going…expanding and contracting for several months before that. What that ultimately implies I’ll probably never know, but he advised me this time to go and have it checked out as it had increased in size quite dramatically in the month leading up to this. For the next few weeks however, I didn’t do anything about it. I kept on thinking that maybe it was just a cyst and that it would go away on it’s own eventually. I wasn’t even considering the fact that it could potentially be something way more sinister than that, after all breast cancer didn’t run in my family and it only happened to other women not me…in hindsight I was too terrified to find out either way.

When I did eventually bring myself to get advice I visited my general practitioner first. She did a sonar on my breast and told me that her opinion was that it was nothing serious, and that it appeared to be just a benign cyst. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but she did advise me to get it checked out further just to be sure. She was wise enough to know that sonar was not an adequate diagnostic tool in this case. I was referred to a breast surgeon at the American Hospital in Dubai. After examining me, he told me that it didn’t feel like a cancerous lump to him but that the only way to know for sure was to do a fine needle biopsy. I gripped the sides of the bed until my knuckles were white, while the technician performed the procedure. I started feeling like a pin cushion as the needle went in for the 4th time. Bleeding and bruised I left the hospital hoping and praying for the best.

A week later as I was driving to the school to collect the girls, my mobile rang. In those last few minutes before I got the call I should have cherished the normalcy, the feeling that I was invincible, the naïve misconception that I would live forever. Non of us forget those first few words that come out of the doctor’s mouth do we? The words that I heard were “You need to come back in for further testing as the results are inconclusive.”

kids small

I knew in my heart of hearts what ‘inconclusive’ meant. Doctors are loathe to deliver such life changing and devastating news over the phone. That was the day my life changed forever…where nothing would ever be the same again. Sitting in the doctors office, he slowly turned in is chair and handed me the dreaded piece of paper with the words that make everything crash down around you and make you feel like your world is coming to an end. “I’m so sorry but it is cancer” are words that nobody ever wants to hear. Having to face your mortality is without a doubt the scariest thing that anyone has to do. Nothing trumps that. A feeling of ice cold consumed me from head to foot. Everything appeared to be moving in slow motion as I came very close to passing out. Breaking into a cold sweat I looked over at Jaco. He’d turned pale and had a look of terror in his eyes I’d never seen before; one I hoped I’d never get to see. I turned and looked down at the carpet where my three little girls were sitting and playing, oblivious of the horror that was playing out around them. I shouldn’t have turned around to look at them because that is when I completely dissolved. To this day I don’t really remember what was said or what instructions were given. Luckily my husband had the wherewithal to listen and take everything in, understanding what was going to happen next.

This entry was posted on August 25, 2014 and tagged .