Part 5: Life After Cancer
Now that my treatment is complete this section looks at a month by month look back at some of the more significant events that took place each month as well as details of each post treatment checkup.
2006 began with me celebrating the end of my year having treatment for Cancer with my friends in
Queenstown. Robert, Stephen, Antonio (an old friend from Polytech), a few others and myself all spent
New Years in Queenstown. On New Years Eve 2005 we watched the cricket in Queenstown, New Zealand vs Sri Lanka
followed by drinks at our camp site and then into town. Matt and Aimee had informed me they were going to be
in Queenstown and after sending Aimee a text I decided to meet up with them in town, much to Robert's digust.
Robert has always been someone who doesn't like you to have friends outside his circle of friends which in my opinion is really stupid, he also seems to have a problem with friends being in a relationship as well, just because he is single and still living at home (actually he finally moved out this year at 32 years old).
The rest of the weekend went well I also got to catch up with Matt and Aimee a second time and go Jet Skiing before we left for home on January 2.
- By the first week of January my hair had grown back to nearly a centimetre long most of the hair appeared to be coming back brown but also white hair is growing through, my hair feels very soft and fluffy now. Hair over the body appears to be growing back too.
- In the middle of January I travelled to Auckland for a few days and stayed with Neroli. This was thanks to all the Airpoints I accumulated from travelling to Christchurch throughout 2005 for treatment as well as some points I had previously collected. My trip included a drive up One Tree Hill, a day at Rainbows End, a bit of shopping and drinking with Neroli and Paul. One of my concerns with going to Rainbows End was that I may not be able to ride on certain rides due to my shoulder. The rides that may be a problem are ones where restraints are placed over my shoulder, I tried every ride and had no problems and this was including going on the Corkscrew Rollercoaster. I actually saw a documentry on The Discovery Channel some weeks later stating that the restraints on rollercoasters are just there in case the rollercoaster car stops upsidedown on the loop, you never actually move from your seat when a rollercoaster spins around a loop. The operation on my shoulder has been a concern as to whether I would ever be able to ride on theme parks rides again, I have been to some of the bigger parks overseas such as Dreamworld in Surfers Paradise and Magic Mountain in Californina and would certainly want to go on these rides again some day. Most of the rides at Rainbows End required me to remove my hat while on the ride otherwise I would loose it somewhere during the ride, this is no longer a problem for me as my hair has now grown to a point where you would never know I had lost my hair, although the hair is still very soft and fluffy.
My return to work
After returning from Auckland the following day I was thinking how next week was February and I should ask about going back to work. When I went into work at 4PM the day shift was still working and the day shift boss told me to come back when the night shift boss arrived and maybe they could start me tonight. I was thinking tonight was a little too soon but got to thinking that there was no reason I couldn't go back later this week sooner than originally planned I figured I was feeling healthy enough to return.
When I came back later and talked to the night shift boss she was more than happy to have me come back this week and would start me on light duties, I explained I had major surgery and no longer had a collar bone and this may prevent me from doing certain jobs I decided the best thing to do was see what jobs I could handle and go from there.
On the 25th of January a day I had been waiting for, for a long time finally came, the day I returned
to work. While going back to work may not seem like an exciting thing this was something that allowed to return a sense
of normality to my life and from here onwards I felt as if I had my life back. As I
mentioned at the start of this diary I was told originally I would need to take a day off work for the surgery
but would most likely be fine to return to work the next day, I have been off work for 13 months.
Before work the district nurse came
around and collected all of the supplies that had been left over from my treatment and finally discharged me from my
treatment, it had been over a year since my first visit from the district nurse.
When I arrived at work I walked past a few of my old workmates and they didn't seem to recognise me. As I was heading into our department one of the ladies I worked with spotted me and started talking to me, it seems as if everyone I worked with during 2004 seemed to know I had been sick. As I walked into the room a few of the people in the room saw me and I was given a big cheer and certainly everyone was asking me how I was. The supervisor gave me the job of putting stickers on all the packaged meat as it passed down the conveyer belt this is a job usually given to new employees or those that are on light duties or rehab such as myself. The job pays the same as any other job in our department. A few of the new staff came up and introduced themselves assuming I was a 'new boy' but I had to set them straight and let them know I had been away from work for 13 months and this is actually my third season even though I only worked one day of my second season.
- My first month back at work went well. I managed to stay fulltime but I found I was quite stuffed by the end of the week and weekends were spent recovering, of course this is due to the nature of my work. A week after returning to work I was moved to packing meat like I was doing 2 years ago so this is a full load of work. I actually found that I was getting about as worn out as I was 2 years earlier. There have been quite a few people amazed at how I no longer have a collar bone and I am performing my duties the same as I normally would, I was told I would never raise my arm above my shoulder yet I was doing that everytime I grab a box out from the overhead chute to pack the meat into.
- I had my first post treatment XRay at the Southland Hospital this month. I was able to go down to the hospital at any time it suited me and have the XRay and it only a few minutes to wait and once the XRay was done I was on my way. The XRay was to the chest area to make sure no cancer had returned.
That's me on the 19th of February just over 3 months since I finished receiving any chemotherapy as you can see I have hair once again and eyebrows too.
And here I am minutes later having my first post treatment haircut.
- The Cancer Society ran the Relay For Life in Southland on February 25 and 26. I had the opportunity to participate in the Survivors Walk. I would have liked to have gone in the relay with a team like I did in 2002 back when I always saw Cancer as something other people end up getting, in 2002 I took part with my workmates from BP that I worked with at the time.
This is me at the 2006 Relay for Life held at Rugby Park in Invercargill.
- My First Checkup
On the 2nd of March I had my first post treatment appointment with Dr Kate Bayston at Southland Hospital. I was examined and my weight has now risen as high as 83kg this is a huge increase since my weight fell below 70kg while on treatment. We had a concern about some small lumps that have appeared on my right leg below the knee. I have been aware of these since the middle of 2005 and believe to to be a result of me tripping over the coffee table. The lumps do not feel cancerous and whenever you touch the lumps it is like what is underneath is hollow. I mentioned this because mum noticed these lumps one day during the summer while I was wearing shorts. Kate examined these lumps and doesn't believe it to be anything serious but a scan will be done to confirm this, I was told if the cancer comes back in my legs I would feel the pain and I certainly didn't. Following the appointment I had to have a blood test I am to have a blood test following each checkup, the big difference now is that the blood test has to be taken through my veins as I no longer have the Hickman Line. After my appointment I spent another evening at work, I still have not taken any days off yet or reduced my hours of work as I seem to be coping fine working full time.
- Following my checkup I had an Ultra Sound on my legs to make sure that the lump on my leg was not cancer. After the specialist examined my leg through the Ultra Sound for a few minutes she was confident that there was nothing wrong and told me then and there.
- My 27th birthday and certainly more to celebrate than a year ago. I actually spent the night at a 21st so it was sort of a joint party.
- I had my very first post treatment CT scan of the chest area, I have been told if the cancer returns the lungs are the first place it is likely to return this is why a CT scan will be done every 3 months to check my lungs. The other place the cancer is likely to return is on either on the bones mainly on my arms or legs and I would know by feeling pain in this area. I was concerned the cancer may have returned at the site of the original tumour mainly because often there was pain there but this was more likely due to the fact the area had been operated on. The scan came back clear and this put any worries at ease.
- At work our season of Fresh Meat has come to an end but I have been allowed to stay on and do Frozen Cutting. It looks like we are to be at work for a few weeks longer than anticipated like to the end of July.
- The tenants I rented my house out to moved out this month allowing me to finally move into my house. I rented the house out to a family who were having a house moved onto a section and they would then fix it up and move in once this was completed. I was originally anticipating moving they would leave in March but I left them stay as long as they needed. I wasn't too happy about the tenants leaving the oven, which looked brand new when I bought the place, dirty and the dishwasher was blocked the first time I used it. I am pleased to finally be in my house something I had been waiting for such a long time I now finally felt I truly had my independence back.
- Matt and Aimee became my very first flatmates to move into my house. Originally it was just to be Aimee and a girl Elly who worked with us at BP was also to move in. Elly never moved in and since Matt was staying every night it made sense for him to just start paying rent and living here officially. Matt didn't actually move his bed into our place until September though and then we moved Aimee's bed into the other room creating a spare room for guests and Aimee's brother Beni when he stays.
My Second Checkup
I had my next appointment to see Kate Bayston on August 2, I was surprised I wasn't asked to have any scans or Xrays first just the check up. Mum came down to my house as soon as I had finished eating my lunch to take me to the appointment. At the appointment I was able to give Kate a positive report on how I have been doing in general with my life, returning to job that is physically demanding on the body and now into my own place and doing fine looking after myself and eating a hot meal every day. Kate then examined me, I am now 80kg this is 3kg less than my last check up and I assume that working would have contributed to this. Kate then felt around my shoulder to check everything was fine and I noticed her hand on a spot for sometime that I had been worried about. Kate then told me she was not happy with this area, it seems there is a small lump where the cancer once was. Dr Bayston did say it could be muscle tissue, I asked if there was a possibility the cancer could return there to be told yes there is. It was decided that a CT scan would be done urgently to determine what this lump is. I am also concerned about the speed my hair is growing back a few days earlier some friends commented it was if my hair was receeding and I mentioned how it takes 3 days before I need to have shave. It was decided a blood test would be taken to confirm this. After leaving the appointment I had a blood test taken and then mum took me home. I explained to mum about how I was concerned about pain in the shoulder before the last scan I had in April and well that scan came back clear. I did ask whether my shoulder, where the cancer used to be, was included in the CT scan I had and I was told it was so lets hope that this is nothing. When I returned home I just sat in the lounge of my house on the new couch I purchased when I moved in and looked around and thought how there is no way I would want to go through the treatment again, having my life taken away from me again and having to leave my house. I was thinking about whether I would be capable of looking after myself and staying in my house if I was told I needed more treatment, it would all depend on the intensity of the treatment and whether I would have to leave Invercargill for a long period of time. I came close to ringing work and saying I am not up to coming in tonight but then I thought about all the fun times I had in the past few weeks and how tonight was our last night for the season and I decided I wanted to see everyone once again. Prior to leaving for work I was given the call that my CT scan will take place tomorrow afternoon at 1:30pm.
I have to say I was truly 'on fire' when I was at work tonight we were going at full speed to clear the last of the meat to go home early and the work was the best way to vent any rage that was built up inside me. I am glad that I work in a job where I can still perform well even under the greatest amount of stress in fact my job is good stress relief in some ways. After we finished work at 9PM everyone went to the pub for a final get together to mark the end of the season, because of my CT scan tomorrow I decided it was best I just go home and besides I would have had to get someone pick up my car in the morning and would have had no way of driving to the appointment.
The following day I was up at 10:30am which is early for me as working nightshift means
I usually have to get up after
midday in order to have a decent sleep. I was told I am not allowed to eat for 4 hours before the scan
and to have an early morning tea, but since I don't even see breakfast or morning tea time I couldn't
have my first bite to eat until after the scan at 1:30pm. I was so hungry waiting for appointment.
I arrived at the hospital just in time for the scan, while undressing I looked at my shoulder and
it was like I was telling it to show a good result. There was so much going through my head like a
lot more than when I had the very first CT scan before being diagnosed. I looked at my arm while
changing into the gown and noticed redness where the blood sample was taken this is the very first
time this sort of thing has happened to me when having needles so I was really starting to think I
was sick. The whole time on the scanner I was lying there hoping the result would come through
clear and trying to convince myself it would. After the scan I was told I am free to go now,
to me I felt as if I may not be free once the result of this scan comes through.
While changing back into my clothes I looked at myself in the mirror wearing the hospital gown
and it made me actually look like a sick person I guess hospital clothes have a thing for doing that.
I was glad to get out of there and I went home for a while and then to see mum to pick up a computer
desk and let her know how the scan went. While sitting and having a coffee with mum it was like the
only thing I could think about was what if I had cancer once again like prior to being diagnosed
and even while doing treatment I liked to think about everything else but now this is all I
could think and talk about. Mum was saying that it just be muscle tissue considering I have been
working extremely hard these past few months and this has allowed me to build up a lot more muscle
in my body. Part of me was saying that the cancer could be back and the other part was saying
that in a few days time this will just seem like a bit of a scare.
When I arrived home I sat down with Matt and Aimee and told them the news since this was my first chance to see them both, last night Aimee was upset about something and I didn't want to add to the situation. Aimee was just shocked her face nearly bought me to tears when I saw it but I managed to hold it back.
- Finally the following day the worrying came to an end when the results of the scan had come through. The change in this area just appears to be scar tissue not cancer, this is a huge relief for me. I have worked hard the past 6 months and now with this worry behind me I can now enjoy my off season.
- Over the month I had try at getting alternative employment, I was either looking for a job for the off season or a good job that could be done instead of the Freezing Works. I have a Diploma in Business Computing but it has been almost 5 years since I completed this so in some ways not worth much now. I tried with Workbridge to see if they would help me find a better job, Workbridge are an agency which help people who are disabled. I feel that cancer and surgery to have a collar bone removed warrants assistance from Workbridge. I figured they would be able to give me a great deal of help as when my parents had their business they actually came to my parents encouraging them to take on one of their clients and I was hoping they would do the same. The assistance I received was mostly just tips on finding work and help with writing letters not really what I expected. I guess they saw me as someone still who seems healthy enough to find employment on my own. Most employers looked the other way at me because I am a freezing worker and if they take me on are worried I would quit when the season returns, I wouldn't do this if I found a more suitable job. One place even straight out said to me they don't take on freezing workers.
- After not having much luck finding work for the off season or a better job to replace the freezing works I went back to BP where I worked before I was sick. Not much has changed at BP apart from most of the staff and some silly changes like throwing out pies after they have been in the warmer for 24 hours instead of 6 hours. Staff are also allowed to sell expired stock now and you get told off for removing expired stock from the shelf and most of the staff are now on minimum wage.
- In mid September I was given an unexpected appointment to see Kate Bayston and right away I was assuming this was to discuss the results of the CT scan I had six weeks earlier and I assumed I would be told what I already knew. I was first given the results of the blood test I had to find out why my hair was not growing that fast, the blood test came back fine and it is just expected this is a result of all the chemo I had last year. Next Kate told me that after the CT scan came back fine she said that she was still concerned that something could be there and instructed that another CT scan be done in six weeks and an xray of the chest area to be done in the following week. I was also told there had been a slight change on the right hand side under my arm, I was a bit concerned about this area as from time to time I have had pain there but I believe this could be as a result of falling over in the bath a few months earlier. I had a blood test done following the appointment and an XRAY days later.
- I started going out with Sheree, this is my first relationship since before my treatment so this is just over 2 years. Sheree and I actually met back in May and had a go at going out back then but I wasn't that interested in her. At the advice of Aimee and her mother I decided to give Sheree another go, the big mistake we made last time was getting together before really getting to know each other.
- At the end of the month I had that next CT scan to make sure there was no change since the previous scan. Good news is that days later the scan came back clear. There was a bit of a worry as Kate arranged us an appointment to tell us this news and insisted we attend this appointment. I was worried Kate called the appointment to tell us bad news.
- I returned to work at the Freezing Works on the 2nd of November. The first few days we continued last seasons frozen with me on night shift. We then started on the normal fresh production with everyone working day shift, I have the option to go permanently onto day shift if I want.
- My first month with Sheree has had its ups and downs. We have had a lot of fun together travelled to various places around town, to Riverton one day and Bluff on another day as well as a couple of trips to the beach and Sandy Point. For me this is the sort of thing I like to do in a relationship take my partner places and have a lot fun. We even went away for a weekend to Central Otago and stayed with one of her school friends in Cromwell and then the following night in Alexandra.
- After being with Sheree almost 2 months I ended up ending our relationship. In a lot of ways I did feel really bad doing this as I knew how much Sheree liked me but unfortunately I didn't feel the same and felt it was best not to carry on any further. While on the surface Sheree appeared to be the perfect girl for me, and everyone else thought this too I didn't feel strongly enough to want to carry on any further and I felt it was best to get out now instead of later. Although I did consider staying with her through Christmas and New Years, in some ways this could of been a better option because then at least Sheree would have had a much better Christmas and New Years.
- At work I permanently moved to dayshift when the night shift started, I was also moved onto a new job weighing and strapping boxes which has been a good move and this is one job that does not cause any pain in my shoulder at all.
- Christmas was spent in Clyde at my Aunties place with my parents and Grandma. I have to say not as enjoyable as Christmas the previous year at Katrina's place and I would rather have another $2 Christmas but good to have Christmas somewhere different.