A brush with cancer has regular contributor Murray Taylor pondering the importance of looking after ourselves as much as we do our 4WDs.
Preventative maintenance; we all do it to our 4WDs before a trip, during a trip and after a trip. We carry spare parts, those that are used each day, those in a week's time, even parts we hope are never required, but there in the unlikely event of a major breakdown…
But do we do it with our own bodies, i.e. our health? Regretfully one would have to say that we do not. And leaving things to look after themselves, in regard to ourselves has the same effect as not catching that vibration early on in a 4WD…
My story is one that I would love to not be telling, but as in all events in life, a warning taken is what can save a vehicle from breakdown or in my case, my own life...
It all started with a change in bowel motion, which I thought was a result of a bee attack. At the time I was working shifting bees at night, and had been attacked on my right arm after a pallet of hives split while loading…
Time to visit the Doc
After three months off and on, and over-the-counter medication not working that well, time for a visit to my Doctor. Great idea, made an appointment, on the day arrived early as normal in reception, all good.
Called through to examination room, described the problem I was having, and what I had tried with no results. The outcome was an appointment with a specialist in three weeks’ time. Great news but no real indication at that time of what the problem was...
Phone calls later and my appointment was brought forward a few days. Another trip into Wellington, thinking 'all’s well", so did not go prepared to stay overnight. My appointment ran on time, but after an examination, and brief talk by the consultant, I was given the option of a colonoscopy the next day at 11am… or wait a month.
After discussing the options I said next day and – as I would not be allowed to drive afterwards – booked a room for the following night before heading back to the farm with some prep medicine to take.
That medicine was violent stuff (and really does a number on your bowel) so after a disturbed night and only water for breakfast, I packed a bag and headed south again, with time to spare visiting the south coast before heading to Wakefield Hospital.
The bad news
I arrived with time to spare, but after checking in, and before I really knew what was happening, found myself on a table and going under. I woke up some time later to be asked how I felt, and that the litre of water on the table next me needed to be drunk in the next hour as I was now headed for a CT scan.
OK not what I needed, but confirmation of bowel cancer was not long in coming as the specialist spoke to me not long after being told to drink the water. The colonoscopy had confirmed lesions within the bowel so it was time to confirm the amount of damage...
Scan done I then headed to my room for the night and a good rest. Dinner was savoury mince and vegetables, and after a good night’s sleep and breakfast, I checked out and headed for home again, with lots more to come.
Over the next couple of weeks, I had an MRI scan in Palmerston North, meetings with a radiology specialist at Palmerston North Hospital and a CT scan for my targeting dots in preparation for the radiology treatment, along with meeting the local cancer society support personnel.
Then it all started; five weeks of radiation and chemo (tablet form, four horse-sized tablets morning and afternoon). With early morning appointments I soon developed a routine, up early for the drive, 500mls of water 40 minutes before arrival so the bladder was full, park the truck and head on up to LC4, into my gown to wait before being shown to the machine.
Lining up the dots
The set-up each time was the same: lay on the table, have the target points lined up, then stay still for 20 minutes while LC4 did its thing. Off and change, depending on the day of the week maybe another appointment with those keeping an eye on it all.
Once finished I’d then head down the road to a local café for bacon and eggs, coffee with a small side of yogurt to help the “horse tablets“ down. Maybe some shopping before heading home, with possibly a stop on the way.
Time flew during this period and it was all over before I had time to worry about it. Then the stand down, eight weeks working around the farm getting things ready for after surgery. In that time I fixed the woolshed roof, built a storeroom, emptied the spare bedroom, extended my long wire antenna, did my waterfall trip to the Bay of Islands, visiting a number of waterfalls along the way with the associated walks and paid a visit to Hobbiton, before the last night in Rotorua, and a long hot soak before a great meal out with Greg Paul, of Rally Tours fame.
The final cut
It was then back to the farm and before long time to head south to Wellington again and check in to Wakefield Hospital, with reception on a par with any top quality hotel. I was shown to my room and introduced to the nurses who would start me on my pre-op path.
First up there was three litres of stomach cleaner to be consumed before bed. Not too much of a problem, except for the taste. While that was happening I also had the area being cut, shaved, which helps with the tape removal.
Sleep was deep, but did not seem long enough, before I was woken, to prepare for surgery. The trip down the corridor was very short into the operating theatre. I remember the slide across onto the operating table, and being introduced to the theatre staff, before I felt a small prick in the left hand, then a very pleasant voice telling me I was in recovery, and that it all had gone well, even though it took longer than expected.
Managing the pain
After an hour or so in the recovery area, I was taken back to my room. My upper arms were very sore but the pain killers took care of everything else. Truth be told I don’t remember much of that night, till Saturday morning in fact, still wired up with drains and tubes for the pain killer. I even had my own button to push to administer extra pain killer, almost like a self-cure programme…
I had my first visitor on Saturday afternoon, which was great, though I was still under the weather from Friday…
The days went slowly as I adjusted to life in hospital along with all the drains, etc, still in the body and the pain. All got slowly removed as time passed, along with visits from friends, and lots of sleep those first days as I was slowly weaned off the drugs.
In the days before I was let loose to go home, I had to learn how to self-inject myself with an anti-clotting agent (like topping the 4WD up with oil each day) and how to change the Stoma bag stuck to my stomach each day.
This I was going to have to live with for the next nine weeks while the bowel got over the shock of having some 270mm removed and joined back up again…
The time seemed to fly, what with visits to the surgeon to check all was going well and back to Palmerston North Hospital to confirm if further chemo treatment was required, which in my case it was not. So nine weeks after the first op I was back at Wakefield for the closure operation, i.e. remove the stoma bag and put the bowel back in place (connecting all the dots back up).
This time the stay was a lot shorter, but the system had to be working, which it did after a couple of days. The recovery from this last op and all that has taken place these last eight months, means that I have to be very careful about lifting, and doing anything too energetic for some time in the foreseeable future. (Again, a bit like having to run an old engine in after a major overall.)
Bottom line, I was lucky, in lots of ways. The cancer was contained and looks to have not spread (though only time will tell). In saying that, If it had been left for much longer, like not changing the engine oil, it would have spread and affected major organs in my body, all of which would not have been good at all.
So to all who do read this, my parting comment is just like preventative maintenance on your 4WD, if anything unusual happens to yourself, or even if not, then regular visits to the doctor’s along with full blood samples and testing, is well worth the effort.
It may save your life, just like the oil/filter change on your 4WD will keep the engine running!