At least they did not give me a death sentence.
The tumour, in the shape of a carrot, extends from the fat end at the spinal chord between C8 and T1 to where the humerus (arm) joins the shoulder. It is not cancerous but I am surprised to hear that they call it benign, since it will eventually take out the use of my right hand. I suppose they use the word benign as in ‘benign dictator’. An oxymoron, I would say.
They did say it would take a miracle to get a third cancer. The treatment for breast cancer had caused the thyroid cancer which is now in my lungs. Since my thyroid was removed I’d become diabetic and suffer from severe sleep apnea. But statistically I am safe from a third cancer.
They do say that the treatment may be worse than the cure. I can’t dispute it, mainly because I have no idea what ‘cure’ means.
I was perfectly healthy when I found a lump in my breast which was removed; I was 38. That should be that but the surgeon removed the lymph nodes from the armpit unnecessarily as it turned out, and I ended up with a lympodema in my right arm which impaired its use. They threaded long radioactive wires through what’s left of my breast and stabilised them with studs, their free ends rested on my neck at one end and my ribs at the other. For 30 hours I was shut in a lead lined room and no one is allowed near.
That’s not all. I had five weeks of daily radiotherapy during which my nipple was burnt which meant that the rays were misdirected. After the treatment one rib spontaneously ruptured and I was told that it is normal under the circumstances – it happens. The demineralisation of the bones will cease and everything will return to normal. The rib never mended but nature has a way of bandaging itself, though an X ray still shows the fracture.
Years later, when I complained about something pressing on my throat my doctor kept looking into it and pronounced all’s well. It went on until my thyroids had to be removed and the cancer went into my lungs. This time radioactive pills were offered after which I was shut up for three days – twice, as it didn’t work the first time but it didn’t work the second time either.
After the two nuclear treatments I remained radioactive and was quarantined for two weeks each time. One good thing did come of it: left alone with nothing to do, I sent a submission (10 pages of poetry and two essays) to Hedgebrook, a writers retreat that I knew was too good for me.
I never got over the lethargy afterwards. They diagnosed diabetes and put me on pills. Did’t work. They diagnosed sleep apnea and put me on a machine to sleep. I still need plenty of rest during the day. I guess sharing use of my lungs with cancerous thyroid cells must have some effect.
I have not been lying around feeling sorry for myself. I do volunteer work, I grew an orchard (featured in ABCTV’s Gardening Australia), I write poetry (awarded six weeks residency at Hedgebrook, Washington) and until recently, I travelled. I turned 65, older than my father and four of my brothers were when they died.
The loss of function in my right hand has been gradual and hopefully it will be some time before it is totally wasted. At present it is weak and when I go out to eat with friends I ask for a fork instead of chopsticks. When the waiters come back they never offer the fork to me because I am Chinese. The Chinese who can’t use chopsticks. Now I eat with the fork in my left hand.