Health Professionals

We all have stories. I thought mine would be slower, take a lot longer and I’d actually never have a story to write. I was going to live to 85 years and work until I was 65. I thought I loved my job but it was stressful. How did I know I would turn up with this?

What happened?

Well, I was a hard working general practitioner rural GP. That was my life and that was how people knew me and I was also a mother of two children.

I had 4 months off work with both of them and went back at work after having Lucas. Life was very busy. I was breastfeeding Lucas at home at lunchtime. I was tired, very tired. I was on call every 6th night and it was very hard for me to get up at night.

One Monday night I was on call and the ambulance bleeper woke me at 1am, but I didn’t need to go out. At 5am I started screaming and had a grand mal seizure. Mike, my partner, was unsure what to do; I was the Doctor on call for the area. He called a friend who worked at the local hospital and he told him to call the ambulance. He called the ambulance and my bleeper went off beside me. Mike thought I was dying from a cerebral bleed as a few weeks beforehand I’d had a funny turn going off to sleep.

The ambulance came and Gary, our doctor friend, came. I finally woke up in an irritated state and they took me to a local hospital. Gary took over my call. The next day I was taken to Dunedin for investigations.

As I was going to Dunedin, a two and a half hour ambulance ride, I was thinking don’t get worried about anything until you are told. I had an MRI and EEG and the neurologist told me that there was something there but not what and he was acting like I already knew. Then I went for another MRI and afterwards the radiologist came out carrying my scans in a cheerful mood and stood in front of us saying there was a lesion there. I noticed he turned around and looked at me. I must have looked as white as a sheet and he suddenly walked away. I went back up to my neurosurgical ward and waited for a CT scan.

While on the ward I met the nurse briefly, then sat on my bed and listened to the staff Christmas party that the ward was having. I didn’t see the nurse again as the ward was getting emptied out for Christmas.

Then my neurosurgeon appeared. I sort of knew her. She did clinics at our local hospital. I was glad it was her as I was worried about another neurosurgeon. I asked her if she could come back later when Mike returned as he had popped out to see the children. She looked at her watch and said she couldn’t come back later because she had a meeting to go to. She sat down beside me and told me I had a brain tumour and it was too large for anyone in Australasia to operate on, but the good news was it looked like a grade 1 or 2 so this gave me longer to live. I asked her about having chemo or radiotherapy, but she said none of this treatment was available. When I asked her about work she said most people don’t return to work. This gave me a big fright as I was working long hours. Work was me. I had the option of biopsy but the risk was 18% of complications and they were 99% sure it was a glioma of some sort. I agreed with her not to have the biopsy but would see her in 2 months to review this.

If it was a grade 1 tumour this could give me longer to live. If it was a grade 2 then I’d have a shorter time to live. I was in shock; I was healthy, this couldn’t happen to me. It felt like I was on the outside looking in on myself and like I wasn’t there. How can you change your thinking about your life so quickly? It took a long time.

She left and I waited for Mike to turn up only about 30 minutes later and then we left. It was funny. I could hear the ward party going on and I’d only met my nurse once and she told me I didn’t have long to live. Everything was very bizarre. My life had suddenly changed forever and I didn’t feel ready for it. This took a long time to adjust. Life can change very quickly and we are not ready for it.

Where to from here?

After hospital I had to tell everyone and find cover for work and all that stuff. I started Tegretol but continued to have petite mal seizures at night and I would wake up with a horrible fear feeling twitching my eye and stomach pains. These got more and more frequent. I also saw gremlins out of the corner of my eyes, usually when I was with my daughter.

I met up with an old friend who recommended Charlie Teo in Sydney. Charlie saw my MRIs and over the phone advised me he could do the surgery with a 30% risk of some major disability and 15% risk of something more major. I agreed and found $80,000 to pay for it and within seven days I was there having surgery.

The surgery was seven hours so I was pretty knocked out afterwards. I only had two nights in Hospital afterwards and no rehab when I returned home. I came home with some speech problems and could not remember names at all. This has improved since then but I still have problems. After head surgery you get a little worked up.

The next year was hard for me and my confidence went underground. Lots of people in Alex knew me but most found it hard to handle me. I was not allowed to drive. We live out of town and with two young children this was very hard. It was also hard to ask for help and at my age everyone is so busy. I tried the Cancer Society and things they had to offer but nothing was helpful. I went to their two-day meeting for people with cancer. I was the youngest there by 20 years and no local Cancer Society people came to talk to me.

Later that year I was offered radiotherapy and put on a waiting list. On the one-year anniversary of my cancer, I ended up back in hospital with really strange symptoms. I thought I was dying and they also thought it strange as they scanned me all over but everything was okay. After this admission I found out the cancer was growing again so had radiotherapy.

The radiotherapy made me feel very tired. I also developed severe headaches that I never had before. My oncologist was not interested so I went to a spiritual healer. She made me feel so good and cleared my headaches. After six weeks of radiotherapy I was pretty tired, physically and emotionally. I knew I needed to learn how to meditate as I had been trying to teach myself the last six months and I knew meditation would help my poor brain. A friend of mine with a brain tumour went to Ian Gawler in Australia and made him feel so good so I also went. This was eight weeks after radiotherapy when I was sleeping a lot and had no energy. When I went to Ian Gawler’s 11-day retreat, for the first time in the last year and half, I received hope. No one else had given me this; it was not to live a long time but to have a happy life.

Since then I have been to Ian Gawler’s another three times and I continue to meditate everyday. It has taught me to let go, be happy and love the world around you. I am also on their diet; basically vegan with fish. My last two visits have been training to take the course for people with cancer and also to teach meditation. Last year the oncologist thought my tumour was coming back and I would be on my way out. I was offered another MRI in 3 months as I had 2 MRIs 3 months apart but I paid for myself to go to Australia for a PET scan and this showed no fast growth of the tumour.

So now I live, I love and I let go. I do not know if my scan next week will be okay or not but I will be okay inside me. I will still live.