Today’s post is a continuation of last week, if you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here, and so, we continue the Back to the Beginning series.
The morning after Nick was admitted to hospital, I rushed down by 7am, he look comfortable enough sitting up in bed, watching the morning news. I was expecting him to tell me they were scheduling his gallstone operation, or that some more tests had actually confirmed reflux, but when he started to tell me what the Doctors were 99% sure of, my head started to race..
Pancreatic cancer, what the hell is that? Is it treatable? Do they know we have a 6 month old baby? What’s a pancreas??? And so, he filled me in and with that, came the grim reality, that the survival is approx 6 months from diagnosis, this was serious.
That day Nick had a biopsy that confirmed, it was indeed pancreatic cancer. Strangely enough, we felt some relief at this diagnosis, it meant Nick hadn’t been losing his mind, complaining all these months and also that we could just get on with the job of trying to fight it. Such was his attitude, that all he wanted to do was hit it with all he could and hope to be around past the 6 months they predicted. He hoped for a full year…this was someone who just the day before, was sitting on top of the world.
And so, we learnt everything we could about pancreatic cancer (thank god for iphones and google!). Though he didn’t fit the norm of a pancreatic cancer patient, the average age is 71, Nick was only 32, they are normally heavy drinkers, smokers and obese, he was none of these. The Doctors themselves were baffled, they asked if they could include him in a study, because it made no sense that someone like Nick would get this. We meet with our oncologist, he had no answers, Nick’s family had no history of cancer, at all. There was no good news, he had advanced pancreatic cancer. It’s called the silent cancer, because you generally don’t know you have it, til it’s too late. It’s not set in stages like most cancers we’re familiar with, because most times, it too far gone, but if you needed a number, Nick’s was classified stage 4, terminal.
Terminal sounds so cold and final, but it was our reality. From the day of his diagnosis, we knew he wouldn’t be around for long. It was June 2010 and when Nick pushed our oncologist for an end date, he said, he’d be lucky to make it past Christmas that same year. Boom, we made it to February, suck that Doc! (ok, there’s my widow’s humour, sorry!)
And so, we started treatment, radiation and chemo, 6 days a week. He sat in his chemo chair for 6-9 hours a time, if things went wrong, sometimes longer. This became our life, one of being poked for blood samples every morning, doctor appointments for progress updates, radiation and chemo, countless pills and injections. It was relentless, and tiring. Sometimes, I bought our daughter to keep him company, but more often than not, we relied on our wonderful family support to drop her off and keep her away from hospital nasties and long hours of boredom. I also need to thank all our family and friends who would drop by during these long chemo sessions to provide some company and me a little break to grab a coffee. If i didn’t say it then, please know how much Nick and I appreciated these visits. Of course, he would also spend much of his morning on the phone in his chemo chair, rallying people to come past, did you ever get one of these calls ? ‘Mate, we both know you don’t do any work, come see me!’
During this time, we were always honest and upfront with our family and friends about Nick’s situation. This was a lot harder on everyone else, than it was on us. I think faking that it was going to be ok, would have made his passing all the more difficult. In fact, i’m a strong believer that those, that took his death the hardest, were never honest enough, to believe it was going to happen. Knowing the reality, made it easier for me to accept. Sure, he always hoped to be the miracle patient that would recover and live another 60 years, but the results always told us otherwise. All that the radiation and chemo managed to do, was slow down the growth of his cancer. It had already taken over 3/4 of his pancreas, that had swollen to 3 times it normal size. This is what had caused his back and chest pain, it was pushing on all his organs, outgrowing its little hiding place in his chest.
With all this treatment, came the weight loss. He went from a fit and healthy 110kg, (promise this was mostly made up of muscle) to his end weight of 44kg and the ongoing joke that he could wear my jeans. It was when the weight initially started to drop, that he loved the most. All of a sudden, he almost looked good being sick. He could finally wear skinny jeans and fitted shirts, he liked the new Nick. (On an off note, he never lost his hair, its a myth that all chemo patients do this, as we learnt, it depends on the type of chemo administered and this was not one of his side effects.) People who didn’t know he was sick, told him how good he was looking, was he doing something different? , ‘Yeah, chemo’ he’d joke. On our off days or when we had time left in the day, we would head out. He never wanted to stay home unless he was feeling really sick, but normally he’d suck it up and pop a morphine lollipop for the road. (Yes, these are a real thing, not so great if you have kids around though!)
How our life had changed, from planning our future to living this repetitive hospital life instead, always hoping for something positive, but ultimately knowing it was fruitless to look too far ahead in time.
This post has gone on for long enough, I hope i’ve kept your attention so far. I’ll continue this series next week, when i’ll further discuss Nick’s positive state of mind even during this dark time.
Til then, Michela x