Curve Ball...(Part 1)


This is my last email from Australia. At the age of 23 I have been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma :o(

I never in a million years thought I would utter the words "I have cancer", certainly not in my 20s. The trip of my dreams has descended into my worst nightmare. The doctors keep reassuring me it's not my fault, it's just bad luck. I'm a fighter and a positive person so I'll beat this, it's just gonna be an interesting ride.

I must thank the superb Hematologist, Dr Lindeman, whose care I was under in The Price of Wales Hospital in Randwick in Sydney. When he first told me that I would need chemo I said "Sure, in a few months after I've been to Bali, Singapore, Thailand and India". I wasn't even kidding, he knew his words were crushing a dream so he was very gentle in his insistence that I needed immediate help and I needed to go home. 

If you have been following my travel stories there were signs...a cough/cold that kept me up at night, pressure on my chest, obviously the famous swollen neck (that doctors dismissed as bruised tissue), struggling on hikes with my friends (fluid from the tumour was building up in my lungs), weight loss (which I didn't notice but the my best friends did), sweating at night (it was Australia during the summer, I thought everyone was profusely perspiring in the heat). The funny thing is on one of my hospital visits they even casually mentioned cancer and then dismissed it, spooky. On the upside, my knee which I banjaxed in New Zealand is not connected :o) 

However, it was thanks to my knee that my cancer diagnosis was picked up.

While in New Zealand I had fallen on the Franz Josef glacier chipping my knee bone and tearing cartilage. I was examined in the emergency room of the hospital in Sydney upon returning from NZ. At this time the doctor noted the swelling in my neck but after a another examination by a fellow doctor they concluded that it might be connected to the fall I had weeks back in the Blue Mountains. They made an appointment for me to visit the outpatients for my knee and told me to mention my neck at that stage.

I went to Perth the next week with the girls and visited the outpatients on my return. I was examined and it was decided my knee was fine but immediately asked about my neck. I had explained about my fall and he said there was a chance it could be internal bleeding so it was important that I have a scan done straight away. 

I came back for my scan results (Lian in tow, Sharon had to work that day, but I kept assuring them I was grand and there was no need for the pair of them to worry - very sweet that they did though). While checking in at the desk they said to expect a 3 hour wait. I joked to Lian that obviously there wasn't much wrong with me if I was last on the list, surely if it was serious I'd be called in straight away. Lian ran out to develop the camera from our trip to Perth while we waited. As soon as she left...they called my name.

The young doctor looked very serious and asked me to wait while he made appointments for me as it was an urgent matter. While I waited for him to return I noticed my scan results were open on his desk, sitting in my chair I craned my neck and read the results of my scan (upside down). I remember the words “young 23 year old female”, “possible extensive lymphoma”, “consultation with oncologist required immediately”. Sure enough I could hear him in the corridor on the phone making an appointment for me with an oncologist. 

I was shocked but kept from crying (just about).

The doctor was very kind and kept reassuring me it was very treatable. I remember he kept asking me if I was ok and I kept saying "I'm grand" and he'd reply "but you can't be grand, are you ok?" and I'd still reply "I'm grand", I must have said it 20 times, it was the only two words I could utter.

I left the room, saw Lian and ran into the toilets where I broke down. Lian followed, she was brilliant, very supportive, as were all my friends in Sydney and subsequently my friends and family back home. Phoning my parents to tell them their daughter living 10,000 miles away had cancer was not an easy call to make. Thankfully I had my brother Colm in Sydney who was the sterling big bro and took the long flight back to Dublin with me. 

Before going home to Ireland, I spent a week in hospital in Sydney undergoing tests including a bone marrow biopsy, several more scans, and a surgical biopsy of the lymph glands on my neck. 

The doctor confirmed my diagnosis on Christmas eve as I lay in my hospital room alone recovering from surgery. Worst Christmas present ever!

What lies ahead...chemotherapy, radiation therapy and lots of hugs :o)

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