Back to School

THANKS everyone for your comments and kind wishes. It feels really great to know you’re celebrating with me when I have good news!

Attending the hospital every week engages me with a medical world I hardly knew before my cancer experience. Visiting this vast colony of specialist “worker bees” has provided many opportunities to learn about health as well as illness. Sometimes it feels almost as though I’m back at school or uni again. The subjects are varied and I take notes and actually study them because I really want to learn.

Often I have written in this blog interesting facts about oncology (cancer treatment), and about my Art Therapy sessions. Other topics also include the following:


As you can tell, scientific evidence boosts my confidence. If a new treatment works for one person, that is evidence, but it may have little meaning in relation to anyone else. Replicating the trial with hundreds of patients gives a better indication of how effective is a new treatment, but only if conditions are standardised to control other variables. It would be a waste of effort if the exact cause of a successful outcome could not be pinpointed. I’m fascinated by the methods used to run a trial with rigorous protocol to obtain high quality evidence, while at the same time taking care to ensure a benefit for participating patients, or at worst, no disadvantage.


Chemotherapy destroys hair (obviously) and this includes the tiny hairs in the inner ear which don’t regrow. Sadly, the damage to hearing is permanent, so I have been going for regular hearing tests. It appears I have lost some hearing in the highest pitch frequencies, but fortunately not in the spoken range.


It’s interesting that a CT scan is an X-ray that tracks a tight spiral, like a child’s “slinky” toy, with loops 0.625mm apart. Computer analysis then interpolates the 2D cross-sectional images to produce a 3D picture. Not long ago that this technology wasn’t available, so doctors had little information about the size and location of cancer activity.


There is a team who not only dispenses drugs but also can access a database of alternative medicines and advise about their safety and efficacy where information is available. This is helpful because I’m sure all of us have had someone recommend a possible cure from the lucrative shelves of the health food shop or “natural” healer.


Similarly there are staff who advise about nutrition for patients’ special circumstances, but they can also help to clarify the validity of some of the claims that come up from alternative therapists. For example, it is said that an acid body is susceptible to cancer, and this can be corrected with diet. However, where is the evidence for this? (I’ll let you know if we find any reports documented.)


Physio includes lessons about digestion difficulties (constipation and diarrhoea). I am really impressed by the vocations of some brave young people! I’ve also had clear and inspiring instruction for continuing to rebuild my core muscles that still need attention after mega-surgery 2 years’ ago. I have homework to do for this subject.


I think I’m near the bottom of the class in this challenging subject, grateful for help from the occupational therapist, art therapist and social worker, as well as a counsellor at the Cancer Council. The latter has many great suggestions to help cope with stress.


Believe it or not I’ve been talking with the palliative team too, and I can say this knowing you won’t panic because you’ll remember I’m fit and well and I climb mountains! (This week Mt Beerburrum and Mt Ngungun.) I’m not being morbid, just realistic, and I always find it less scary the more I understand. I have been working on my Advance Health Directive. Really everyone should look into this – have you? It is a document to help deal with difficult decisions that could arise at some stage if I am not conscious or capable of speaking up. To understand the issues and decide what to write, I have found it necessary to ask many questions and this is proving to be an opportunity to learn about end-of-life and dying. There are physical (medical and nursing) aspects to investigate, as well as the problems of grief and loss.

I seem to have gained a bit of a reputation for asking for more information. One week when I didn’t, my specialist quipped, “Alison must be ill. She has no questions!” And my research nurse has joked that they’ll be finding a job for me soon. Ha ha! Yes. I haven’t told her that sometimes I think I’d like her job!

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