Cancer – The Curveball to Our Conventional Life (The Diagnosis)

It wasn’t until Christmas morning in 2008 that I started to feel a sense of a foreboding. Something was not quite right with my husband Mick’s energy and demeanour. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had decided to walk to the beach with our 12 month old son and enjoy our new surrounds. We had moved into our new home a few weeks before. Life was good.

So why was Mick a bit flat, distant and glazed? We were both tired but was there something more? Mick had been working long hours. I was back at work 3 days a week and I was 5 months pregnant. We were fit active people. Why was it a struggle for Mick to go for a 3km walk?

He said he had a headache, which was unusual because he was rarely sick. I put it down to Man Flu but it still didn’t sit right. I was disappointed. I wanted to celebrate the start of our family summer time together and create happy memories in our new home. I had plans to use the remainder of the holidays to sort out our house further, unpack more boxes and rest. I had hoped Mick would have energy to take care of me for a bit. I was tired and pregnant. I had orchestrated and organised most of the move. The sale of our old house. The purchase of the new house. I wanted to ask Mick for help but I could see he was out of sorts.

I hoped that I would see Mick’s spark return when we hosted the family Christmas lunch later that day. To hear Mick laugh then.

Yet he didn’t. He was withdrawn and uncomfortable. Wincing and smiling with discomfort.

That evening as soon our family left, Mick climbed into bed. He felt nauseous and cold and mentioned his headache again. Panadol did not really seem to help.  When I took his temperature he didn’t have one. He vomited in the bathroom several times during the night and was in a lot of pain.

His symptoms continued on and off for a few weeks but Mick soldiered on and continued to work. He had a significant project to deliver. My sixth sense continued to tell me something was wrong. That our lives were changing. I encouraged Mick to go and see a doctor. He had hardly ever been to a GP in the ten years we had lived together. He surprised me by agreeing to go. I booked it and he went and came back saying there were a few bugs going around and he should be fine.

Then was I imagining it or was he starting to squint with one eye and was his balance a little off? Was this really due to a virus? This time I insisted we go back to the doctor together. I told him that my unborn baby, my one year old and I needed him and we could not go on like this any longer. This was serious.

When a wife turns up with a fit strong guy who never goes to the doctor, you would think the GP might undertake a more comprehensive review of the symptoms. But again after a short visit, we were back out the door and told to give it a few more days.

We waited a few days and then we went back to the doctor again. By this time Mick’s limp was marked and his squint on one eye was pronounced. We had spoken to a doctor friend of ours who had recommended a CT scan. The GP readily agreed and I dropped Mick at the x-ray facility. I could not stay. I had to put my son down for his lunch time sleep. So I asked Mick to give me a call as soon as he was done or catch a taxi home.

It was weird state to be in because I wanted to let Mick manage his own health and not step in and be the nagging bossy wife but something was clearly not right. Mick was not communicating or thinking clearly.

I waited and waited and heard nothing. I was really tired. I wanted to sleep like my son. But I wanted to be available for Mick. Finally he walked in the door and he told me that the scan had shown a growth the size of a golf ball in his brain. It was probably the most aggressive form of brain cancer. I was shocked. I was relieved because now at least we had a diagnosis to work with. But I also knew that our lives had changed. I had seen brain cancer stories in the press and on TV documentaries like Australian Story. I knew that brain cancer was fatal. We were both devastated.

I was upset that he had had to go through the diagnosis himself and that he had returned to the GP without me. I wished he had called me. He had some some drugs to reduce the swelling and prevent possible seizures and he had referrals to two of the top brain surgeons.

We had to tell our parents we now had a diagnosis. We had to tell our friends. We needed an action plan. I did not panic because I had experience remaining calm while managing “crises” and projects at work. I put my emotions on hold into a parking lot and stepped into an automatic pilot mode. My mind instantly identified the key issues, assessed the risks, developed an action plan, prioritised, communicated and delegated. Mick had brain cancer and he would need surgery and then further treatment. We were blessed with supportive parents/grandparents and a vast network of friends. Thank goodness that financially we had been conservative and had some savings.

I would find that my project management skills would be invaluable on the journey ahead. We had been hit by a curveball of a magnitude far greater than we had anticipated. And there would be many aftershocks to come. The foundations of life as we knew it had been rocked and were starting to crumble.

Related Posts: To read more about the next few days following diagnosis click on the below.

Putting on a new persona – The day after diagnosis

No longer equals – Becoming a Carer

No time for Emotions … Put them on hold in the Parking Lot

To read a bit more Mick and I just before the diagnosis – click here Our Conventional Life (Before Diagnosis)  

This photo was taken one month before Christmas as part of a photo shoot to prepare some Christmas gifts for our family.

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