Can't help but smile with this funny duckbill mask!
Peter Mac 6th Floor at night
Sleep pod with music at the Wellbeing Centre, 1st floor, Peter Mac
The PEG tube
PEG sock, comes in pairs; 'patent' pending! New born 000 perfect sizing!
This is the sixth in my blog series on Head Neck Cancer, a learning journey. Diagnosed with Stage IV base of tongue cancer, metastasised to the right cervical lymph nodes in June, I have just finished two months of integrated chemo-radiotherapy at the Peter Mac Comprehensive Cancer Centre. Hurray. The last week brought its own special challenges and a surprise learning.
On Sunday, I felt nauseous and could not keep anything down, either by mouth, or the PEG feeding tube. I took to my bed with a hot water bottle and the room heater on high. I still felt cold. After a while I checked my temperature and it showed 38.4 degrees. I was surprised.
I rechecked several times, and then looked up the medical instructions. In bold type: REMEMBER: If your temperature is 38 degrees or higher, contact your doctor or nurse immediately or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.
I calmly packed an overnight bag and we fronted up to Royal Melbourne Hospital Emergency Department at 3.00pm (across the road from Peter Mac Cancer Centre). The waiting room was full. I showed my Peter Mac Patient ID card. Within fifteen minutes, we were shown into a 'Resus and Trauma' cubicle.
Bloods were taken (although it took a few attempts to get a good vein- ha ha! The young doctor threatened to eat his stethoscope if he didn't succeed on the fifth go!) and an IV drip set up. A chest X-ray and swabs to test for flu (rampant this year in Victoria) were taken, and within five hours I was wheeled across the sixth floor bridge corridor over Grattan St and admitted to Ward 6A at Peter Mac. I donned an orange duckbill mask to protect others- feel like I am auditioning, not as a duck, but more for Planet of the Apes!
Just in case I was infectious, I was placed in an isolation ward- a room with a view towards the city, ensuite bathroom, choice of TV/ radio programs and ability to order my own meals from a wide choice of tasty and nutritious options via the computer - not that I could eat much.
I developed a liking for clear chicken broth (there is truth in its anti-inflammatory properties)! Their breakfast porridge with hot milk was also a winner. Plus icecream, custard, jelly....
The room was very quiet, and the quality of care was exceptional. Three nights and days and lots of morphine (1%) in Solugel, plus Dermeze on my neck, antibiotics and feeling much better. It seems the infection was arising from my poor inflamed skin, which now is beginning to settle.
I didn't miss any treatment as an in-patient, or as an out-patient, and on Friday, felt as if I hadcompleted a marathon of 8 chemo and 35 radiotherapy treatments. Yes, I cried some tears of happiness, just to cross this milestone!
The next two weeks I can still expect to feel not so great as there is a lag time between treatment and effect, so still keeping quite still, but planning travel next month, first to Tasmania to stay near the sea and walk long beach walks to regain my strength, and appetite. Then later to Sydney and northern NSW for December-January.
I have several review appointments where I need to present at Peter Mac -1 week, 3 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year. Fingers crossed, all good, and clear bill of health once more.
A BIG thank you to all the specialist medical team at Peter Mac , including in Day therapy (chemo); B1 Radiotherapy, nurses and dietitians, Ward 6A and also the ED team at Royal Melbourne Hospital for their prompt attention. Most of all, thank you to David. As the at-home carer, getting me to eat, taking care of my PEG tube and feeding, doing neck dressings 2-3 times a day, and just being there - I could not do this without you.
The emotional and spiritual support is just as critical as the clinical and physical support to get through any cancer journey.
As a gentle provocateur of positive change, Fleur Fallon is an independent freelance educator, writer, editor, consultant. From Tasmania, Australia, she has had several teaching sojourns in China since 2000.