One of our most prolific and most valued contributors is BARBARA SHORT, educator and author, who lives in Sydney’s north shore. Barbara had a distinguished teaching career in Papua New Guinea and Australia and is particularly noteworthy in PNG Attitude for her sensible, supportive, informed and positive commentary. Here Barbara writes about a major and critical personal challenge, and how she responded to it….
IN 2008 I FOUND I HAD a large tumour on one of my lungs. My left lung and numerous lymph glands were removed. At the time, I wrote about my experience and explained how I had known that, through it all, God “had me in His hands”.
After I recovered from the operation, an oncologist determined that, as there were no remaining signs of the cancer, I should not undergo any chemotherapy. So I went on with life.
Then, last November, I detected a swollen lymph gland in my neck. I waited to see if it would go away, but it didn’t. So I went to my GP who arranged for me to have tests, but they didn’t reveal anything about the cause.
So I was despatched to the haematologists at Royal North Shore Hospital to see if they could find out more. After blood tests, CT scans and a bone marrow test, we were still none the wiser about what was wrong.
Next to Hunter’s Hill Hospital where, on 12 December, a surgeon removed the gland which was sent off for a full test. Sure enough, it showed the lung cancer had returned. But where exactly was it?
Then a PET scan, which I’d had in 2008 and suffered from claustrophobia while positioned for many minutes in the tight tunnel. I spoke to the doctor about being sedated, but he said it would be better if I wasn’t. So, in I went.
The Lord led me to pray for many people over the next 20 minutes, with my eyes tightly closed so I didn’t suffer from a claustrophobia attack. Praise the Lord again, for it was the PET scan that showed where the cancer had started growing again. Unfortunately it was very close to my heart and the aorta, right on the stump where they had removed my left lung in 2008.
The next ordeal was a biopsy under a CT scan. Here I put my life in the hands of another great doctor who had to place a fine needle beside the aorta and into the growth to extract a sample. I think I went under the CT scanner 21 times during this process.
With all these results now defining precisely what was going on, I had to find an oncologist, a cancer specialist, to look after me. My husband and I were thrilled to find a leading doctor, a professor, who was willing to do that.
It was even more comforting that we knew him; he is on the North Sydney Presbytery with my husband.
The professor studied my test results and explained how surgery and radiology were out of the question but that there was a 75% chance of removing the cancer with chemotherapy. I should have 4-6 sessions.
At about this time, God obviously thought I needed someone else to be with me during my ordeal.
My husband doesn’t drive and many people had offered to help, but God seemed to select a certain person, Jean Langley. Jean is from our congregation and a daughter of my old Sunday school teacher, Grace Cameron.
So for the next five months Jean became my guardian angel, driving me to Royal North Shore Hospital on many Fridays and supporting me through the sessions of chemotherapy.
Jean and I love roses and were amazed to learn that one of my chemotherapy drugs was derived from the lovely white roses that are popular these days. It was wonderful to think that God had created something in these roses that would correct the problem with the cells in my body.
Before I started therapy, my husband and I were given an excellent talk from the nurse in charge of the treatment room. She explained how the therapy would include various anti-nausea drugs and that, hopefully, I would not be too sick or have too many bad side-effects.
When you hear that friends with cancer are having “treatment”, it’s helpful to know that it might be making them feel more sick than they already feel.
I knew I had to drink a lot of water to flush the drugs through my system, so my motto became: “When in doubt about what to do next - have a long drink of water”.
Life was not easy. It took me a while to work out how to cope with the side-effects and to know what to eat. My sleep patterns were interrupted and I developed a severe rash; I was allergic to one of the chemo drugs. Fortunately I was able to move to another drug, which caused my hair to fall out. Oh well, it was the lesser of two evils.
I kept a diary during my five months on chemo and wrote everything that happened to me. If other people reading this want to know more, they are welcome to contact me.
After three lots of treatment, there was a miracle. I had another CT scan of my chest and, where previously there was a small tumour growing very close to my heart, there was now an empty space. Thank you, God, for this small miracle.
My wonderful Christian oncologist thought it amazing that the tumour had disappeared so quickly. He thought it would be wise to continue with the full set of six treatments just in case there were some invisible cancer cells left which might flare up again and cause trouble.
My loving husband, who has spent much of his career working with invisible light, reminded me that we worship an Invisible God and we must remember that the invisible is real.
So I mentally prepared myself and went with dear Jean for three more treatment sessions.
My cancer has disappeared but I know we cannot be sure it won’t return. However my doctor has reminded me that, if it does return, there are treatments.
Now I have finished with the chemotherapy, the side-effects are slowly disappearing. I thank all the people who prayed for me during my time of sickness, especially members of Epping Presbyterian Church and the North Sydney Presbytery. My husband and I are now getting on with our lives, and walking each day with our Lord.
I should observe here that, throughout her ordeal, Barbara continued contributing her wise words to PNG Attitude - KJ