I recently sent this message to my family and others that are close.
“I am declaring the end of my melanoma crisis. It seems like it would be great to make that statement and mark the milestone. It has been a protracted struggle and has affected us all. I still have nearly a year of treatment and side effects to manage, but I’m stepping out of the space of Steve struggling with cancer. That feels a bit scary — it has defined my life for three long years.
I want to thank you all for your love and support”.
They come back to me with assertions of my courage and determination. But I know better. Courage is an action, but survival is a reaction. I have spent more time needy, desperate and feeling small and fearful then I have at being some kind of a legend.
A few days ago, I was talking to someone about my experience of walking in the doors of Peter Mac Cancer Centre and I began to weep, which is unusual for me, a front-line disaster responder and strong Aussie bloke.
This building is a place I have made my way to — sometimes three times a week, requiring a long car drive, a long train trip, another train and a bus. I often creep slowly home asking another passenger to wake me so that I don’t, exhausted and shaken, sleep through my country station.
This is a place where I have endured (if that’s the word) maybe one hundred cannulations, a handful of surgeries and innumerable scans. A place where I have sat trembling in the specialist clinics, sometimes with someone who loves me, sometimes alone, waiting for results. And with jaw set, girded up, leaned forward into procedures and treatments.
It’s also the place where I have known the deepest tenderness, patience and care.
Café staff demonstrating what serving people really is. Entertainment in imaging: “Undies on today have we?” Who on earth goes to a hospital without undies? Sharing laughter and organic raspberries in dental.
A nurse gently placing her hand on my arm “I know you have been having a hard time: nausea, stress, fear and fatigue. I get it, but Steve you have to eat, I’m getting you two sandwiches right now”
A coordinator, sitting close and looking me clear in the eye “of course we can”.
Everywhere: welcome and recognition.
Patience when I have been tiresome and grumpy.
When your life is under threat there is much psychic pain. Will I see my lovely interstate daughter just one more time? The lonely recognition that life is both fragile and finite. Something that those who haven’t been there cannot comprehend despite their best efforts.
Every person has a book or a theory or some mate who survived cancer — it’s overwhelming and as I drowned, I looked for answers and methods in every direction. Diet, meditation, integrative doctors, supplements, genome. Should I head to Germany? USA? Faith healers?
And then the deep security of knowing that standing in Peter Mac I was in the right and best place. My oncologists quietly and without judgement listening to my wildest ideas and steadily saying. “There is no evidence there Steve. If we thought another approach would help you — believe me, we would be using it. If we knew anywhere that you could get better care, we would send you there”.
I tell my oncologist. “I get so frightened” and she says, “yes, we know, and we work hard to counter that”.
And so, I have been able, with dignity, to fold into the safety and beauty of this remarkable place and find some solid ground.
From the management to the volunteers: I want to thank you all.
Steve Barton November 2019