5 Years Ago Today…
Five Years Ago Today
Five years ago today I had an operation on my back to remove a tumour that had grown between my vertebrae and taken away the use of my left leg. It was only five years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.
Let me back up and start from the beginning. At the end of 2009, while playing basketball, I was injured. My opponent was frustrated at my defence on him and he hip and shouldered me (a blatant foul that the umpire missed). I flew through the air and landed out of court at the umpires feet. I landed on my lower back and immediately knew something was not right. That was the end of my season.
Jan – July 2010
Over the next eight months the pain got worse and worse. To the point were my doctor was prescribing very strong pain killers. They were so strong that I was sleeping most of the time. I had multiple visits with my doctor, a CT scan on my lower back (which only found an extra vertebrae) and had reached a point where I could no longer sleep in a bed but in a reclining chair. It was during a visit with my doctor in July of 2010 when he found a lump in my abdomen.
I was sent to a lymphoma doctor and he organised for me to undergo an operation to remove a lymph node from my neck to have it biopsied. It revealed my worst fears. I had cancer. Life threatening cancer. An internal form of Melanoma. He gave me twelve months to live.
The chemo started that week and the battle for my life was on.
August 2010 – May 2011
Over the next eleven months I suffered through the chemo in the usual six weeks on/six weeks off cycle. But that’s not all I did. I also, through the help of one of the ministers from my church, visited a prayer and faith healing session several times. The minister, Pete Riggs, would visit me quite often and on at least three occasions, take me to another church where these sessions were held. I prayed for a miracle. (If your reading this Pete, I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me. Your encouragement and visits had a healing benefit all of its own. That goes for everyone who visited and spent time, either in person, or over the phone with me).
In June 2011, I had a really good result from the chemo and felt quite a bit better. The pain in my back was a lot less and I decided to try to sleep in my bed, with my wife, for a change. That was the Sunday night. However, the pain I woke up with was so severe that I immediately regretted it. After dropping the kids at school we went straight to the hospital to find out what was wrong. Sciatica was the diagnosis. A pinched nerve. Over the next week the pain increased a hundredfold and gradually my left leg became more useless. I couldn’t walk on it. I had to use a the furniture and walls to lean on to get to the toilet. Which was the only walking I was attempting.
The following Sunday night was my worst night. I think I slept for only half an hour and kept watching the clock to see when I could take the next lot of painkillers. Which, by the way, was the strongest dose of Oxycontin that could be prescribed (300mg). The other side effect of the severe back pain was a constant need to urinate. So I was trying to go back and forth to the toilet all night too.
Monday, 27th June 2011
Once again, after dropping the kids at school, we headed down to the hospital to find out what was wrong. A catheter was inserted (unpleasant I know)
and over a litre of urine was finally released from my bladder. At around 4pm, I was finally taken for an MRI. This was also a painful experience as I couldn’t lay on my back for very long. Trying to lay still for twenty plus minutes while the scan was taking place was absolute agony. At this point in the scan, the people performing the scan tell me they might need to inject dye into me to see the images clearer but they need to check with the doctor first. And they needed me to stay in there while they checked. That was not going to happen. I insisted they allow me to sit up because of the pain I was in and they eventually relented and allowed me to get out of the machine. Five minutes later they tell me that no more scans are required, the doctor can see enough on the scans already done. They took me back to my ‘room’ in emergency to await the results. Just before 5pm, the doctor walks in and tells me that they are going to operate the next day to remove a large tumour that was pressing between my vertebrae.
Tuesday, 28th June 2011
Around 2pm, I’m taken off for the operation. Around 5pm I wake up. The first thing I notice is I’m laying on my back and my pain is gone. I
remember wondering if it’s just the drugs I’m on or not. But I’ve had this pain for almost two years and I can tell that it is not there anymore. The pain I now feel is not the same. It doesn’t even compare. I thank God.
I spent two weeks in hospital in the cancer ward. Some of this has blurred together and I can’t quite remember what day certain events happened. I remember being taken to the radiotherapy doctor and my first tattoo being applied. It’s nothing really, just a small dot that they use to aim the machine at. I remember the physio coming around and starting the learning to walk again process. I remember a bunch of doctors coming around every morning. But not my doctor. One of his associates, a junior doctor (who I’m sure was a student and still learning I think) came around on the Friday. I can’t remember the conversation in detail but these words I will never forget. He said, “We made a mistake. It’s not melanoma but lymphoma. We biopsied the tumour we removed and noticed that although it looks like a melanoma cell, it behaves more like a lymphoma cell. We’re going to start you on the correct treatment for this and you will be cleared within six months.” I was slightly overwhelmed by this but I remember thanking God once again. What they called a mistake, I called my miracle. The miracle I prayed for had happened. My death sentence was over.
August – December 2011
I learnt to walk again. Even run and jump again. I endured more chemo, including 5 spinal injections to make sure that the tumour on my spine didn’t travel up into my brain. I gradually dropped the strength of the painkillers until I was able to not take them anymore at all (which was in January 2012). Most importantly, I gradually returned to some semblance of normal.
Tuesday, 28th June 2016
Here I am, 5 years after the operation that saved my life. Almost 6 years after receiving my “12 months to live” declaration. I returned to play, coach and umpire basketball again but I can’t always jump properly. Sometimes my left leg just doesn’t react correctly when I try. I also get a twitch in a nerve in my left leg near my knee that tells me that something was damaged. It annoys me now and then but I’m thankful for it. Life is different now. Lot’s of other things changed after that which I won’t go into here because they’re not related to the operation or the cancer. I’ll just say that everything has worked out for the better. Days like this, I look back and I thank God. I think Him for the miracle, I thank Him for the experience, I thank Him for the wonderful people who cared for me and supported me including the medical staff and I thank Him that I’m still here to see my girls grow up.
As I mentioned earlier, it was through a wonderful minister, Pete Riggs, that I visited the prayer healing centre. They were very encouraging and provided me with several verses that really helped. Verses like…
1 Peter 2:24
24 Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God’s approval. His wounds have healed you.
5 He was wounded for our rebellious acts.
He was crushed for our sins.
He was punished so that we could have peace,
and we received healing from his wounds.
(both verses copied from www.biblegateway.com and are from the GOD’S WORD Translation)
Some people would say that he was only doing his job but I don’t believe that. I knew Pete before the cancer struck and I know that it was through his caring for a friend that he helped me. So, I also thank God for bringing Pete into my life at a time that I needed it.
P.S. – I had my latest check up yesterday and all is still clear. Six months to go to be called cured!
A Final Thought…
I have often felt that several of my friends could have been there for me more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset with them, but I don’t feel that they supported me as much as other people did. Some were strangers to me, others I knew through the church basketball club, and there were even friends of my now ex-wife who did more than they did. That sounds bad, I know, but I know they still cared. I think they were scared by the reality that had hit me, the thought that I was going to die. The point I want to make here is that there are times that we are uncomfortable with a friends situation but we need to overcome that and be there for them. You never know, you might be the light that brightens their dark days and helps them keep going.