by Sandra Radja
My Dad. These are the things I know, and will embellish because he trained me that way. He arrived in Australia as a new immigrant from Serbia with his brother when he was 17. He hated it because they served him mutton in the detention centres in the hot summer in the middle of the countryside. He was made to attend church because of the connections of people from the "home country". He heckled the minister and was asked to leave the church (rapscallion). He saved his pennies from working factory jobs to fly back to his home country when he was cajoled into buying a new car from his friends. He then met my mother and the rest is history (according to me anyways :) ).
I do not recall my parents being really sick in my life. If they were it was a couple of days here and there. The life of the immigrant was a "get on with it" kind of mentality because they had to. You battle more than just worrying about a financial situation, you spend energy trying to fit in. And when we are in an unfamiliar environment (which I highly encourage to build your immunity) you need to be on constant alert until the environment and its ways become a part of you and therefore become part of your second nature.
I have heard stories about some doctors only treating Vata in the mind as the root cause of disease. The more I sink my teeth into this art the more I'm starting to believe it. One the most difficult aspects we deal with as humans is change and adaptation. Fear around the unknown, expectations of desires, the cult of busyness, climate change and it's fickleness, and easy marriage, easy divorce. Change and it's tantalising carrot dangling can disrupt the integrity of the mind leading to an old age experience that is cloudy and dependent.
So here is an experience my Dad went through recently of prostate cancer surgery. It was one of the few times I felt helpless, with just the reliance of prayer and holding space. It's one year on and that tough bastard is back in the saddle skipping the "cancer recovery" sessions, telling nurses and doctors when HE was ready to heal and taking on board the contemplation that comes with times like these, which can be a blessing in reaffirming the connection to God and spirit; to be given an opportunity to be humbled.
Oh if only the minister could see him now....
1. You had prostate cancer diagnosed and had the prostate removed in early 2014, what was the inherent fear surrounding the whole process?
When the doctor called me in to discuss the result of the biopsy I had a strong suspicion that this could be serious but still had the doubt. The first question I asked him is how can you be sure that it is cancer. During the rest of the conversation I asked the doctor to focus on solutions and what options I had rather than what can go wrong. It is only when we (wife and I) left the doctor that all sort of thoughts started going through my mind and I could not help but think about what I would miss out on if this was the end. My greatest fear was if something went wrong and I became what I call a vegetable, hence at the time I told both the doctor and Dorry (wife) not to keep me artificially alive if there was no hope of recovery.
2. How much was explained to you when you were going through the process? What did the doctors say to you in terms of recovery rates and how did they determine how quickly you could recover from the process?
For starters the doctor explained the function and exact location of the prostate, which is something that most men would not be fully aware of. This motivated me to do more research on Google and read up a lot more on prostate cancer and what one should do. Hardest thing for me was to decide what option to choose so I asked the doctor to advise me as if I were his father. This helped with the process.
In terms of recovery they advised that following a prostate removal I would have to spend 4 – 5 days in hospital and then as an outpatient come back to have all the tubes removed. They also told me that incontinence could be as long as 12 months and at times could be longer than that. Following discussions with the doctor, hospital provided a team of nurses to advise and answer any questions, which was comforting to know. They gave me a lot of material to explain everything to do with cancer and recovery and what one must do, which was a great help.
One thing I now realise is that all these experts have a tendency to give you the worst case scenario and the emphasis is mostly on what can go wrong. Somehow they left it up to me to filter out all the negatives and find my own comfort zone.
3. Are you interested in why you got cancer in the first place? Did you have a gut feeling about it or was it a complete surprise to you?
To be honest I do not think like that. It happened and trying to analyse it is trying to fix the past and that is pointless to me. Being diagnosed with cancer was a surprise and a little shock but throughout the process, in my mind, I distanced myself from the word cancer and focused on illness and getting better. I think the word itself is designed to depress and preoccupy the mind. It is almost like a mental jail. I thought of Mandela who said that they can lock up my body but my mind will always be free. I therefore worked hard to free my mind from this word CANCER and I think I mostly succeeded.
4. I remember you telling me that you didn't want to take part in the group recovery sessions. Why was that?
When this team of nurses explained to me the process and how people get together to discuss their issues and recovery I realised that the focus is constantly on cancer and they even label the meeting as POST CANCER RECOVERY. As I said above I dropped the word cancer and did not wish to dwell on this and be constantly reminded. It is almost like the TV News. If there is nothing bad happening in our town or even our country then they will report on the rest of the world, because they have to talk about bad and negative. I chose to focus on recovery and positive aspects of my progress. Hospital support team kept ringing me up and checking my progress and their comment was that it far exceeded their expectations and the same comments were given by the doctors on my follow up visit.
I was operated on Monday and was released from hospital on Wednesday, because I did not use any pain killers that they expected me to use for at least a couple of days. All the tubes were removed a week later, not 2 weeks like was initially told to me and my incontinence was not an issue after two months not a year or longer as they indicated and even during the initial 2 months it was only a minor issue more to do with confidence and understanding of my habits.
5. How do you feel today from having gone through the process? Do you feel weaker or more humbled or stronger and more resilient? Have any of your habits changed because of it? What's your motivation on change?
I feel better than I did before the operation. Enlarged prostate is not painful but most uncomfortable which is now not an issue. The taboo subject is that operation has an impact on your sex life but then so does old age and other bad habits we have. After the operation I decided to retire and not try to work to the magic age of 65. I was not yet 64 but I realised that life is not a guarantee and one should not postpone and fill one’s life with regrets and could haves and should haves.
I must say although I do not belong to any religion my belief in God is definitely stronger.
My habits and my diet changed because I retired and no longer participate in business lunches and take away foods. I feel a lot better and healthier and the last medical check they told me that my cholesterol is down. Is it better diet or less stress I am not sure but again I welcome the outcome and let the experts analyse why this is the case.
6. What did you take from this experience in terms of your view on doctor/patient relationships?
This operation and my personal experience helped me to understand what one doctor said on TV. Recovery is a partnership between 3 parties who are the doctor, God and the patient. This to me means that:
- I have to chose a doctor I can trust
- I need to accept my destiny
- I must want to recover and focus on what I can and must do and not dwell on poor me and why me
Retired after a life of working in the business world, life now resides in building veggie garden plots, visiting the grandkids and watching Frozen a million times, exploring where the best coffee resides outside of Melbourne (tough one) and graciously trying any kind of strange Ayurvedic herbs his daughter gives him.
He would love to chat. You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org