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Chemotherapy Gave Us A Gift of Time

By Lorraine Kember

In December 1999, my beloved husband of 32 years was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and given a prognosis of 3 to 9 months. He was a former Wittenoom child who at the tender age of seven lived in Wittenoom for period of seven short months. Tragically it was long enough for him to inhale the deadly blue asbestos dust that would ultimately take his life.

As Brian’s disease progressed, the tumor pressed against his esophagus making it almost impossible for him to swallow. For a short period of time, dilatation was given to stretch the opening, thereby enabling him to manage a pureed diet. However when these dilations were no longer successful, we were told that chemotherapy was the only option. It was painfully obvious that unless chemotherapy could shrink the tumor, Brian’s death would be imminent.

Although we had no choice, the thought of chemotherapy was frightening. We had heard stories of extreme nausea and hair loss, and the added fear of the unknown intensified our suffering. There were many questions. How would it affect us? Would it work? How long will it go on? Will Brian ever be able to eat normally again?

For Brian, chemotherapy was never promised as a cure but as a trial, offered to him in the hope of shrinking the tumor, thereby enabling him to eat and drink and hopefully, to afford him “quality of life” for the remainder of his life.

Brian began chemotherapy in January 2001; his reaction to the first round of treatment was dramatic; he vomited continuously and was unable to retain his oral medication and needed to be hospitalized. Unable He remained in hospital for a short time during which the Pain Management Specialist attached to the Palliative Care Unit was able to bring his symptoms under control. The medication he prescribed effectively controlled Brian’s nausea and when taken prior to further chemotherapy sessions, prevented further bouts of nausea from occurring.

Without fear of side effects, Brian welcomed his chemotherapy sessions and the resulting benefits of the treatment soon became obvious. By the end of the second round of chemotherapy it was obvious that the treatment had shrunk the tumor; the changes in his condition and disposition were amazing; he felt and looked so much better, was able to eat meat and enjoy food again. I could not get over the change in him.

Excerpt from my diary:

March 2001

Brian is feeling so much better. He is able to eat meat and enjoy food again. Chemotherapy HAS shrunk the tumor. I cannot get over the change in him. It is a precious gift and I am so grateful for it.
Brian has been amazing. The chemo and nausea medication tire him for a bit but within a few days he is back on top and his general well-being is amazing. Oh the joy of seeing him able to eat again! The chemo has definitely given him better quality of life. His appetite is amazing!

I realized at this time that despite all of our fears regarding chemotherapy, it had worked well for us. It had given us a precious gift of time. A special “time out” from the pain and suffering of it all. There was quality of life and we were determined to live it to the full.

Excerpt from my diary

There’s laughter now in our days
for we have grown stronger.
We have learned to push our grief away
and to live each moment of every single day,
for we know that tomorrow may never come
and that our goodnight may well be our goodbye...

Article written by: Lorraine Kember – Author of “Lean on Me” Cancer through a Carer’s Eyes. Lorraine’s book is written from her experience of caring for her dying husband in the hope of helping others. It includes insight and discussion on: Anticipatory Grief, Understanding and identifying pain, Pain Management and Symptom Control, Chemotherapy, Palliative Care, Quality of Life and dying at home. It also features excerpts and poems from her personal diary. Highly recommended by the Cancer Council. “Lean on Me” is not available in bookstores - For detailed information, Doctor’s recommendations, Reviews, Book Excerpts and Ordering Facility - visit her website


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