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With heartfelt thanks

by John Coleman

For a thing so small it caused big problems – a two-millimetre intrusion that came after more than five years of being cancer-free.  Back in 2000, I came through both bowel and prostate cancer, a rollercoaster of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and two operations. After all that the word was if you survived five years you were home free.  So the new diagnosis, showing up in a two-yearly test, came as a shock. The outlook wasn’t rosy; I would end up with an ileostomy, a permanent bag.

Amidst all the turmoil, I grappled for the right prayer, finally settling on, If this cup could pass … not my will, but Yours. It brought peace, calm acceptance. I sought and was pleased to receive anointing from a deeply spiritual Jesuit priest.  The little “intrusion” with some other complications meant three and a half hours on the operating table and a long spell in Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital.

As I write from the hospital, I’m on the road to recovery because of the sheer brilliance and dedication of my surgeon, a stream of committed nurses and the unstinting care of my wife of 38 years. Yvette… Kerry… Jan… Colleen… Nicole… Marian… Melissa…Melanie… Rachel… Rebecca… Laura… I’ve come to know all the nurses, young and older. Their commitment and infinite patience have contributed much to the journey of recovery.

So, too, have my fellow patients, men and women of all ages, for my ward is a microcosm of today’s Australia where one in three men and one in four women will be afflicted with cancer.

It’s the patients’ approach to the often intense pain that I find inspiring: they confront it courageously, stoically, with barely a murmur of complaint. Only once do I hear a patient, an older bloke, crying out with a stream of bullocky expletives. We all understand.

As the slow process of recovery begins, they walk the wards, white-haired men aided by wives; dignified older women in satin dressing gowns; young women; athletic-looking young men, with tubing and overhead bottles.  Day and night, patients are wheeled away in their beds to the operating theatre, and then return to recover.

There’s an egalitarianism about our ward. From the older nurses, there’s pretty much professional formality in address, but to the younger ones I’m simply ‘matey’ and really nothing is too much trouble for ‘matey’.  The lady who comes into my room each morning to clean chats away and asks, ‘What are you reading?’ We discuss the verdict on the Bali Nine. Jason, the young, slightly built orderly, is in the ward from early morning and is one of the busiest people around. The nurses decorate the room with streamers when an elderly patient has a birthday and the strains of ‘Happy birthday to you’ echo across the ward.

We deal with pain and pass the time watching the endless stream of nostalgic movies on satellite TV, but find the free-to-air versions, well, painful.

My surgeon is at my bedside – and of others – at all hours, night, mornings, Saturdays, Sundays.  I’m astonished, as I was five years ago, at his boundless dedication. I know that he’s well paid, but, equally, no amount of money could possibly compensate for the hours or the self-sacrifice he devotes to me and his other patients. For my part, I’m truly grateful and realise that it’s saving lives that drives him.

Above all, I know my prayers have been answered: the road to recovery will be long and uncomfortable, but the operation is a complete success, there will be no bag and I’m told I’ll be better than ever.

I offer Him, into whose hands I completely placed myself, a heartfelt prayer of thanks.

John Coleman is a freelance journalist.


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