Opinion

Surgery was the most significant aspect of her journey

by
September 14, 2016

This is where the onerous journey usually begins as the individual tries to comprehend how their lives are about to change. From this point onwards the focus of discussion is on the process of removing the cancerous cells and preventing their return. By this stage the person has usually had time to come to terms with the diagnosis and direct their thoughts towards recovery. However, for Amy the abnormality was not identified as cancerous until after the removal procedure when she was already convinced that everything was going to be fine. Cancer had never been considered prior to the operation, which made the news all the more dumbfounding. As a result, the surgery has become the most significant aspect of her journey as it brought on a diagnosis that no one was expecting.

The Week before Surgery

Once the decision was made to undergo the procedure a number of steps had to take place before the tumour could be removed. The weeks leading up to the operation consisted of a number of tests and scans to ensure the most successful outcome. These included eye tests at the optometrist to determine the extent of her vision before and after the procedure, an appointment with a neuropsychologist to analyse her memory and other mental and emotional aspects that could be affected by the surgery, as well as a number of MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans to pin point the location and size of the tumour. The tests and scans mostly occurred in December 2014 leading up to the operation. This was after Amy was aware that she was on the waiting list to receive the life changing surgery. The much anticipated call arrived the Friday prior to Thursday the 26th of February, the set date for the procedure. Amy was given six days to prepare for the trip down to Melbourne and pack all of her items, whilst her family arranged plans for accommodation and time off work for the week they were expected to be staying in the city.

The Day before Surgery

Amy, her parents and a close cousin left for Melbourne the day before her surgery was scheduled and arrived at St Vincent’s Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. Once they found themselves at the hospital preparation began to ensure everything was in order for the operation to go ahead. Another MRI scan was taken and electrodes were secured to sections of her head where hair had been shaven prior to their attachment. Her parents and cousin were close by her side throughout the entire process, which made it easier to push the impending operation to the back of her mind and remain positive. She documented the events of the day by taking photos on her smart phone. This helped take her mind off the surgery by giving her something else to focus on. Amy was also required to fast ahead of the surgery so was unable to eat or drink following her dinner that evening. Luckily, she didn’t have to fast for long as her operation was planned to happen first thing in the morning, at 7.30AM, as the first surgery of the day.

The Morning of Surgery

The day of the operation arrived and Amy was up a little before 6.30AM to shower and prepare for the surgery. This included putting on her surgery gown and compression socks and then it was into the operating room to begin the procedure. That morning, before the operation took place, was the last time Amy experienced one of her absence seizures. It took longer than expected for the process to commence due to some administrative issues, however once those were sorted out she was placed under anaesthetic and doesn’t remember anything until she was moved into the recovery room and slowly came out of her unconscious state. Whilst in the operation they shaved away the necessary remaining parts of her head, leaving her bald on one side. Her parents were anxiously waiting outside of surgery for the moment when their daughter came out, the delay in schedule not doing much to help their nerves. Most of their stresses were eased when they saw Amy arrive out of the operating room and they were even more relieved when she looked over and gestured them a thumbs up on her way down to recovery. The rest of the day Amy spent mostly sleeping and only remembers not being able to move much at all.

The Night Following Surgery

Amy became a little more responsive towards the end of the day and the hospital staffs were satisfied in her progress, which allowed her to start eating something again. Unfortunately though the prospect of food was not high on Amy’s agenda as she began becoming nauseous and was unable to hold anything in her stomach. This was thought to just be a side effect from the procedure. It was later discovered to her that the section of the brain operated on was closely located near the Area Postrema, the medullary structure which controls vomiting. The first night following surgery was the most difficult with Amy continuing to be nauseous throughout the evening which was hindered by her lack of mobility. This made the task of her parents leaving at the end of visiting hours a very challenging one.

The Day after Surgery

Her parents returned to the hospital first thing in the morning to find their daughter in no better state. The next day did not bring much relief following the arduous night as swelling had begun to develop around the section of her head that was operated on. The section was also quite heavily dressed which only made the effects of the swelling look more severe. The tablets she was given to aid with the pain and nausea left her dazed and unable to fully comprehend what was occurring around her. The nurses had hoped to start Amy walking again, however her illness prevented her from moving very far which meant that she was confined to her bed until her health improved. This proved problematic in the near future as she developed tightness in her back that caused pain and further affected her movement. The site was quite confronting for her siblings who arrived that Friday afternoon to find their sister still quite sick and unaware of her surroundings. After breaking down on the way to Melbourne we arrived much later than expected so our time with her that day was short lived. This didn’t seem to affect Amy as she was still having trouble getting used to the strong medication and would regularly fall in and out of sleep.

The Next Few Days Post-Operation

The days following the initial stages were focused mainly on recovery with nurses and her family working to get Amy eating and out of bed walking again. Each day Amy received a visit from her surgeons to check in on her recovery and organise what medication she required. Her specialist also called in to see how she was responding to the surgery and informed her that she would remain on the same tablets for her epilepsy with the dosage decreasing over time. Friends and family sent flowers and messages and some came in to the hospital to give Amy support throughout the week, despite the visits being very short. Throughout this time Amy and her family were still waiting in anticipation for the results from the surgery, which were expected to be delivered the Monday morning following the procedure. The daily check-in with the surgeons took place with still no news on the outcome. The next morning there was again no information about the effectiveness of the operation. The surgeon said he would look into getting some results before the end of the day. That afternoon he returned to inform Amy, her parents and myself that the results had taken longer than expected as the procedure revealed the growth was a malignant tumour. The biopsy was still underway as to the exact specifics of the removed section so this was all we could be told. The stresses of the week had suddenly become too great for any of us to handle and as the first tear fell from Amy the rest of us joined in. The hardest task fell on Amy who had to endeavour to sleep knowing that she had cancer. The following morning the surgeon returned with developments on the tumour. It was a category two cancer that was very slow growing. The surgery had been a success in that they had managed to remove every visible section of the tumour with only the non-visible cancerous cells still left. This meant that she would not require chemotherapy or radiotherapy at this stage whilst they continued to monitor its growth with regular MRI scans.

Going Home

After receiving the results of the biopsy Amy was told she was able to return home the next morning. So on the Wednesday, six days after the surgery, she was free to make the long drive back to Echuca now facing the confronting reality of having brain cancer. Once home Amy continued with her recovery slowly regaining mobility in her back by means of massages and walking. She also began eating more regularly after consuming not much post-surgery and her feelings of nausea faded. The next day after returning home Amy was able to get her staples removed. With training having already started for netball season, Amy was keen to get back to her usual physical capabilities and join her teammates as quickly as possible. This motivated her to work harder in her recovery, walking that little bit longer and stretching out her back that little bit further. She attempted to return to training the following week, however was left disappointed watching from the sideline as her body wasn’t quite prepared to return to the strenuous exercise. Amy was not one to sit and observe so worked each training a little more until she was able to fully participate again. It didn’t take her long to get back into a training routine and she continued to work on her fitness at home. Before long the only reminder of the surgery was the scar that remained and a new haircut to disguise the parts that were shaven.

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