Chapter 2 – An Exact Diagnosis then Skiing Mindful of the Dead

The Morning After Surgery:

The anesthetic did not knock me around, and this still surprises me. A bonus to be grateful for! Technology marches on!

The next morning I decided I was well enough to travel home, and buy a new camera! The rationale was simple: I needed a reward! And of course I was thinking, “well if I die soon, I may as well enjoy myself by being creative”. A positive option was, “okay I’ll do this with the idea in mind that I’m going to get well”. Either way I saw it as a win/win situation.

Winter on Hawkdun Mountains, Maniototo, Central Otago, New Zealand

My first image with the new camera!

Of the Hawkdun Mountains that form the northern border of the rather vast Maniototo – leading into Central Otago.

The mountains of Wanaka New Zealand

It is a truism that surgery in the likes of cancer will buy time. I was to learn though, that I’d have a bit more of it early on than I was ready for.

The surgeon’s instructions were very specific: I was not to move around during recovery. Even around the house for one month-no short walks and no activity, period!

Any exercise could cause lymphatic liquid to pool/leak into surrounding tissue. There is a medical name for this, but the point being if this were to happen the patient would need a bag. As in like a colostomy bag, to drain it.

All I could do for month was look at the snow on the nearby mountains (as above). And at least look forward to being in them – soon, if I was a patient patient! And well looked after by Robyn, who kept me honest whenever I got restless for exercise.

The Snow Farm cross country skiing area, Cardrona Valley, New Zealand

Snow wise, New Zealand winters are quite short. As the initial doctor’s visit, fine-needle biopsies, and surgery in Dunedin took a few weeks. I felt time was running out to recommence cross country skiing.

The only area in the country with easy access is only 40 minutes drive away. So as soon as my month of forced inactivity was over, with nothing bad happening, I was off “up the hill”.

Paradise Ducks. The Snow Farm cross country skiing area, Cardrona Valley, New Zealand

I only had one decision to make: to ski or not to ski. Walking around on foot could mean I would put my foot in a hole hidden by the snow, and do damage to my small wound. This would not be likely with skis on but I could still fall. I opted for walking only. To make sure I even left my skis and boots back home.

It’s a very peaceful place – the locals are not frightened away for the winter!

Sun dog at the Snow Farm cross country skiing area, Cardrona Valley, New Zealand

The parking area at the Snow Farm, in the Cardrona Valley, is on the other side of this building,. When I was hobbling from my truck one of my friends saw me from up on a deck by the café, and said something like: “get a move on”.

When we meet a few minutes later I told him I recently had surgery. He immediately replied by asking “prostate cancer?”. Well, no I said, and gave a brief explanation.

Patterns on the snow at The Snow Farm cross country skiing area, Cardrona Valley, New Zealand

His story was that he had been through the mill about 18 months previous with his cancer. Seeing him looking so fit and healthy was very encouraging. Right at the time I needed it.

I then remembered that there were others skiing who had also had cancer. The dark side of my humour then rose to the surface, and I realised I was not going to meet the dead ones!

Cross country ski race, The Merino Muster. At The Snow Farm cross country skiing area, Cardrona Valley, New Zealand.

By the end of the season I was blessed to find I was skiing about all over the place. I did not enter the annual Merino Muster race though. And more specifically I did not help out doing photos, like other years. I’d become very aware of the importance of looking after myself in regards to energy levels and warmth etc.

These racers, pretty much all from overseas, are the leaders into 42 Km,. They’re of World Cup/ Winter Olympic class. As such very inspiring. They’ll usually average 20km/hr over that distance too.

Fence and wind sculpted snow at The Snow Farm cross country skiing area, Cardrona Valley, New Zealand

How did I feel:

So far, so good! A positive surgery outcome was a great boost, and a good feeling to have.

But what under-scored this was a sense that time was running out. With a distinct feeling of a need for speed! Understandable because of the wonderful and prompt action from our health system.

During the mandatory month of rest afterwards though I came to realise that there was a lot to do. Many people would not want to leave this world without making plans for one’s family, for example.

The obvious being a Will. But there are many little things such as noting down passwords, and where to find all manner of things. This all felt stressful.

I also started to mull over the possible causes of the disease. My wonderful local doctor, knowing me well, anticipated this. He suggested it could be random. Never-the-less I started putting an increasing amount of energy in this. Now looking back I do have a valid theory worth exploring. But more on this later. In the meantime, and not voiced to my doctor was, “OK I could consider the cause to be random. But this does not mean my reaction should be!” Looking back I now realise this attitude was a turning point!

Grief! Good grief! Loosing one’s health is a loss I’d not anticipated. Straight away those feelings started to manifest. Arrival can be subtle, or sometimes not. My experience was the former. But it is good to realise this and how it might play out straight away.

Lastly I felt a need to be less cloistered by support. I wanted to be alone more. As fitting my nature; to handle many aspects solo. There is a time and a place for everything. Each individual to us all.

Night full moon ski tour at The Snow Farm cross country skiing area, Cardrona Valley, New Zealand

Towards the end of the 2017 Austral winter my fitness returned in leaps and bounds. I was even able to indulge my favourite pastime of a solo ski tour under a full moon. My body (and mind) loved not having to support a tumour!
And the new camera proved to be “winter friendly”

Technical Stuff:

After surgery I was well and truly inducted into our health system. I was beginning to realise I was being treated like royalty.

🔎 The examination of my extracted tumor in my groin took awhile. And then I was duly summoned to Dunedin to the oncology/hematology department. Where all was revealed.

Meanwhile back home I was becoming used to a constant “aching”, in my lymphatic system. Which extends from the groin area to the neck/head. Unlike our blood circulatory system, this system does not have a pump. I was starting to realise that exercise of the upper body would serve me well.

Decisions I thought I had to make at the time:

As mentioned in Chapter One. An on-going source of anxiety was who to tell!

First off was when to reveal all to my son. As it turned out he found out by accident. Serendipity made a showing when he met Robyn on the street in Dunedin. When she had dropped me off for my first fine needle biopsy.

Sooner rather than later though, I got sick of my own story!

An earlier question was: Should I fight the disease like a battle or not?

Well! I decided early on to not make it a fight. My Dr. noted that in his patients over many years he’d noted those who adopt a measure of acceptance, tend to do better. The road I chose was “non passive acceptance”. A play on words!

I get annoyed when on radio or TV news that announcer says, “So-and-so died of cancer after a long battle”. This is not a good message!

If someone were to ask my advice on this (which has happened), I’d now answer by saying, “OK, but… it could be wise to decide how much energy you should expend”.

As a disease wears us down, it can pay to consider how our thoughts can affect our immune system. And they do!

If you landed on a single post instead of the Home Page which is arranged like the chapters in a book, then click here please >>

BTW current state of health, as of April 2021, is pretty good!

The next post/chapter will be titled something like, “My first of many meetings with an oncologist”

If you would like an email notification for new posts coming up (at least a doz. planned), then please leave your details here

The content presented on the site is in no way intended as medical advice. Or as a substitute for medical treatment. Guidance from your doctor or other health care professional should always be sought. Be involved with them on all levels. The most trivial information can be pure gold to a trained professional!

Chapter 3 – Treatment options to the forefront

Ice bow and fence at the Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zealand

Returning to one of my passions:

Post the surgery, to remove the tumor in my groin, there was a month long period of inactivity and recovery. Some of that time I adjusted to my new paradigm, but more work was in order. So after a month I jumped straight into my favourite winter activity cross country skiing. An excellent way also to strengthen physical fitness. Which of course makes it harder to hold negative thoughts.

Time Line of This Chapter:

  • Recovery from surgery – passive nothingness
  • Recovery from surgery – active, enhancing mental attitudes
  • Call to adventure – destiny has summoned the hero patient from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown
  • Opening up to others. A sometimes personal, sometimes benign energy everywhere that supports a superhuman passage
  • Bucket list stuff. Or practice exploration of perilous paths of initiatory conquests, and moments of illumination?
  • Amulets against the dragon forces – books/mentors etc.
  • Oncology counseling began at Dunstan Hospital in Clyde (one hour drive away).
  • The road of trials – a series of tests/decisions/tasks to be grappled with
  • Looking for dis-ease causes
  • The all-powerful, all encompassing entry to recovery. First sit-down, with a registrar oncologist – Dunedin Hospital based.
Skiers practising cross country skiing near the Lodge at the Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zealand

At first I skied near the Lodge at the Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zealand. After all I had a new camera to come to terms with.

The River Run at the Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zealand

Pretty soon I was able to go further afield. My favourite tour is down to the headwaters of the Meg river. A route called the River Run.

On the Cromwell to Queenstown road you’ll find the Meg enters the Kawarau Gorge. This is right by the car park at the Roaring Meg power station. The Gorge is a tributary of the Clutha River.

Cross country skier having a lesson at the Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zealand

My sense of normality was being restored! I can’t recall if I’d told any of my skiing buddies what was going on. And I was learning that social contact is a proven path to a healthy life. Along with exercise!

Bob Lee hut on the out-skirts of the Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zeal;and

Pretty soon my body, the moon and the weather transpired to lure me into a little adventure – a full moon ski tour.

This is Bob Lee hut on the out-skirts of the area. I like to arrive as the sun is setting and do some photos. Then eat a sort of evening version of lunch, and prepare for my return in the darkness. The light of the moon (here rising) being my guide, rather than one of the three head lamps I carry.

Skiddo at the Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zealand

But quite a telling thing happened on the way to Bob Lee. One of my friends who works at the area was driving by on a skiddo to deliver packs and food to one of the huts. And she stopped.

It seems she had noticed my changed energy or demeanour, and so she asked me what was wrong. Or what had happened.

So there I was blurting out the whole story, or at best a shortened version. When she’d gone this got me thinking. In a way the disclosure in a surreal setting was quite a help in gaining perspective.

Martyr Saddle, where there is a viewpoint overlooking the Cascade valley

All to soon the snow was “played out”. As spring decided to appear I seemed to travel all over the place in the lower South Island.

< Martyr Saddle, where there is a viewpoint overlooking the Cascade valley. South Westland. A World Heritage site

Looking back I’m now inclined to think that at a subconscious level I was entertaining a bucket list!

Where the Dart River in Mt Aspiring National Park, enters Lake Wakatipu. Taken by the Kinloch Lodge on the shores of same.

Taken by the Kinloch Lodge at dawn on the delta.

<Where the Dart River in Mt Aspiring National Park, enters Lake Wakatipu.

How did I feel:

Like one of the mob dispossessed of health!

Which means the loss of health will trigger grief – over the loss of same

Very vulnerable, but with a growing sense of calm. With an inclination to not “buy into” anything. An empty vessel!

And that I could achieve the above by filing all incoming information as provisional. Not a new habit! Being opinionated does not engender a sense of contentment. Which of course is an opinion!

When we’re open to serendipity this is what can happen:

While working for the Dept of Conservation/NZ Alpine Club at Aspiring Hut. In the National Park of the same name, I met a couple of lovely families. They had a great holiday in some good weather. One of them made the journey in by electric wheel chair, which he’d designed himself. On both counts a huge achievement!

We became FaceBook friends later. Since I post lots of images on that platform he noticed one, and asked if I’d supply a copy as a cover for a new book coming out. I was happy to donate it.

Then one day, right in the middle of the above discussed changes in my life, a “thank you” copy arrived. It was uplifting to say the least. It was very useful to read about how others dealt with big changes and challenges regards health. Published by the NZ Spinal Trust

The Art of Recovery is a very worth-while read >>

Technical Stuff:

🔎 As mentioned in my last blog/chapter I was duly summoned to Dunedin Hospital in the spring time 2017. To the oncology/hematology department. It was to be the first of many many visits. It’s focus to name my illness, and my treatment options. I got the lot and on paper too.

I was hosting mantle cell lymphoma. (non Hodgkins – I would have preferred the less severe plain Hodgkins). The information came across to me in such a way, that indicated the need for speed regards treatment.

I met with a registrar – a relative newcomer to the game. It was immediately obvious that announcing grim black and white news was a challenge. I was Stage 4A and if I recall possible timing, to “curtain time” was as 37 months. I felt for the messenger!

The registrar presented two treatment options. Along with paper intense documentation. The first being a pretty heavy-duty Nordic Protocol. (the connection to my cross country skiing amused me). The second a milder option, I assumed would not work as well. The former meant I would have to spend a few nights in hospital every 28 day cycle. This freaked me out, and more on why later.

What happened next was wonderful. I was immediately given the cell phone number of a very experienced nurse. I was to avail myself of the txt messaging facility to the tune of about two messages or questions per week. Having a caring and loving line of communication gave a strong signal. The journey to good health had begun. When we know others care, we know we have a better chance of recovery! And I knew that my body was not seen as an isolated machine. Divorced from our emotional and spiritual aspects.

What not to do:

I’m reminded at this moment to write about something very important. My wonderful local doctor mentioned it a couple of times:

We get a diagnosis, and with the best of specialist help, we construct a plan of action. e.g lifestyle or dietary changes.

And off we go making what can be for many, mammoth adjustments! But despite this, the disease progresses.

The trick then is to avoid at all costs thinking that we’ve not honored our resolve well enough! And we beat ourselves up.

Never forget that our thoughts influence our immune system!

In case this scenario visited myself, I started meditation. Mindful that for many years athletes have used visualisation techniques. It’s a big topic to imagine winning, or finishing! And one I’ll write about later. But for now, beware!

And one more thing: refrain from Googling your flavour of disease. This advice from the hospital was very wise! Best to wait! In my case they soon furnished me with appropriate URL’s. Then at my leisure I could read and understand well balanced appropriate information.

Decisions I decided to make:

At this point, there were too many! Time seemed “of the essence”. The idea seemed to be to get ready for a rough ride. To either get well, or otherwise.

One item headed the list: how to handle many possible nights in hospital during treatment. (If I choose the more intense one on offer)!?

You see up until age about 9 years, I spent an extraordinary amount of time in hospital. For reasons still unknown.

Although I don’t have any personal photos of this time in Oamaru Hospital, I did find this on the North Otago Museum FaceBook page. It sums up how it was, and I’ll swear I once played with the toy on the left. And the faces trigger some hazy memories! Not all bad, but confusing. Dropped off literally at the door amongst strangers by parents, rigid visiting hours, scary smelly unknown stuff all about, and I was trapped!

Back then this amounted to an unsettling sense of abandonment. That it was from very loving parents was very confusing (and can cause dissociation). The experience also involved sharing a room of four beds with older men. One was there for a quick surgery. One for a few days to establish a diagnosis, and one to die. Even as a wee kid it was obvious which was which!

The sense of this establishing a victim mentality was something I’d not bought into, a long time ago. The experience(s) have made me who I am, and for this I am grateful. And no one has had a perfect childhood anyway! Mine was pretty damn good too, compared to many.

So I decided some counseling would be a good idea. So I txt’d my new nurse and asked for some local recommendations. Her reply, “I don’t know of anyone in Wanaka, but we can do that. I’ll organise a referral – I think there is someone at Dunstan Hospital” (an hour’s drive away for me). And in due course I soon found myself getting the help I needed.

Looking back this decision was the best one I made during this very rushed period. And it triggered a very deep sense of appreciation. Out of which flowed 💗 and the very seeds of an idea:

I could start to compile a 10 point list, or thereabouts, of things to change. Ones that could make a difference to my quality of life, and most of all my thoughts. My theory is that if some of the ten were only at say 6% instead of the full quota, then if I got three or four up a few percent, there would be significant cumulative gains to the overall plan to reach 100%.

Careys Hut in winter. Mavora Lakes. Southland New Zealand.

Several weeks before my diagnosis I did a trip to Mavora Lakes, in northern Southland, with a very close friend, and we did a day long mountain bike trip to…

< Careys Hut in winter.

The track to Careys Hut in winter. Mavora Lakes. Southland New Zealand.

It was a very tough trip for me – I had to dig deep coming back especially.

< the track was very muddy and wet

I put the experience down to age. I was wrong!

During my first visit to oncology in Dunedin, I had to sit for sometime in the waiting room. I got to observe other people waiting. None seemed as healthy lifestyle wise as myself. I fought off a quick “why, poor me” thought.

What replaced it was the profound insight that these people may have put their hand up much sooner than I had. And got a doctor’s appointment sooner rather than later. When not feeling quite their normal – especially when physically challenged. As opposed to myself gritting my teeth and boxing on.

My outdoor experience had worked against me, I thought. It’d cost me valuable time! Yet, I was to realise a lot post diagnosis. And during what was to follow, that the practice of driving with the mind was to work in my favour. Growing old, I’m not entertaining!

By the Way this has been the most challenging post/chapter to write up so far. It could maintain that lead. It spans a time that contained the most urgent of adjustments. That’s how I perceived it at the time!

If you landed on a single post instead of the Home Page then this blog is arranged like the chapters in a book, so click here please >>

BTW current state of health, as of June 2021, is pretty good!

The next post/chapter will be titled something like, “Let’s Wait and Watch”

If you would like an email notification for new posts coming up (at least a doz. planned), then please leave your details here

The content presented on the site is in no way intended as medical advice. Or as a substitute for medical treatment. Guidance from your doctor or other health care professional should always be sought. Be involved with them on all levels. The most trivial information can be pure gold to a trained professional!