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!

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!