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

Sunset from the Snow Farm cross country ski area, Cardrona, New Zealand

The Morning After Surgery:

I was surprised that the anesthetic didn’t have any negative effects on me. It’s a testament to how technology has advanced!

Feeling well enough, I decided to travel back home the next morning and reward myself with a new camera. I thought, “If I die soon, I may as well enjoy myself by being creative.” Alternatively, I saw it as a win-win situation, using the camera to inspire hope for a healthy future.

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

My first image with the new camera was symbolic of hope, which can reduce anxiety, trauma, and depression. It also helps build our resilience to get through tough times.

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

Time Line of This Chapter:

  • The Austral winter of 2017. July through until Nov.
  • The surgeon’s instructions
  • A reward
  • Finally I ski some trails, aware of two universes. Ghosts even.
  • Multitudes of diverse feelings
    • How did I feel
  • Annoying aches
  • Many tests before a diagnosis
    • Technical Stuff
  • Too many decisions needing speedy resolution (or so I thought)

The mountains of Wanaka New Zealand

Although surgery can buy time by slowing down a cancer, the recovery process was long. The surgeon’s instructions were explicit: no activity or movement, not even short walks around the house, for a month. Any exercise could cause lymphatic liquid to leak into surrounding tissue, requiring the patient to need a bag, like a colostomy bag, to drain.

All I could do for the month was look at the snow on the nearby mountains. 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

In terms of snow, New Zealand winters are relatively short. However, the initial doctor’s visit, fine-needle biopsies, and surgery in Dunedin took a few weeks, and I felt like time was running out to go cross country skiing for the season.

The only accessible area in the country was a 40-minute drive away, so as soon as my month of forced inactivity was over, and with no negative consequences, I headed up the hill.

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

I had only one decision to make: whether or not to go skiing. Walking around on foot could mean putting my foot in a hole hidden by the snow, and possibly causing damage to my small wound. While skiing reduces this risk, I could still fall. Ultimately, I decided to walk only, and left my skis and boots back home to be safe.

The area where I went for a walk was incredibly peaceful, and even the local ducks were never frightened away!

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 located on the other side of a building. As I was hobbling from my truck, a friend spotted me from the deck by the café and called out something like, “get a move on.”

When we met a few minutes later, I explained to him that I had recently undergone surgery. He immediately asked if it was prostate cancer, but I explained that it wasn’t and gave a brief explanation of the surgery I had.

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

He told me that he had gone through a tough time about 18 months earlier with his own cancer. Seeing him looking so fit and healthy was very encouraging, especially at a time when I needed it most.

As we talked, I remembered that there were others who had skied here and also had cancer but didn’t survive. Despite this, I tried to maintain a sense of humor, and a darker side emerged as I realized that I wouldn’t be meeting the deceased ones.

By the end of the season, I was pleased to find that I was skiing pretty well all over the place, despite not entering the annual Merino Muster race or helping out with marshaling as I had in previous years. I had become very aware of the importance of taking care of myself in terms of energy levels and warmth. Instead, I focused on capturing a few hundred images.

The Merino Muster race is a 42-kilometer cross-country citizens ski race, and the racers are typically of World Cup or Winter Olympic class, and mainly from overseas. I found them very inspiring, but with an average speed of 20 km/hr over that distance, I knew it wasn’t for me.

How did I feel:

After the surgery, the positive outcome was a great boost, but I felt time was running out and a need for speed. During the mandatory month of rest, I realized there was a lot to do, including planning for my family’s future, such as creating a will and noting down passwords. I also started mulling over the possible causes of the disease and had a valid theory worth exploring. Grief (Good Grief, I’d lost my health!)and a need to be less cloistered by support also arose. Realizing this was a turning point, I wanted to handle many aspects solo. Each individual to us all.

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

In the latter part of the 2017 Austral winter, my fitness improved dramatically, and I was even able to indulge in my favorite activity of solo ski touring under a full moon. My body and mind loved not having to support a tumor! Additionally, the new camera I had acquired proved to be winter-friendly.

Technical Stuff:

Following my surgery, I received comprehensive care from our health system, which made me feel like royalty.

🔎 The analysis of my removed groin tumor took some time, and I was eventually called to the oncology/hematology department in Dunedin, where the results were disclosed.
At the same time, I was adjusting to a persistent “aching” sensation in my lymphatic system, which runs from my groin to my neck/head and lacks a pump, unlike our circulatory system. I began to realize that engaging in upper body exercises would be beneficial for me.

Decisions I Faced During Treatment:

One of my biggest anxieties during my cancer treatment was deciding who to tell. I debated when to tell my son, but he found out accidentally when he met my friend Robyn on the street in Dunedin after she dropped me off for my first fine needle biopsy.

As time went on, I grew tired of my own story and realized that I didn’t want to treat my cancer as a battle. My doctor explained that patients who adopt a certain level of acceptance tend to have better outcomes. So, I chose a path of “non-passive acceptance.”

If someone were to ask my advice on fighting cancer, I would recommend deciding how much energy to expend. It’s important not to get consumed by the idea of fighting.

It bothers me when I hear an announcer on TV or radio say, “So-and-so died of cancer after a long battle.” This sends a negative message. For too long, the word cancer has been synonymous with impending death. However, there are many different types of cancer, and modern science and technology make remission very possible.

This highlights the problem of lumping a vast variety of cancers together in one prognosis where as  cancers can be very very different beasts. There are so many old beliefs about cancer that are cemented by our society deep into our psychi/brain…things like cancer kills, got to chop it out, …beliefs that are flawed because of the way medical science is now playing god”

Dr Jim Vause – GP emeritus

The word cancer should be banned from the dictionary”

Brian Miller – publisher author  Dunedin

Considering how our thoughts affect our immune system can be beneficial as a disease wears us down.

Summation – my “Take Home” points at the time:

  • Practice self-rewards and gratitude – that we can do this and fuel gratitude
  • Practice Hope!
  • Follow instructions from medical professionals
  • Moderate feelings of having to rush – honour resting.
  • Be reassured, others have gone before us.

If you landed on a single post instead of the Home Page then click here please to go to Home >>

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.

Chapter 3 – Treatment options to the forefront

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

Revisiting One of My Passions

After undergoing surgery to remove a tumor in my groin, I had to take a break from my usual routine and focus on recovery. Healing after surgery is best not rushed! During that time, I realized that I was adjusting to a new way of life, but I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I knew I needed to put in more work to figure it out.

After a month of rest, I was finally able to explore the mental health benefits of winter sports. My favourite: cross-country skiing. Not only is it a great way to improve physical fitness, but it also helps to eliminate negative thoughts by flooding our system with chemicals associated with joy and well-being.

Overall, I’ve found that returning to one of my passions has been instrumental in my healing process. It’s helped me to stay positive and focus on the things that matter most in life.

Time Line of This Chapter:

  • Again winter > springtime > and then into the Austral summer of 2017-18
  • Recovery from surgery – passive nothingness. Or passive passion!?!
  • Active recovery from surgery through to engaging the season and environment – enhancing mental attitudes
  • Call to adventure – destiny summons us. To a zone unknown (well actually just messing about on snow for now)
  • A surreal opening to another. A sometimes personal, sometimes benign energy everywhere that supports our journeys.
  • Bucket list stuff.
  • Feelings – one of the mob.
  • Amulets against the dragon forces – books/mentors etc.
  • The all-powerful, all encompassing entry to recovery. First sit-down, with a registrar oncologist – Dunedin Hospital based.
  • Naming something rare, with a need for speed
  • Another amulet – a cell phone number.
  • Oncology counseling referral (Dunstan Hospital in Clyde – one hour drive away).
  • What not to do!
  • A series of tests/decisions/tasks to be grappled with
  • Road blocks that delay visits to doctors
The Snow Farm, New Zealand

Initially, I skied in the vicinity of the Lodge at the Snow Farm in Cardrona, New Zealand, as I was getting used to a new camera I had acquired.

Snow Farm River Run

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

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.

Coaching at the Snow Farm, New Zealand

As I proceeded to tear up the slopes near the Lodge at the Snow Farm in Cardrona, New Zealand, I could feel a sense of normality being restored. I couldn’t quite remember if I had told any of my skiing buddies about what I had been going through. Nevertheless, I was beginning to appreciate the importance of social contact as a key component of a healthy life, alongside regular exercise.

Bob Lee Hut

Before long, a perfect storm of factors came together to entice me into a little adventure: my body was feeling stronger, the full moon was out, and the weather was just right for a ski tour. I decided to make the most of the opportunity.

I arrived at my favourite Bob Lee hut just as the sun was setting, giving me the chance to take some stunning photos. After that, I enjoyed a late meal and prepared for my journey back in the darkness, guided by the rising moonlight.

Skiddo at the Snow Farm, Cardrona, New Zealand

However, a significant event occurred on my way to Bob Lee. One of my friends who works at the ski area saw me and stopped on her skidoo. She had noticed a change in my energy and demeanor and asked if everything was okay.

Without thinking, I found myself blurting out the whole story – or at least a shortened version of it. Looking back on that surreal moment, I realized that sharing my experience in an unexpected setting was actually quite therapeutic and helped me to process my emotions.

The Dart River in Mt Aspiring National
Park. Entering Lake Wakatipu.

All too soon, the snow began to recede as spring arrived. I decided to take advantage of the warmer weather and traveled extensively throughout the lower South Island. I was determined to check off items on my bucket list and have some fun along the way.

Martyr Saddle. Where there is a viewpoint overlooking the Cascade Valley. South Westland
A World Heritage site

How did I feel:

Feeling like one of the mob dispossessed of health, I experienced a profound sense of grief over the loss of my well-being. Despite feeling vulnerable, I also noticed a growing sense of calm within me. I had an inclination to not become attached to anything and to remain an empty vessel.

To achieve this state, I found it helpful to treat all incoming information as provisional and to avoid becoming too opinionated. I realized that being opinionated does not necessarily engender a sense of contentment – but I also recognized that this is just my personal opinion.

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

During my time working for the Department of Conservation and NZ Alpine Club at Aspiring Hut in the National Park of the same name, I had the pleasure of meeting a few wonderful families who were enjoying their vacation in some great weather. Among them was a gentleman who had designed his own electric wheelchair and made the journey to the hut in it – a remarkable achievement!

We stayed in touch through Facebook, and one day, he noticed a picture I had posted and asked if he could use it as the cover for his new book. I was thrilled 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.

If you’re looking for an uplifting and inspiring book “The Art of Recovery” is one I highly recommend. Published by the NZ Spinal Trust

House Keeping Stuff with a Technical Flavour:

🔎 In the spring of 2017, I was summoned to Dunedin Hospital and met with a registrar who was a newcomer in training. I had been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was at Stage 4A. I was given a life expectancy of 37 months until “curtain time,” and I sympathized with the messenger who had to deliver the news.

Our first discussion was brief, and I could tell that he was still learning. He presented two treatment options along with extensive documentation. However, I felt a sense of urgency and wanted to expedite the process.

The first option was the Nordic Protocol, a rigorous treatment that required me to spend a few nights in the hospital every 28-day cycle. The second was a milder option. The prospect of spending time in the hospital was overwhelming, so I opted to not think much about this for the moment.

During the meeting, an experienced nurse was present, and at the end of it, she gave me her cell phone number. We agreed to text messaging as a form of support, and I felt relieved knowing that I could reach out to her whenever I needed to. It was a wonderful gesture that sent a strong signal of care and support, which is critical for healing.

I was also advised not to Google my disease, and it turned out to be wise advice. Instead, I was provided with appropriate URLs linked to well-balanced and reliable information about my condition.

What not to do:

As I sit here, I’m reminded of something that my local doctor mentioned to me, and it’s crucial to share.

When we receive a diagnosis and develop a plan of action with the help of specialists, we often make significant changes to our lifestyle or diet. But despite our best efforts, the disease can continue to progress, and we may feel like we haven’t done enough or let ourselves down.

It’s important to remember that our thoughts can significantly influence our immune system. So, it’s essential to avoid beating ourselves up and to recognize that sometimes, even with our best efforts, the disease may continue to progress. The key is to keep a positive mindset and do everything we can to support our bodies and minds in the healing process.

It’s also important to seek support from loved ones, friends, and medical professionals who can provide guidance and encouragement. Remember, healing is a journey, and it’s okay to take one step at a time and adjust our approach as needed.

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, be kind to yourself and seek out the help and support you need. And always remember that your thoughts and attitude can make a significant difference in your healing journey.

Decisions I decided to make:

I started meditation. Athletes have used visualisation techniques for many years to great advantage. I’ll write more about this topic later.

During my treatment, there were many decisions to make. Time seemed to be of the essence, and the idea was to prepare for a rough ride – to either get well or otherwise.

One item was at the top of my list: how to handle many possible nights in the hospital during treatment (if I chose the more intense one on offer)!?

When I was younger, I spent an extraordinary amount of time in the hospital for unknown reasons. Although I don’t have any personal photos of that 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. The faces trigger some hazy memories! It wasn’t all bad, but it was confusing. I was dropped off at the door amongst strangers by my parents, there were rigid visiting hours, and scary smelly unknown things all around. I felt trapped!

Back then, this experience created an unsettling sense of abandonment, even though my parents were very loving (and this can cause dissociation). The experience often involved sharing a room with four beds with older men. One was there for a quick surgery, another for a few days to establish a diagnosis, and the other to die. Even as a young child, I could tell which was which!

The sense of establishing a victim mentality was something I had not bought into, a long time ago. These experiences have made me who I am, and for this, I am grateful. No one has had a perfect childhood, and mine was pretty damn good compared to many.

So, I decided that counselling would be a good idea. I texted my new nurse and asked for some local recommendations. Her reply was, “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). In due course, I found myself getting the help and insights I needed.

Looking back, this decision was the best one I made during this rushed period. It triggered a deep sense of appreciation, out of which flowed self 💗 love and the very seeds of a few possible ideas.

Is pushing through mentally – Good or Bad?

In the pursuit of our goals, it’s common to encounter obstacles that can push us to our limits physically and mentally. For many, the instinct is to grit their teeth and push through the pain to achieve their objectives. However, is this approach always the best for our health and well-being?

Careys Hut in winter.

A personal experience highlighted this question for me. Several weeks before my diagnosis, I went on a mountain biking trip with a close friend to Mavora Lakes in northern Southland. Despite my physical struggles during the trip, I attributed it to age and pushed through it. Looking back, I realized that this was not the right approach.

The track was very muddy and wet

It dawned on me that individuals who are not as physically inclined as I am would have likely stopped or sought medical attention if they didn’t feel well. Instead, I had gritted my teeth and pushed through the pain, which had cost me valuable time. However, the experience did help me later on when I had to engage my mental strength to overcome the challenges that came with my diagnosis.

So, is pushing through mentally good or bad for your health? The answer is not straightforward. There are times when pushing through can lead to positive results, especially when facing challenges that require mental strength. However, there are also situations when pushing through can lead to long-term negative consequences, especially when dealing with physical ailments.

Therefore, it’s important to listen to your body and know when to push through and when to take a break or seek medical attention. Sometimes, pushing through can be harmful, and we need to know when to take a step back to avoid further damage to our health.

In conclusion, while pushing through mentally can be advantageous in certain situations, it’s crucial to strike a balance between mental and physical health. We should learn to recognize the signs of when to push through and when to rest and seek medical attention. Ultimately, our health should always be our top priority.

Take Home” Points on Living with a Chronic Illness:

Living with a chronic illness can be a challenging experience. It can impact every aspect of your life, from your physical health to your emotional well-being. Through my own experience, I have gathered some take-home points that I hope can be helpful to others who may be going through a similar situation.

  • Follow your passion: Pursue what makes you happy and fulfilled, no matter what it is. It can provide a sense of purpose and joy in life.
  • Unloading to an empathetic other is okay: Choose wisely who you confide in, and don’t hesitate to seek support and comfort from those you trust.
  • Bucket lists are good fun: Create a list of things you’ve always wanted to do and make an effort to achieve them, no matter how small or big they are.
  • Acknowledge grief: Allow yourself to feel and process grief as it comes. Don’t fight it or suppress it, as it can make things worse.
  • Desist Googling: Avoid using the internet as a substitute for professional medical advice. Instead, read good books for ideas and inspiration, as they usually have professional editors.
  • Ease into treatment options: Take your time to explore your options and make informed decisions. Treating them provisionally can be calming and help ease anxiety.
  • Don’t be hard on “self”: If the disease progresses, don’t blame yourself, even if you have made significant changes to your lifestyle and beliefs.
  • Seek counseling: If you feel that you need additional support or guidance, consider seeking counseling from a licensed professional who can help you cope with the emotional and mental toll of the illness.
  • Get regular health checks: As we age, it’s important to get regular health checks, even for things that seem small or insignificant. Mention any oddities or changes in your health that you may have previously ignored or attributed to aging.

In conclusion, living with a chronic illness is not easy, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. Seeking support, taking care of your emotional and mental health, and making informed decisions can make a significant difference in how you manage the illness and your quality of life.

If you landed on a single post instead of the Home Page then click here please to go to Home >>

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.

All photos on this site are my own. With the very odd exception, and attribution is acknowledged on them where possible. To see/ purchase photos from my wanderings, they’re at PicFair >>

Chapter 4 – Reflections on the Cancer Journey

We rush, rush and wait. And then if gifted “wait and watch”, we could choose scarcity and bankruptcy of the soul, as the years thunder by. Devoid of hope. But if we “see” a road to abundance of spirit, which would you take?

Rush, Rush, and Wait

Meadow Hut, Snow Farm cross ski area, New Zealand

As I looked back on my journey, I realized that it had been as much about mental health and well-being as it had been about the physical aspects of cancer.

In August 2021, I celebrated four years on this journey, and it gave me time to reflect on the pivotal stages of my journey.

Time Line of This Chapter:

This is where the chronological style of this tale now deviates briefly into about four years of reflection. And what manifested!

  • The role of my local Snow Farm
    • Celebrating four winters of cross country skiing, (while dealing with the Unknown for the first three).
    • Skiing in balance
    • Reviewing the above mentioned winters 2017 through to 2021 – each an anniversary of sorts.
  • Finding assurance while being photographed in Arrowtown.
  • And then back to the present time of this posting…
  • Meeting my oncologist, and nurse for the journey
    • Introduction to the art of diagnosis and my first “clinic”
  • Art in hospitals.
  • Urgency… what urgency! A change of pace, and it’s challenges
    • Rushing then Waiting and Watching.
  • Back to the drawing board and the gift of time.

The journey into the metaphysical begins…

  • The role of creativity – recommended read. And a dive into art…
  • Attitudes to explore
    • Countering The Denial of Death tendencies.
  • On going decisions relating to 2017.
  • Some church humor.
  • Take-home points.
Snow Farm cross ski area, New Zealand

My favourite winter place and activity is the Snow Farm cross country skiing area, which is located in the nearby Cardrona Valley. It has been at the center of each pivotal stage of my cancer journey, and I have had a 20-year love affair with the place. The mountains, the great snow, learning new skills, and especially the nurturing component of the mountains are all things that I love. Hanging out with the same people every winter is also very special.

Here are my reflections on the theme of each winter since 2017:

Snow Farm cross ski area, New Zealand

2017: It was in the car park four years ago that I phoned my local doctor for my first appointment, with a lump in my groin being the motivation. That same winter, it was the place where I came to terms with mortality as I worked at regaining my mountain mojo post-surgery.

Flags, Snow Farm cross ski area, New Zealand

2018: I toured about less with less energy than normal. Enjoying my usual catch up with friends of various nationalities was on track though. That winter became the time to see what I could handle during waiting and watching. The disease seemed to be taking hold though!

2019: It was “game on.” Orchestrated to perfection! What better time than early winter to begin treatment. The whole of the ski area became my place of refuge and escapism. I experimented with what was possible during treatment, skiing about four days out of every seven. Weather permitting, of course, and between monthly visits to Dunedin.

As I reflect on my journey, I realized that the cancer journey has been a mix of rush, rush, and wait.

Please don’t get the idea I was pushing myself a lot during treatment. I’d decided on the exact opposite. I’ve seen other people’s attempts to do what they’ve always done, and noted they end up looking like death warmed up. Being blown over by the merest breeze came to mind. No, I listened to my body. I recommend never going far without a break. Eating well, honoring hydration, and keeping warm must be priorities. Be grateful, honoring the body, and especially morale!

Ski tracks, grooming, Snow Farm cross ski area, New Zealand

Improving Balance on Skis – A Lesson from a Friend

Mary, one of my good friends, noted that I spent a lot of time looking at my ski tips while skiing (or rather shuffling under the influence of treatments). This has never been good for balance. Try walking and balancing on a single railway line while looking at your feet! I was very grateful for her observations. From then on, I endeavored to look into the middle distance, at where I wanted to go.

Full moon, Snow Farm cross ski area, New Zealand
Moonlight on the Snow Farm, New Zealand

2020: Was all about seeing what I could do. Treatments continued but in a milder form. The timing of trips to Dunedin Hospital and snow/weather conditions were in conflict, and I missed the best of the skiing, except for a full-moon solo ski.

The Lodge, Snow Farm cross ski area, New Zealand
Close friends!

2021: This past winter was a time of celebration. I went for it early! “Good thinking,” I thought, as New Zealand’s second COVID lockdown occurred exactly when the snow conditions were perfect. Groan! Wanaka skiers (and businesses) went into mourning!

Sunset on snow. Snow Farm cross ski area, New Zealand

A few weeks later, I had the chance to catch up with Mary again and we discussed my skiing technique. I admitted that during my treatments, I tended to focus on my ski tips and didn’t look too far ahead. I explained that during that time, I didn’t want to think too much about the future and preferred to live in the present moment.

Now it’s time to continue the story chronologically…

I often go on photography trips with a close doctor friend in Invercargill. For a while, he had been interested in taking my portrait.

A few days before my first clinic appointment with the specialist oncologist in Dunedin in 2017, he called me and suggested we meet in Arrowtown’s historic Chinese gold mining area, an hour’s drive away.

The restored Arrowtown Police Hut, built in 1863.

I laughed at his suggestion and accused him of hurrying up the photoshoot before my hair fell out due to potential pending chemo treatment.

◀ The restored Arrowtown Police Hut, built in 1863. It is a couple of minutes walk from the Chinese settlement buildings

We met on the appointed day and had a good session. Afterward, over coffee nearby, he looked me in the eye and, after a well-timed delay, said, “You’re going to be okay.” This coming from a very experienced physician meant the world to me. It was then that I realized I was on the road to learning about the multifaceted art and science of diagnosing.

Dunedin from Flagstaff

Two days after my initial diagnosis, I was on my way to Dunedin to find out more about my upcoming treatment options. I was feeling a mix of emotions – nervous, scared, and uncertain about what lay ahead.

I was scheduled to have my first clinic with my oncologist, whom I now affectionately refer to as “Lovely L….” since she has been so supportive throughout my journey. At the time, I thought of these clinics as meetings until I learned more about what was involved.

I knew that this first appointment would be the start of a long process of consultations, tests, and discussions about my treatment options. It was clear that things were about to get real, and I was both anxious and hopeful about what the future held.

How I Felt During My First Real Clinic

As I made my way to my first real clinic on my medical journey, I realized that everything I had gone through up to that point was simply a prelude to what was to come – the crossing of the first threshold.

Upon entering the waiting room, I couldn’t help but notice the dozen or so distressed-looking couples coming and going in the space of twenty minutes. Perhaps it was just my timing, but it seemed that I was the only one present who was feeling well and fit – relative to the occasion, that is. As I sat there, I found myself having a “poor me/why me, when I’ve lived well” moment, but I quickly banished those thoughts from my mind. It was hard to ignore the evidence of obesity in the room, however.

Despite my initial anxiety, the admin team for the healthcare specialists were incredibly welcoming, making me feel like royalty as they rolled out the red carpet for me. They were fully present, and their warmth helped to alleviate my concerns.

As my oncologist appeared, walking down the corridor with a welcoming smile on her face, I knew that I was in the best of hands. We began with a refinement of my diagnosis, starting with a discussion of my gait and overall demeanor and fitness. While my medical history was only hearsay up to this point, I was confident that my oncologist would be thorough and professional.

The questioning was rigorous and detailed, but I felt fully acknowledged and listened to. My cell phone accessible nurse was also present, which gave me a sense of reassurance. It was easy to miss important details in the heat of the moment, but having multiple professionals present helped me to feel more confident and secure.

All things considered, my first real clinic was a positive experience, and I felt well-cared for by the healthcare professionals who were supporting me. I was confident that they would present me with the very best treatment options available, and that gave me a sense of hope and reassurance. Overall, it was a step forward on my medical journey, and I was grateful for the support I received.

The Dunedin Hospital is fortunate to have a stunning collection of art, including these beautiful stained glass pieces located in the eye department. While I don’t know the name of the artist, the impact of their work is undeniable. And very relevant to the patient experience.

For those who are waiting, undergoing treatment, recovering, or facing the end of life, art can be a powerful tool for healing.

The subtle, subliminal effects of visual art in the healthcare environment can have a profound impact on our emotions and state of mind, helping us to find moments of calm and reflection in the midst of difficult times.

Healing is not always a linear process, but the presence of art in hospital waiting rooms and treatment areas can offer a sense of solace and support to patients and their loved ones. I am grateful for the thoughtful and intentional way that art is incorporated into the healthcare environment, and the positive impact that it has on patients and their families.

I love their philosophy of treating the patient’s personas; spiritual, emotional and physical! And of course, lets not forget the other visitors, such as family and loved ones. People waiting for news and giving love and support. A positive environment full of emotional support is of benefit to all!

via a Google hunt for researcher Roger Ulrich >>>

The British Medical Journal says, “Art is able to provide solace, exhilaration, and satisfaction in a huge variety of
different forms. Above all it is able to humanize a building, infusing an often soulless and impersonal environment
with affirmation…many critical moments in our lives occur there—from birth through to death—and they ought to
take place in surroundings which honor their true significance.”

The effect of the art resonated with my beginnings of a plan. A several points path to wellness (see below)!

The Nitty Gritty of My First Clinic:

🔬 As I mentioned earlier, I felt like I was under a new microscope during my first clinic. I was prepared with my story, having texted my nurse about my engagement in seasonal activities like cross-country skiing. I enjoyed sharing my fun time follies with her.

But then it was time to listen to my specialist. She shared that an immediate start to treatment would involve putting poisonous chemicals in my body, and recommended we wait and watch for now. I was relieved and grateful for her advice, given the pressure that drug companies can exert in situations like these. Research into lifestyle and alternative treatments can be slow, as there is little financial incentive for drug companies.

This was a turning point for me. I began to see my disease as something I might live with, rather than die from. It was at this clinic that my specialist first spoke to me about “the power of the mind” in a tone that captured my attention. It was an open statement, delivered with a sense of certainty that piqued my curiosity and made me eager to learn more.

Overall, the clinic was a positive experience. I felt heard and understood, and left with a sense of hope and possibility for the future. I knew that there would be challenges ahead, but I was ready to face them with a new perspective and a renewed sense of purpose. 💗

The idea of going from a sense of urgency, whether for treatment or to tidy up one’s affairs, is common in various fields. It’s a familiar pattern of rush, rush, rush, and then wait. This concept also applies to situations like using aircraft in mountains for dropping off, picking up, or re-supplying. In these scenarios, the urgency to complete the mission is high, but the wait times can be long and unpredictable. It can be a test of patience, mental fortitude, and the ability to adapt to unexpected circumstances.

Squirrel helicopter picking up trampers, Otago, New Zealand
A one to two hour wait is on-the-cards in NZ
C130 Hercules, Antarctica
Simply because the weather has to cooperate at the take off point, the destination, and back at the take off point. Over perhaps ten to fourteen hours.
In Antarctica schedule three to ten days!

So, back to the drawing board!

I was surprised that I had the luxury of “waiting and watching.” This brought a new level of perception, and my initial plans were derailed.

Within days, I felt overwhelmed with loving advice from friends, such as “Donald, you must see so-and-so,” or “do such-and-such.” However, following every lead would be beyond my energy and time capabilities.

The gift of time on a cancer journey is precious, and this was my second dose of it, the first being the tumor removal surgery. After taking a deep breath, I decided to take broadly speaking, three courses of action:

  1. Embrace the health system and the science.
  2. Tend towards decision-making from the heart, alongside taking the advice of professionals. Never entertain fear.
  3. Construct a plan consisting of about 10 points, with a goal of ten percent quality for each.

Creativity was the obvious first candidate to ramp up the power of the mind. I began thinking, “it’s currently at about six percent of capacity, so let’s get it up to ten!

We all of course have more than one creative avenue. But having a head-start I went with photography. (Noting here that this blog also fits!)

Which of course ties in with doing more in the great outdoors! Another point to aim for a full ten percent in.

◀ My above mentioned doctor friend using my camper Turtle, for his tripod base. Near Poolburn Dam/Reservoir in Central Otago

Discovering the Power of Art through Joseph Campbell’s Wisdom

“Art is the set of wings to carry you out of your own entanglement”
Joseph Campbell (acclaimed mythologist and author).

Meaning that an illness can mean we become entangled with it. Identify with it. Where it becomes our all dominating story.

Recommended Reading…

Very useful and fascinating information for the beginning of my wellness journey! And written only for eBook (as far as I know), in his 80th or so year. Shortly after he passed.

I first came across him as a teenager when he was the subject of a TV doco series. Then more recently, his teachings, on a writing course.

His chapter on art is fascinating. And concepts of mythology can help us predict our future even.

◀Available at Apple’s iBook and perhaps for Kindle (no I’m not on a commission!)

The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and The Hero’s Journey, are two of his most well known works.

“Living in the Sacred” is one of my favourite and most intriguing chapters in the book mentioned above. Joseph Campbell makes some fascinating points about the relationship between art and illusion. One aspect that particularly resonates with me is the first feeling I have when I’m exposed to great art. Campbell describes it well, and you may have experienced it yourself when seeing one of my photos in this blog or spending time in some of the world’s great art galleries. It’s a split-second experience of “arrest” before your mind begins to interpret what you’ve seen, heard, or felt. It’s a moment where language fails us, and the awareness moment can be learned by unlearning ingrained beliefs.

However, there is a flip side to the “arrest”. Although I’m not prone to anxiety, I do experience the negative side of an arrest for the same split second. It could be triggered by a phone call or email subject, a grumpy client, an unexpected expense, or a loved one directing fear towards us. Or in the even worst case of a trauma stored subconsciously. In these moments, I experience scarcity for anything from one second to a minute, and sometimes even longer. These brief experiences release chemicals that compromise our immune system, which can be harmful.

Nullifying these quick gut reactions is ongoing work for me. The value of doing so is significant. The awareness moment of great art is something that I always want to experience, not the subsequent tagging. Although I have tried to learn the technique of creating tension in composition through photography, it’s the split-second moment that I find most valuable.

RIP! With a sad Sayonara

If we dwell on the above!

I want to be clear here though.

Positivity is no guarantee of survival!

But it is known to make us happier.

◀ It’s easy to feel stagnant, despair, and become overwhelmed when we focus on the photo to the left as an outcome of a diagnosis. It can feel like an almost immediate demise.

We might even contemplate giving up and not bothering to try, despite all the advancements and improvements in our world. We may have been born into a tough situation, put ourselves there, or had it thrust upon us, in a world where a scarcity-based mindset can prevail, if we allow it.

But the good news is that we can transform our lives when we decide to focus on gratitude and make small changes to develop a sincere trust in life and the future.

We are part of an unfolding story, and we can be the author who determines the point – the end game. It can be one of contentment fused with happiness, or a hero’s journey of adventure, even leading to death.

It’s not about being positive but rather a change in thinking, where we take wisdom from the past and bless our future so that it never becomes an angst in our past.

An uptick of self awareness – an engagement of the executive brain that brings balance to the lower reptilian primal urges will serve us well!

This is very important to keep in mind – it is too easy to have an apocalyptic vision of the future. This type of unhealthy fear (unhappy even), be it even of a split second’s worth of residency has consequences! Adrenaline is ever-ready to rev us up. Which in turn mobilises an immune response – when there is no need!

An adrenaline deployment is better suited to the surprise company of a grumpy dog with rabies.

The Unknown will probably start out in the guise of fear. Then progress to an uneasy acceptance. It will be your friend once it is welcomed. Then it becomes a place to store processed thoughts, and dreams – letting them go. Once there in the company of infinite probabilities, sooner or later one of them will ultimately slow down in frequency as energy…and come back into three dimensions as matter.

Anyway back to decisions I thought I had to make back in 2017:

How much time daily to devote to examining options, and which to discard. In a daily time-table that now had to feature distinct periods of relaxation.

What should my ten point plan feature?

How to mentally handle waiting and watching!

Lastly perspective born of history can not only teach us valuable lessons. Humor is inherent in everything…

The Serpentine Church, Central Otago, New Zealand

Cost £100. Contributed by the diggers.

The first service is described as follows: “The minister being late the congregation of miners, after waiting for some time, went down to the hotel for refreshments and drank deeply to keep out the keen July air, keener than ever at this altitude.

The service opened with a well-known psalm and an encore was demanded by the congregation. The preacher after expressing very strong disapproval, went on with the service which was however abbreviated”

Not many services were held because of the small number of inhabitants, and the difficulty of access.

It stands at an altitude of 3100 feet – when built the highest church in New Zealand.

Summation – My “Take Home” Points:

  • Seek the company of positive and reassuring friends over those who are not so inclined. Focusing solely on our own positivity may be less productive.
  • Trust professionals – this frees up energy.
  • Consider the hospital environment and how to engage its potential for wellness.
  • Learn to leverage the power of the mind.
  • Dare to dream – rushing will slow down, and we can develop a set of wings to enter the path to wellness.
  • Monitor self-thoughts – be an eagle on the shoulder, watching and whispering wisdom in our ear, or a butterfly or a ruru/morepork. Work our imaginations!
  • Look for humor and gratitude everywhere.

If you landed on a single post instead of the Home Page then click here please to go to Home >>

The next post/chapter will be titled something like, “The Long Night of the Soul”

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.

All photos on this site are my own. With the very odd exception, and attribution is acknowledged on them where possible. To see/ purchase photos from my wanderings, they’re at PicFair >>

Translate »