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.

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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”

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