Dodging the bullet – part 1
“So what are the odds?”
“60% survival in 5 years” he said. It was not good news, but he didn’t beat around the bush and he offered a means of beating the odds.
“ I’ve seen head and neck surgery back in the late 70’s and it wasn’t a pretty sight” I was pretty dubious. In those days a flap from your shoulder was grafted in place of the missing jaw and you sat in ICU for weeks. Not a pretty sight and survival was not good.
“Things have progressed since then. We take a free flesh graft from your arm or leg and micrograft a vein and artery into the blood supply of your face. Survival rate from surgery is about 95%“
Well, that sounds a bit better I thought and the quiet professionalism and honesty of this ENT surgeon was making an impression. I could work with this man I thought. Up until now, I’d only had a diagnosis that had made me contemplate the most painless way to shuffle off my perch. Here was a lifeline.
“You’ll need radiotherapy afterwards. It’s best if we take out your teeth as they’ll be affected by the radiation” Well my teeth were rotten anyway and it was my persistence at pursuing the lack of healing following the removal of a wisdom tooth that meant that we had got it early.
“Your lucky in that respect.” It had only spread into my lymph glands in the last month or so and since I’d moved across the demarcation line from dentistry to medicine things had been moving fast.
“We’ll get dentures for you in 12 months time” Something to look forward too.
So I went home for two weeks and threw myself into an intensive program of Chi Kung and prayer. For the last 5 years I’d been coming to terms with the manic depression that had ruled my life. Up until I had sought counselling I had ridden the ups and downs through of political activism interspersed with black periods of despair softened by alcohol and marijuana. I’d given up cigarettes 20 years ago and gave up alcohol as part of my personal deal to seek counselling and I had been ‘quitting’ dope, having longer and longer dry periods during my counselling. So that by the beginning of this year I had enrolled in university and I was set upon reinventing myself. I had learnt to control my agitation by self medicating with Valproate after going through the retinue of antidepressants.
But nothings ever easy and postponing my exams to have surgery seemed like the least of my problems and deciding to never touch dope again was the easiest of decisions. There is something about the threat of imminent death that sharpens the mind wonderfully. I threw myself into finishing off my essays and coursework. I managed to get into a recording studio for 2 hours and record 19 original songs before I lost my teeth and worse. I’d had numerous goes over the years and always given up because I couldn’t stay in tune or stumbled over a beat. This time I didn’t care it was just get them down it’s now or never.
In the last few days before I left for Perth, I managed to get up an exhibition of a selection of never seen paintings from 1840. They’re 65 water colours done by Robert Neil of fish and snakes caught with the assistance of half a dozen Noongar men. Each drawing had the Noongar name for the fish, as well as the Latin name, and where he knew it the sealer’s name and the settler’s name. 4 different languages came together. It had taken me several years to track them down and get them photographed in the British Museum. There full publication is a project for a cancer survivor.
I was as ready as anybody could be to dodge the bullet.