I find the cancer experience is a juggling act. Blinded with science from the Internet, doctors, and even the neighbor over the fence or down the hall, I have also my own fears and illusions to contend with. The hope is, that I can get by, trusting in my own insight and intuition. But my further concern is “do I have cancer, or not?”

A few months ago I had an operation on a “low grade cancerous” tumor in my inner thigh near my right knee. The orthopedic surgeon skillfully removed it all with clear margins, and without undue damage to muscle or nerve.

However I was worried about the radiation treatment to follow, which was to be every weekday for five weeks. I saw radiation as a blunt instrument capable of causing injury without guarantee of cure. After a month of rest for healing of the operation wound, I was to have an appointment to plan the radiation treatment.

There I was told astounding news. The pathology tests could not show conclusively that there was cancer present. Radiation was postponed and the tissue sent away for a genetic profile test.

This topped twenty-five years of uncertainty. I discovered the first lump in 1983, at age thirty-four, and that same year had it removed. The surgeon came to my hospital bedside after the op, and said that I was ok, it was benign, I’d live to be a hundred. However after I returned home, he rang me to say further scrutiny had shown it was not all right, I was to come in to talk about more extensive surgery and radiation. He told me the lump was hard to diagnose, but potentially a high-grade malignancy.

I went to the radiation treatment rooms in the bowels of the hospital to meet with him and the head of radiology. The latter was mystified and angry when I baulked at more treatment. I asked them how long I had before things became “dire” without treatment. The estimation was two years, which for some reason, although very scary, did not sway me. I found and joined the CISS.

Back then meetings were held in the lovely home of a member in Hunters Hill. We gathered there on Saturdays in the spacious sunny living room, some lining up for the popular psychic healer who gave his time for a donation. It was a place where we could find information on alternative treatments, borrow from a small library, and share with others if wished.

I became a vegetarian and tried various supplements and treatments over the next few years. The tumour returned, and the oncologist continued monitoring my progress with good grace. After a while though, the specialist visits ceased, and I stopped specific alternative treatments. The lump grew only very slowly, and it was not until around the death of my mother in 2005 that I noticed a few twinges in my muscle after strong exercise. The lump had eventually got to the size and feel of a small mango rather than a boiled egg.

I consulted a new orthopedic surgeon, the original having long retired. He referred me on to another for a second opinion who was also very patient with me, but I still managed to put off the suggested operation for over three years. They accessed the original pathology from all those years ago, and I had all the scans they wanted and a biopsy. These showed that other than in size, there had been no change over all this time, but they repeatedly stressed that it could change to ‘high grade’ at any time, with dire results. I agreed to the less radical operation indicated as a result of the second opinion.

I have always been able to wake myself each morning at the time I tell myself before sleep the night before. One night in the weeks leading up to the operation, I asked myself before sleep, whether the radiation treatment to follow would be appropriate. I woke up the next day with a cry of anguish in my mind, “No! It’s not right!”

However I continued to consider radiation treatment following the op, regardless of my instincts and inner conviction that it would be wrong and dangerous. I had strong qualms about all the test scans and contrast dyes as well.

In great fear I went to the appointment to get the results of the genetic profile. There, I was given a provisional all-clear. No radiation appropriate at this time.
This wonderful news is still sinking in.

The monitoring continues. At the most recent check-up, the surgeon turned the assessment around, declaring that ‘the pathologist, (“the top one you know”), couldn’t rule out a malignancy.’ That unsettled me a bit.

For now, I think I will cooperate with the mandated six-monthly then yearly MRI scans to monitor progress, but if the lump does grow back, I may prefer to bet on a possible further twenty-five years before the need to have it out again, rather than undergo radiation. I may not get to a hundred, but eighty-five years would be good going.