This is a topic very close to the hearts of many of our staff at MVM. Dr Dale Garred, one of our female GPs, shares her own families experience to help raise awareness and remind patients’ and their families going through any challenging times … to always have hope.
I was in a post honeymoon bliss. We were building our dream home, our wedding was more than a success and I was getting back into the swing of work after 2 weeks of ‘living it up’ as newly weds. Life was ‘Zen’. Then came the day that Cancer got rudely thrust into my family’s life.
It wasn’t as though I was cancer naïve. I work in general practice and shared peoples own cancer journeys all the time. I shared their triumphs and shed tears with them…but even with it constantly in my face – I foolishly assumed we were immune. As though patients I saw were simply characters in my movie….stuff like that didn’t actually happen in real life did it?
I remember the day all too well. I was at work an hour from home, it was the afternoon. I had probably been daydreaming through the day (in between patients of course) about what bathroom tiles to select or which white wall paint would look better – Lexicon ½ or Lexicon ¼? Details that I would soon realise were utterly meaningless. Then I got the ‘wake up call’ of my life. That phone call that helps to put everything in perspective.
I could hear my phone humming from under my desk. I even felt frustrated that someone would be calling so insistently during the day while I was trying to work. Then my desk phone also started buzzing.
“It’s your Dad on the phone and he insisted we put him through…..”
I think that was the exact moment – the moment all the clouds turned grey. My parents respected my work, even if they had won the lotto (they’re still trying) – they would have waited until the end of the day to tell me – so I knew this call meant something was wrong.
I could hear my dad crying down the phone. I immediately thought that someone must have died, or there had been a car accident – I still feel grateful that this was not the case. ‘Mum has Ovarian Cancer…is that bad’ is what he said. I knew from his interrupted tears that he didn’t need me to answer the question.
Choking back my own tears – within minutes – I was on my way back home. Perhaps the longest hour of my life…tears streaming down my face. I wished I didn’t know what an Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis meant. I wished I wasn’t a doctor. I wished I knew nothing. I pleaded with the universe that whole drive home. “Please let it be an early diagnosis”. But my medical brain knew it wasn’t. I knew my mum had seen the GP that week for some symptoms she had…and I also knew that generally by the time symptoms develop in Ovarian Cancer, that it was generally advanced.
A GP appointment that afternoon confirmed my fears. It wasn’t an early diagnosis. There was a football sized tumour in her pelvis and she was riddled with metastases. I knew the GP well – and whilst she relayed the information to my family, we exchanged unspoken glances – she knew, that I knew, what no one wanted to think or say.
My mum had had some nonspecific symptoms that lead to her diagnosis. Some bloating and some mild reflux was about it. I am so grateful that that day she saw a great GP who listened. Someone not complacent, someone thorough who asked all the right questions and arranged follow up. This was a diagnosis that could easily have been missed. Her symptoms could easily have been dismissed, but weren’t.
Months of chemo and surgery followed. On paper, the prospects were grim. To put my doctor hat on and quote statistics – she had a 5% 5 year survival rate. This meant that 5 % of people with this diagnosis would be alive at 5 years. If you’re a betting family – you would know that these aren’t good odds.
There were many days were I got caught up in these statistics. Many days that I despaired. They were based on years of evidence, they were given to me by my colleagues – there were few stories that defied them. Astonishingly – my Mum did. It has been 5 years now since her Diagnosis…and on paper, she should be dead.
This has taught me the most valuable lesson in life but also in my career. As doctors, with all the evidence we have…we don’t always know everything…people do and CAN defy the odds. It taught me to have hope, even when it seems as though there is no hope to have.
My experience leaves me wanting to give you two take home messages -1. If you have symptoms that you notice – mention them and make sure you have a doctor that listens. And two, above all….always….