I’m still floating in limbo, but I’m slowly finding my feet while making comics about my experiences with cancer.
I discovered I had a tumor completely out of the blue. I was a healthy 26-year-old, and I had no previous symptoms. That night, I had a seizure, and everything changed. I might not have even known about it had my girlfriend at the time not been there. As it is, I have only the vaguest of memories of her speaking to me and me being unable to communicate back. The next day, I got up and went to work despite the protestations of my girlfriend, still unaware of the seriousness of what had occurred. She and my mother showed up while I was at work. Concern etched in their faces, and I started to realize that something was possibly very wrong.
After that came the search for answers. I had a CT scan, and from those results, my doctor believed I had a stroke sometime in the past. I certainly had no memory of such a thing, but there was definitely an ominous shape on the scan. The next step was to get an MRI in order to get a clearer picture of what was going on. Once the results were in, I heard words I never thought I’d hear addressed to me,”You have a brain tumor.”
It was a week before my birthday. I feel pretty justified in saying it was the worst birthday ever. I wasn’t even allowed to drink (something that would last for a year) so I couldn’t even drown my sorrows. At this stage, no one knew how serious my tumor may or may not have been, so I was scheduled to have a biopsy to test the tissue of the brain tumor. This was my first, but certainly not my last, experience with brain surgery. Physically, it wasn’t so bad; I recovered quickly, despite having a small seizure shortly after. Thankfully, it would be the final seizure so far.
The tumor turned out to be an astrocytoma, one of the more common brain tumors for people in my age group. It was grade two, so thankfully benign, but the doctors warned me that it likely wouldn’t always stay that way. They decided to remove as much of it as they could in what is called ‘de-bulking’ surgery. Unfortunately, my tumor is what’s called a diffuse tumor, which means its edges are not clearly defined. Removing it all was impossible; to do so would mean removing part of my healthy brain, which obviously is not particularly desirable.
The surgery was decided, but it wasn’t going to happen immediately. My tumor was not deemed urgent due to its benign nature, so I had to wait for my surgery. I was put on a waiting list and ended up waiting about nine months. After several infuriating delays, the date of my surgery finally arrived. My head was shaved, and I was ready to be cut open. While I had been told the chance of any brain damage was low, I still felt a shiver of fear as I was put under. Then I was awake. It felt as if no time had passed at all. Unfortunately, I was to have the same exact experience the next day. A scan showed I had some blood pooling inside my skull, so it was back to the operating theatre to pop open my head once again. Knocked out, my eyes opened seemingly seconds later. The sanctity of my skull breached once again. The following week was painful, more than anything before or since. Decent painkillers were largely withheld due to the concern that if something was wrong, I might be too drugged to notice, yet I survived the ordeal and hobbled out of the hospital and onto the road to recovery.
In early 2016, an MRI showed signs of my tumor shifting up to grade three, and with it that horrible word, malignant. At this stage, I was living in Japan and had a biopsy at a Japanese hospital. My Japanese ability is reasonable, but my knowledge of Japanese medical jargon is not. It was a stressful experience. They wanted to dive back in and once again perform de-bulking surgery. I decided to return to Australia for treatment and ended up choosing to remain there. Furthermore, my Australian surgeon didn’t feel surgery was the best option for me, so I ended up just having radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
I’ve been living with this for around seven years now. I’ve experienced two biopsies, one major surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. I’m still floating in limbo, but I’m slowly finding my feet while making comics about my experiences with cancer. I’m an optimistic person, but I walk a mental tightrope between optimism and realism. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but despite everything, I’ve enjoyed my life so far, and I don’t plan on stopping now.
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