My Shark Attack Scars

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Dear Critters,

Ok – so it wasn’t actually a shark …(but if you are here to see sharks, please watch some of my other sharkey encounters with Great Whites and Tiger Sharks through to draughtboard sharks and everything in between on under the ‘Video’ tab on this blog! Crazy cool!)

I was almost too busy in the fullness of life to remember that today is the first anniversary of my second major surgery to remove a large tumour from my abdomen. Two years earlier, although I was officially ‘too young’ to be diagnosed with endometrial cancer, I’d been given a radical hysterectomy in the hopes that this might help me to reclaim my health. Yet here I was again, my world utterly disrupted, waiting in a flimsy white gown and cap on a cold hospital gurney, ready for more life changing surgery. With recurrent Stage 3C cancer, the prognosis is even more dire and for this surgery, the stakes were higher.

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365 days can turn the deepest trauma into a merciful blur. So today I trawled through all I had written to help myself process everything before, during, and in the aftermath of that nightmarish three weeks in hospital, seeking to connect the ethereal dots between where I had been and how far I had come. Through the time-worn echoes of my own words, I relived my conflicted decision to reject chemotherapy and radiation, the intense physical post-surgery pain, and the indignity of being showered by nurses because I could do absolutely nothing for myself. I braced myself through the memory of emergency surgery six days later after my bowel ruptured violently in the night. I woke from anaesthetic to find a loathsome ileostomy, too close to forty-eight staples along my mid-line abdominal wound for any healing to occur. Nothing in my life has ever traumatised me more. A large incisional hernia remains to this day.

Intensive Care and High Dependency Units. Twenty-two days in a private hospital that my insurance wouldn’t cover – $20,000 out of pocket. Catheters and drain tubes. Blood transfusions. Six weeks unable to eat; being fed through a pick-line in an artery in my shoulder. Attached around the clock to negative pressure machines that never helped my wounds to heal. Multiple blood clots in both lungs; weeks of Clexane injections; months of the nightmare drug Warfarin.  Surgical menopause. Hypotension. Over 160 days across four hospitals, either admitted, in Emergency for chronic adhesion pain or attending for intensive wound management almost every day for five months. Five general anaesthetics and three major surgeries in less than eight months. In one 25 hour period, I was admitted five times across three hospitals.

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Still swirling in the blur: clinics and pathology centres. X-Rays, CTs, PET scans, GFRs, MRIs, INRs, colonoscopies, gastroscopies, diagnostic enemas, cardiograms, chemo education sessions, radiotherapy tattooing and planning meetings, endless meetings with GPs, surgeons, haematologists, oncologists, wound specialists, physiotherapists, stomal nurses, chaplains, psychologists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, hospital administrators … (have I left anyone or anything out???)

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And yet here I sit one year on – reflecting, writing, living. And though I am eternally grateful that my wounds have finally healed and that the dreaded ileostomy was reversed five months ago, I am not yet cancer-free. At last diagnosis, I still had one inoperable lymph node tumour, and according to my oncologist, my prognosis without the treatment I ultimately refused is bleak. But today I am celebrating a significantly greater quality of life than I could possibly have imagined a year ago today. I take full responsibility for my health and I work hard at getting myself well. I am able to work part-time and I dive as often as I can, believing with all my heart that a steady course of nutrition, ocean therapy and laughter can help me to regain and sustain my health.

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Yet despite what any kind strangers may tell me, I am neither strong nor inspirational. Every ounce of strength I have, I have drawn from my faith in God and from those in my life who cared enough to step up and be there for me. My beautiful family and friends were an incredible support network for me, and without them I would surely now be dust, scattered and swept away beneath some local pier. Instead, they got me back on my feet and back into my beloved ocean which they knew would help me to heal. Even though I was still in significant pain, they even got me snow skiing for the first (and last!) time in my life not long after leaving hospital, still attached to a negative pressure machine under that big jacket:

The battle is truly won or lost in the mind, and these are the Earth Angels who helped to keep me sane. My darling Abe, my father Kirby, my buddy LP and my chaplain Peter – these were my four pillars of wisdom, encouragement and strength as I navigated the most difficult times of my life. My precious family and friends: Stacey, Linda, Nancy, Nathan, Mary, Joe, Stephen, Kevin, Mini, Bonnie, Bec, J-Lo, Julie, Kay-Ta, Pat, Leigh, Nicole, Bonnie, Susie, Jill, Sharon, Annie and David! The way these precious souls gathered around me on my long, slow journey to recovery can never be fully explained or repaid. And while I have been through much and still face a long journey ahead, there are others who face even greater challenges than mine and my heart goes out fully on their journeys. I hope that I can find some way to be a source of strength and encouragement to them.

One year on and soon to celebrate my 250th dive, I give thanks for every breath and every moment, every ray of sun that kisses my cheek and every salty drop of ocean that baptises me into my new life of hard-earned wisdom and gratitude. And while time may help the trauma to fade, those scars are there to remind me of all that I have endured and survived. May I never forget those who have given me the kindness, mercy and strength to face the many challenges along the continuing journey. To them, I credit the year that has passed and dedicate the years to come. Put simply, joy abounds.

Today, my heart nearly bursts with all the love and bubbles,
PT xxx

ps Just to be totally clear … I have dived with many types of shark, including great whites, bull sharks, tiger sharks, lemon sharks, nurse sharks, grey nurse sharks, leopard sharks, wobbegongs, swell sharks, reef sharks and more, but I have NEVER been attacked by one. To me, sharks are beautiful, and I would dive with them every day of my life if I had the chance … but hey, I still think it would be hilarious if I went out and bought a pair of those crazy new ‘shark bite’ bathers  😛

 

 

43 thoughts on “My Shark Attack Scars

  1. Wow! I hope you keep living to the fullest. If you ever want to dive the Caribbean I know of a place. I don’t dive myself but have a friend that does here on the island I have found myself calling home.

    • Tank you, Sarah. I have found diving to be so therapeutic – maybe your friend needs to take you out for an introductory dive so you can give me a first hand dive report – hopefully I might get there one day 🙂 If the island is yours, its water should be too 🙂 No matter what we have been through, life is there to be embraced while it is still ours. May all the joy in this world be yours. Love and blessings, PT xxx

  2. Keep doing what you love and what brings you life. I’ve found that often the patients that are ‘terminal’ are also the most ‘well’ – they have a balance in spirit, wisdom and courage that the rest of us haven’t grasped. Many hugs from across the ocean.

    • Tank you so much for your kind words, Quan. I actually mistrust doctors who assume and proclaim that people are terminal, suggesting that there is no hope and nothing that they can do to reclaim their own health. But certainly confronting your own mortality brings a completely new perspective, especially when you are able to come to terms with it without fear. I really appreciate your comment which has just inspired one of my next blog pieces 🙂 Many hugs in return, PT xxx

  3. Keep fighting beautiful woman. You are an inspiration and what I’ve been blogging about is only a tip off the block. It is great insight to be on the other side, you are brave. I love your hat (: I know that it doesn’t feel that you are any of those things but from my view you truly are. 🌸🙏 thank you for sharing this.

    • Tank you so much for your encouragement, kalunagurl. If one person gets some courage or strength from reading about my experences to help them with their journey, then something good has come of t all. Every blessng for renewing my strength with your words. Love and bubbles, PT xxx

      • Indeed! I was really young when my father went through his experience and about 4 years ago someone I loved passed from a brain tumor and lung cancer. I went one time to radiation with him and it really was tough to be on my side watching him fight. You’re very strong and that is obvious, keep your positive attitude up! I’m a caregiver to elderly, disabled, and even cancer patients, or whatever the reason.. On all levels. With what I read you’ve really overcome it and clients I’ve dealt with who weren’t faced with what you are, are not near as positive. I know first hand on the other side how hard it really is, bless you and keep diving!

      • Tank you, Kailunagurl 🙂 I am so sorry for your experiences and your losses. I’ve often said that this illness can at times be harder on those around the patient than the patient themselves. I honestly believe that attitude can make an enormous difference to outcomes. God bless you for your work as a carer. I could not be where I am today without the people who cared for me during the most difficult times. I honestly do believe I can beat this without resorting to conventional treatments. I really appreciate your encouragement and kind words – they translate into strength 🙂 Love and bubbles always, PT xxx

    • Tank you, Claudine – I am a big believer that suffering and joy are intrinsically connected. Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  4. Thanks for your stength to continue to choose life. Reading this lifted my heart and made me smile. I too am battling multiple myeloma cancer, stage 4. Had serious operations to rebuild my spinal colum and about 6 months of chemo. Its been 21 months since I was shockingly rushed to hospital and admitted. Quite shocking to me at that moment.
    My faith in the Spirit of God and the support of my children, grandchildren and loving caring Relatives of many Peoples…..I am here because they all had faith and love for me….God bless you PT, may you have many more dives in the Sacred Oceans of this Mother Earth….

    • Tank you so much for your comments, bradsundancer. The journey is never an easy one, but if we are willing to learn, it always has something to teach 🙂 The people in my life have been incredible in helping me pull through too, and God has been my constant companion. I wish you every blessing, wisdom and strength on your journey. Circumstance can be shocking and overwhelming. May you be filled with divine peace that passes all human understanding. May your spirit transcend the fears of your mind and the challenges of your body, empowering you to embrace every moment of life that is within your grasp, to celebrate its joys and to learn and to teach through its difficulties. Every blessing for you on your journey, bradsundancer. May eternal joy be yours and may God help you to navigate this course, PT xxx

    • Tank you for your kind words, budgeteurotrip – I totally agree that health should be a top priority for everyone – preferably before they get sick, not just after 🙂 Cancer is more preventable than curable – reduce stress, chemicals in products, food and water, steer clear of sugar, get fresh air, sunlight and exercise etc – our convenient modern lifestyle simply isn’t healthy. No wonder statistics suggest that one in three (moving towards one in two) people will get cancer in their lifetimes. I have it three times now – lesson learned! Health is a gift and a responsibility that we should never take for granted. Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  5. I love your energy! As challenging as it is and has been, more than just surviving, you are living. I am in awe.
    Thanks for stopping by and following my blog, it allowed me to find in you another awesome pink sister.

    • Tank you so much, featherandspear 🙂 Life is given to be lived. May we never take it for granted. Hugs and endless pink bubbles, PT xxx

    • Awwww – you are the first person to wish me a happy anniversary, narble – tank you so much! Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  6. Thank you for sharing your journey. I believe it takes great courage to make the difficult decision to go against conventional medical treatments such as chemotherapy and listen to your heart, body and mind instead. After losing a friend to chemotherapy last month, I totally understand your decision to live life to its fullest.
    Its the quality of life that matters most and you are living a fuller life than many “healthy” people do.
    You epitomize one of my favourite quotes:

    “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
    By Diane Ackerman

    Wishing you well x

    • Tank you so much, Alicya. It really was difficult to make the decision that I believed was best for me. Doctors, family members and friends were all pushing and pulling in different directions. I had a family meeting and begged that whatever I decided, that everyone would support me and they were all fantastic about it. I was one or two days off beginning chemo and radiation twice, but I just couldn’t come to peace with that action for me.

      I have chosen a different path and while it’s a lot of work and requires a lot of discipline, I believe that it can lead me to the same destination of health. I try to live in the mindframe of wellness rather than sickness – I believe the battle is won or lost in the mind. I adore that quote too – thank you for sharing it with me – it’s definitely how I feel about life. May blessings abound in your world today, Alicya.

      Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  7. Thanks for the follow PT 🙂 I like your spirit, you are an inspiration and I hope to be reading many, many more posts from you xx I myself am currently in recovery from my second operation for removal of severe endometriosis, plus a fibroid that twice they have failed to remove. So I understand to a much lesser degree of some of the pain that you have endured, oh and the frustration of not being able to do so much, it’s amazing how much we rely on our stomach to do everyday things. Keep smiling 🙂

    • Tank you for your kind words, Claire 🙂 I hope your recovery goes smoothly and steadily. We can’t push ourselves as far or as fast as we would like when recovering, but just try to find the stillness and the joy despite the pain and frustration. My prayers will be with you as you move forward in your journey. May blessings arch over your healing body like rainbows, and may your spirit stay ever strong and bright. Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  8. Thank you for sharing your story and for following my blog as well. It’s so inspirational to see how you’ve continued to do the things you love despite your illness, and to see how your faith in God has helped you get through it.

    I also love the ocean by the way =)

    I wish you all the best for your future journey and pray that you will have good health =)

    Catherine xx

    • Tank you so much for your kind words and wishes, catherinecoventry. Without God, family, friends and the ocean, my life would be murky slush 🙂 The ocean is such a blissful, peaceful place – it washes the rest of the world away 🙂 May peace, joy and blessings abound in your life today and always. Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  9. I have been reading your blog and just came to this post! You remind me so much of a group of women here who “are living life with an !” That is their motto! These women are breast cancer survivors and they form one of the most unique breast cancer support groups called “Beyond Boobs!”

    As an oncology massage therapist and the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, I have been volunteering with this group of women of all ages and I have never seen such zest for life, enthusiasm, support for each other and just sheer joy! It has been my honor to work with them in any capacity I can and, now, it is my privilege to be following you!

    You are amazing and I look forward to reading more of your posts! Keep living your life with an !

    Willowdancer

    • Tank you again for your kind and encouraging words, Willowdancer (such a gorgeous name – I have a niece called Willow 🙂 ) I honestly believe that an uncompromising passion for life and a silly sense of humour can be a real key to survival 🙂

      The group you volunteer for sound amazing – sometimes too it is the sense of unity and realising that together we are bigger than the illness that empowers us to transcend the tradition of fear and angst that so many sadly succumb to.

      God bless you for your work with these women Willowdancer and for the joy and encouragement you bring into their lives. I have no doubt whatsover that they impart tremendous joy, encouragement and strength into your life as well. I love their motto and will live my life with an ! in tribute to their courage and vitality! Lots of love and bubbles of joy, PT xxx

    • Tank you so much majadegarciaphotography for your kind and encouraging words, and tank you for no longer being a stranger 🙂 Any strength I have is a direct tribute to those who gathered around me to get me through the darkest and most difficult times – they were my inspiration, and it is a real privilege to be able to pay some of that strength and inspiration forward. Bless you abundantly for your sweetness 🙂 Love and bubbles, PT xxx

    • Tank you so much, Loca Gringa – there are sooo many people out there who have life a lot worse than I ever will – my life is so rich and full and fun, I can’t do anything but count my many blessings. I really appreciate your kind words – may you also rise above all of your challenges and find strength in the moments of frustration and frailty. Hugs, PT xxx

    • Tank you, Victor. Sharks are such a highlight in any diver’s life. I am glad no shark did this to me – surgeons are much more dangerous IMHO. Tank you for your kind wishes. Love and bubbles, PT xxx

  10. I cannot tell you what a joy it is to watch your wonderful work. I leave near the Great Lakes in the USA but have spent a lot of time in Florida through the years and just love the ocean. Never have scuba dived but I have snorkeled. Just wanted you to know what I do with your videos. I rock my 4 grandbabies to sleep while watching them. They love them, especially Bennett (3 this week) who has a real passion for whales. Especially ‘baby whales because they are so cute and they aren’t scary). You have truly opened the love of the sea to my grandchildren and helped as share a joy that will not long be forgotten. Your zest for life is catchy. I have a son who scuba dives and as in S. Africa right now with friends. Let me know if you might ever be interested in meeting him and his girlfriend, or you could just contact him at brettkistler@clearviewstudios.com He enjoys the air as much as the sea. May the Lord Jesus and your faith in God sustain you and thank-you for being such a rich blessing to others.

    • Dear Lynn, What a lovely message to receive from you! Tank you so much for your kind words and for the beautiful feedback on how you and your grandbubbies are enjoying my videos. I do hope one day that I might be able to make a whale video for Bennett to watch, although my friend Vanessa Mignon does a LOT of incredible photography with whales (including baby whales!) that the children might enjoy (which can be found at http://www.vanessamignon.com) I hope Bennett has a blisstastic 3rd birthday and that his passions help to guide his choices as he journeys through life 🙂 I am excited to hear that your son dives and would be happy for him to make contact anytime via pinktankscuba@gmail.com 😀 Is he diving in South Africa? If he is on safari, I might just be a teeny, tiny bit jealous 😀 Tank you once again for your beautiful words. May love, bubbles and blessings abound in your life 🙂 Best fishes always, PT xxx

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