View from the bedroom. The old tattered Aussie symbol still flying
Abalinx Peter Adamis 12 September 2015
A Greek born Aussie veteran who embraced Australian values considers the alternative and his latest challenge. The title itself is an enigma and I find it ironic that this is my first article since being advised that I have been diagnosed with acute leukemia some 23 days ago and now after the fourth diagnoses I am officially classified as B-Cell Non Hodgkinson Lymphoma (Unspecified). Why then even consider the alternative when the possibilities are numerous and the word ‘hope’ still refusing to leave Pandora’s Box.
The article touches on the illness we call cancer and the journey itself but it is also a reflection on how it affects people and what it means to be touch emotionally when someone you have known reacts to your condition. Therefore it’s safe to say that despite the personal journey it more about its relevance to the reader and a tribute to those dedicated to the hospital staff, relatives, friends and other interested observers. A copy of the article may be downloded by clicking on: NEVER GIVING UP IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY
Throughout life I have endeavoured to be an encourager rather than a discourager with everyone that I come into contact with. After a life time of broken bones, car smashes, crushed vertebrae, broken noses through boxing, operations, emotional scars, infections, three heart attacks, severe depression and surviving disasters, I have not been afraid of making that final transition from a physical body to one of a spiritual energy, commonly referred to the soul according those who believe God to be their creator. I guess I have always been a risk taker, first as a young street fighter struggling to survive as an immigrant, to 30 years with the Australian defence Force, raising four beautiful sons and married to a wonderful woman who assisted in developing me into a person beyond my wildest dreams.
I write this with an open mind to the possibilities and dreams yet unfulfilled and still face what challenges I have left with a cheeky grin on my face and only to be outdone by my ability to continue have a positive outlook on life. I am no hero and certainly not as courageous or brave as some believe I am. I am as always an ordinary bloke who has had the good luck and fortune to have been surrounded by some of Australia’s most brilliant minds and who in their wisdom recognised my potential by reshaping my aggressive behaviour and channeling into the right direction. They know who they are, numerous as they may be and no need at this stage for me to mention their names.
I guess the above is sufficient background for anyone contemplating on commenting about personal experiences and how it has affected others and it is with this vein that we move forward throughout a mosaic of labyrinths destined to confuse the reader and yet make feel part of the exodus to a place that is yet to be discovered. Does one have a choice is one being seduced into a dance or a trap that the military would refer to as the killing ground and place of extermination or is it preferable to say that as life is a roller coaster why not enjoy the ride. I prefer the latter.
Where does cancer begin and why is to so that a body suddenly finds itself in a dilemma with itself? That reader, is the question. No one knows the answer and yet we move forward cautiously through the jungle watching what we in the military refer to as watching your arcs of fire and looking for any signs of the deadly enemy. In this case our enemy is within and we cannot see the silent and deadly war that is going on. If one had the technology and it will come, we would be witnessing a battle of gargantuan proportions that all wars put together would pale in comparison. Billions of cells dying while going to the aid of the healthy cells find only death and destruction by deceptive rogue cells. These rogue cells have somehow mutated and attacked their host.
Am I pissed off? You bet I was, wondering why the bloody hell I did to get the bastard rogue cells so pissed off at me. I looked and searched for answers on many levels and on each level the answers were elusive as ever. I even chuckled to myself when the Doctor first said to me that I had Acute Leukemia and my response was: “You can’t win them all and she will be right”. The doctor said you are taking it surprisingly well and my response was, “I am not afraid to die and in any case what’s the alternative”. I was only hurt emotionally when I heard my lovely wife’s voice crack over the phone and could hear her sobs. The doctor took the phone and confirmed the diagnoses.
Before driving home, I took a “selfie” using my mobile camera in the Doctors room and I drove towards home. Stopped off at my favourite barber and had a haircut and trimmed the beard. I thought about my old mate “Ned” Norman Kelly who had passed away some time ago in the mid eighties from the same ailment and the effects of his passing upon the Battalion in Brisbane. Ned Kelly was my third sons God father and it was a shame to hear of his enlistment into the big jungle patrol upstairs.
I thought of another mate, Kostas Nikolopoulos who was a past editor of the Australian Neos Kosmos who had succumbed to his illness. I thought of my military mates who had also gone before me on their final journey and their private battles with the big C. While I had those brief moments alone, my concerned wife came home, hugs and kisses and in no particular fashion packed some personal items and we made our way to emergency at the Austin Hospital some 15 minutes away.
The emergency was busy as usual and with patience we waited our turn as no matter what your ailment may be, everyone has to be processed accordingly. It may have been an hour before we were administratively processed and seen by a consultant whom we shall refer to as “Julian” from the Olivia Newton John Cancer Wing.
First class cancer and well-being wing. The Olivia Newton John at the Austin Hospital
Julian was both informative and his bedside manner was the envy of his peers as far as I was concerned. Even today as I reflect back on our original meeting, Julian is up there with the best of the communicators that I have met in my life. Julian took us through a myriad of doors talking to us about treatment, the isolation ward, what to expect and as usual, I took in a quarter of what he had to say. Eventually we made it to the isolation ward (aptly called the “Bubble”) where I completed my final administration and admittance. I can still remember Julian and that bloody huge needle of his being inserted into my spine. Man that was a bloody big needle.
My holiday within the confines of the Bubble and the labyrinth of subterranean tunnels, corridors, rooms, offices, nuclear, radioactive, x-ray and non invasive machinery cluttering these abodes were fascinating to say the least. I must admit I enjoyed being wheeled around and somewhat pampered and it would be a lie if I said that I did not enjoy my holiday in hospital. The staff whether they were medically orientated or even unskilled were just bloody fantastic and I made it my business to touch as many people on an emotional level by speaking to everyone who came within my tiny room.
I achieved this by asking about their lives and genuinely taking an interest in their families. I have to admit I had my favourites and for the sake of privacy I will not add their names at this juncture but mention them by first name further down the track. I as particular interested in those with family and how their kids were getting on how they coped with the different shifts. In each case, I asked for their first names and where they trained. My face would turn into a wry grin and display mock horror if they we not trained at Monash University and as such I would express my disappointment at their training.
The consultants and medical staff
It was all in good fun and the communication between patient and staff was in my opinion of the highest order. As mentioned above only their first names will be mentioned as I have to return back next Monday for further aggressive treatment and it is in my interests not to get on their bad side and ignore my buzzer and requests for help which I know for certain would not happen as they are all dedicated and committed professionals.
This section as promised is dedicated to all those members who were instrumental in making my life a happy one during my isolation in the Bubble.
Hospital Staff: Julian, Simon, “Smithy”, Paul, Ching, Karthik, Laith, Renee, Fler, Dragon, Peter, Alex, Mary, Fei, Bree, Gemma, Ashleigh, Aksa, Anna, Baccara, Shelley, Ingrid, Sian, Eleanor, Daniella, Matthew, David, Hayley, Tammy, Jo, Bernadette, Fay, Julianne, Nick, Kathy, Emma, and many, many others from Social Workers, Community Workers, Music Therapists, Massage therapists, cleaners, support staff, Administrative Staff, Cardiologist, Emergency Department, Canteen staff, External overseas consultants and many others whose names I was unable to obtain.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PROFESSIONALISM AND DEDICATION.
External contacts. Family, Friends, Military, Ex Military Band of brothers, Veteran Affairs, Political, Community and Social Media Colleagues were all instrumental in assisting me to retain my sense of humour during my sojourn in OJN (Olivia Newton John) isolation ward. The all know who they are and my thoughts are always with them.
In times like these, everyone wishes a successful outcome, however those in the know are aware that we have still a long journey ahead of us in order to realise a positive outcome by:
NEVER GIVING UP IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY AND GIVING IT YOUR BEST SHOT
IS THE AUSTRALIAN WAY.
This therefore brings us to the point of the treatment and the management of the illness and how staff was professional in all aspects. First diagnosis with normal blood tests indicated Acute Leukemia, (A nasty and aggressive form which had attacked the spleen, blood, chest, kidneys, liver and bone marrow. The second blood test with enhance technology indicated a diagnosis of Mantle Cell Lymphomas which was incurable. The third tests were a complete and welcome surprise that the diagnosis was now Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma – DLBCL which was treatable and potentially curable. The fourth diagnosis was as a result of the final tests that had taken some two weeks to complete now indicated B-Cell Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Unspecified). In other words the consultants were not sure what name to give it so being a cheeky bastard; I volunteered my surname (ADAMIS) in jest, saying they can write a paper or at least a case study on me. Not sure if that went down well but it was worth a try.
Nothing like a good holiday in hospital
During this phase they gave me the “right royal” treatment. They injected me with so much toxicity that if I stumbled and drops of urine somehow made it to the floor, the staff had to wear protective gear to clean up the spills if any. Yes I will admit that in a weakened state, stumbles did occur and I felt bad about it. All of this time fluids and chemicals being injected through a medical device called a PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter), which is a tube inserted into the superior vena cava through a peripheral vein. I am not that smart – I got the definition of the internet). While some drugs made me run to the toilet, others incapacitated me and one in particular scared the daylights out of as I reacted badly to one of the drugs which formed part of the chemotherapy commonly known in medical circles as R-CHOP. They gave me the “R-CHOP” alright and at one stage, hyperventilating, shuddering, trembling, a feeling of immense cold and stress on the heart.
While I was freaking out the Doctor and the Nurses quietly went about their routine as if it was nothing unusual and finally with some additional drugs calmed the body down. What I did not know at the time was that at that moment of trembling, a massive death of rogue cells were dying and giving the body a chance. Suffice t o as a result of my poor reaction to the drug, I was given the weekend off in bed and bombarded again with same drug but with no ill effects.
Now that’s a bloody big kahuna of a needle
Over the next ten or so days, while I was being monitored for any side effects, I kept a record of the blood results which were comforting to say the least and help me contain my composure. Family, friends from across the local community and wider community visited and/or contacted me by mobile text messages, emails and telephone calls within Australia and overseas.
I was overwhelmed by it all and I became rather emotional. At one stage one of my favourite Nurses came in, looked at me, put her hands on her hips and said: “now listen, Pete, you don’t look the best. Are you fine psychologically? I said “yes, I can handle it no bloody worries”. She said “well if you need to talk let us know”. “She will be right” I said.
As soon as she left the room, I had a mental block and the vision of me hanging on the olive tree back in the old country came to mind with my Dad saying, “Never give up”. I just broke down and I could no longer take it anymore. The Nurse came back in and we had a long chat. I no longer wanted to be that strong person and I needed to reach out for help but the bloody thing is that I did not how. As I have said many times on many occasions, I am just an ordinary bloke.
I did reach out to an ex military mate who helped me cope and that was Phil Buttigieg, whose origins were from Malta. He like me had made Australia home and had gone on to serve Australia. Phil was not only a Vietnam veteran but also a Platoon Sergeant when I was just a young digger in Singapore Malaya and throughout the years we kept bumping into each other and being on the same committee for the 6 Royal Australian Regiment Association.
I don’t know why I selected Phil but he also shared with me that he had also experienced being gravely ill and that he had memorised a poem by when he was in hospital. It was by Rudyard Kipling and my favourite verse was as follows:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
I memorised the above verse by writing it on my white board to give me the courage that I felt I was lacking to meet my latest challenge. For that I must truly thank Phil Buttigieg through the difficult period and yet his support is another act or demonstration of what “Duty First” means to those of us who have served and worn this country we call home, Australia uniform. It was also around this time that I reconnected on social media with some very old ex military cobbers, many who had gone through similar experiences and their words of encouragement were a welcome relief. I had been a recluse long enough and it was time to reach out across the void before it was too late.
In memory of cobber Digger mates who have battled and fought the cancer within. For those who live with it on a daily basis and never give up in the face of adversity, I wrote a poem early in the morning. It came straight from the heart and I shared it on social media. I received many positive responses from cobbers I had never met and who had or were going through the same treatment for a variety of cancer related illnesses.
I wondered why was it that many of us who were long time veterans were succumbing to such illnesses and wondered whether there was some commonality in our military environment to attract such illnesses. Who knows what a future government will come up with a future generation of medical researchers at the epidemiological level arrive at after studying our records using enhanced technological techniques and software programmes? The following poem is not my best but nevertheless the sentiment is there. It goes as follows:
THE CANCER WARRIOR WITHIN
O warrior within, let thy battle begin
Fight those demons that dwell within
Unfurl the Flag and ready the lancers
Let fly the shot like a deathly dancer
Let not the hordes of hell who crave for more
Quench thy will from opening survivals door
Allow the pain to be thy guide as you meander
Throughout the battlefield you stumble and founder
It matters little the battle name for your type of cancer
And place much faith in your selected necromancer
Holdfast your organs intact and not let them loose
Until victory becomes certain and you cannot lose
Remember that your creator whoever he may be
Will embrace you when you have lost all hope of thee
Even though you look like a mere bag of bones
Your will and only your will to live will drown out the groans
Go forth and arm yourself with your chosen weapons of war
Come close to your cancer and defeat the bastard once more
Then rest and allow the physicians of war rearm you
To defend your body against the remaining cancer few
Hold on and holdfast your values and the will to live
Against all odds survive your cancer and have more to give
Warrior within, let thy battle begin and fight your cancer within
Cherish and live long enjoying your life from now on in
Cancer isolated unit Olivia Newton John – Austin Hospital Melbourne
2.45 am 4 September 2015
Michael and Pete (Michael is my political mentor)
We now arrive at the point where a decision is made to allow me to go home and allow the remnants of the drugs to take their final toll and drop the recalcitrant rogue cells die off. The effects of this is that the immune is system so depleted to the point of almost zero which effectively bars any contact with visitors who may have the simple cold or a bug. What this meant was carefully screening everyone and hoping that all visitors did the right thing. I must say that my wife as the gate keeper was a bloody marvel and I love her to death. Without my wife I would have not been able to cope as well and full marks to my four boys for their undying support throughout this period.
The first night, I just did not want to come home, despite all the good work my wife had done and accomplished in short time. I was and continue to be irritable at times as I was used to the hospital routine and felt unease at home. On top of all that, I became angry, aggressive in my behaviour as I wanted to be independent and not a burden to others. I had always prided myself on not having to rely on others except in unusual circumstances beyond my control. There were some arguments but all in all, arguments and robust discussions that cleared the air. Slowly but surely I became used to the idea of being home and back into a normal routine as much as I could. I wanted to emulate the past, but I found that I was lethargic and wanted to sleep.
Flowers for a beautiful woman. Yovanna has stood by my side for 15 years.
At one stage, my lovely wife and I went for a walk around the block and I asked that I be left alone for a bit while I walked down to the local shops which were two minutes away from home. She said that she wanted to go with me and and as normal couples do a “robust discussion” took place before I went off by myself, stubborn as ever. What my wife did not know is that I wanted time for myself to purchase a small gift and card for her as our 15th year’s anniversary was approaching which unfortunately fell upon the day I am to return to the hospital for additional aggressive treatment.
On our first walk at home we visited the barber and promptly removed the beard and all hair on the head in order to be more proactive rather wait to see tufts of hair drop and make me feel further depressed than I needed to be. Our bedroom upstairs is now the official “Watsonia Bubble Room” and I meet visitors downstairs. As my room overlooks the back garden, I love watching the sun come up in the morning and with a bit of luck, a breeze may visit, giving the tattered but still flying Aussie Flag a run for its money. Unfortunately I am unable to go into the garden without any protection due to a poor immune system.
I wish to pay a very special tribute to my lovely wife, Yovanna for her support and I love you very much. To my boys, David, Paul, Matthew and Mark, thank you for being there. To my political cobbers, mates, and the Australian Hellenic community, I thank you.
To my Committee of Management at the Pallaconian Brotherhood – Leonidas, I thank you and embrace you as Aussie Laconians who during my Presidency never wavered in their support, their behind the scenes good work and for being there for me when I needed you. A recent Annual dinner dance was so well coordinated by some very professional members of the Committee of management and their supporters that there was no need for my presence. Translated into simple English it means that the Laconians can continue along those lines, the Laconians of Melbourne-Victoria will soon take their place amongst the Australian Hellenic community as one of the leading lights of the future. “Molon Labe”.
For my overseas brethren and friends, what can I say is that you have been a blessing and it’s wonderful to call you friends. To those who gave me the support, encouragement and the courage to keep going and I can truly say that “your blood is worth bottling”. We now face another four months of the same treatment and one can only look out for the worst and hope for the best.
It is now late on Saturday, 12 September and I have my trusty laptop that has traveled the world with me, lying on the bed while I crouch over the laptop, typing with two fingers at a speed of 60 words a minute. Imagine what I could do with all my fingers. I would be a bloody literary genius. I love writing and have my niche in life after the regiment and wish to continue until I have written about all my military and non military friends. This now brings us to the end of the article and if I have offended anyone, believe you me it was unintentional. As for my grammar and punctuation, I leave that to the purists and please accept my apologies.