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Living through lymphoma

DAMIAN GUTTERY
Last updated 12:00 21/07/2014
Chemotherapy
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
BETTER THAN EXPECTED: Damian said the worst effect of his chemo was feeling lethargic for a few days afterwards.

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At the start of last year I started feeling low on energy and occasionally nauseous.

I was working long hours on our online business as my partner was in Australia starting our operation over there, so I had nothing better to do but work. So at first, I just put it down to stress and took it easy for a bit, and symptoms disappeared after a few days.

After my partner Rebecca came back full-time in February, I was feeling great for about a month, then the symptoms came back.

Over the next few months I was feeling great one week and rotten the next. I had numerous trips to the doctor who first diagnosed stomach acid issues, then depression. But I knew the increasing level of pain I was feeling was not depression or psychosomatic.

I had given up sleeping in bed. If I slept on my back I had back pain, on my stomach I had stomach pain and if I slept on my side I had both. The best position I found was in the lazyboy as that held me in a good position. There were some weeks I barely left that lazyboy.

I had also started throwing up and could hold almost nothing down, even dry toast was coming back up. I started surviving on a liquid I forget the name of now, that is apparently all you need. It is especially formulated for cancer patients. I still lost so much weight it wasn't funny. Luckily, I'm a big boy.

Eventually I was talked into going to the after hours doctor in Lower Hutt. The doctor there poked around and gave, in a very grave voice, the diagnosis of a suspected lymphoma.

I was in the Hutt hospital that night while they planned what to do next. Within two weeks I had had a CT scan and a meeting with a doctor that told me the scan showed a merged lymph node of 15cm x 6cm x 6cm in my abdomen, both sides of my neck lymph nodes were affected, as was one side of the ones in my groin.

He also said I was to expect several months off work as the best treatment, considering the size, was chemotherapy. Then they informed me they needed to do a biopsy under general anesthetic to determine the type of lymphoma (there are close to 70 recognised types of lymphoma with different treatments and prognosis), which I had within a few weeks.

Then it was into Wellington Hospital where they dosed me up on steroids and started me on other painkillers, as the ones I was on were affecting my liver (I had gone yellow). They also monitored my fluid intake and output as they got me to a state where I could have my first chemo. After four days in hospital I had my first chemo session. 

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I was more nervous about the fact they sat there watching me than I was about the treatment, but apparently some people have allergic reactions to some of the drugs they put me on. I didn't. I just lay there all day watching TV while the pump besides me shoved various poisons into my veins. It was the one and only time I will ever watch golf, but as I was to find out over the next few months, daytime TV is rubbish.

When I got up in the morning, I decided I would test out my treated body. Most people have some sort of nausea from chemo, but I had a good walk around the ward, including time in the dayroom, and experienced none of that. I decided then and there that this chemo thing was easy, and truth be told I had six more sessions spaced three weeks apart and I never felt sick from it. I felt a bit lethargic for a few days afterwards but that was the worst of my symptoms.

I did go bald though, but I knew that was temporary so it never worried me. I just had to remember to put on a hat or my head got cold.

I was allowed to go home the day after my first chemo session. At first I found it weird to be home. Sleeping in a bed again, after months of not, was strange in a good way. As was seeing my two cats who were the only important "people" in my life who had not been to see me in hospital. They wouldn't leave me alone that first night.

Anyway, six chemo sessions later I was given a PET scan and this was followed up by the "in remission" talk from my oncologist Dr Barrow a week or so later. The biggest casualty of this is my business, which has had to radically downsize, and my wallet, which is empty, but I can't praise my partner Rebecca enough. She is the rock that allowed me to fight this disease.

I also have to thank my parents and the rest of my family, they are the best about. I also cannot praise the amazing health service we have in this country highly enough. The doctors and nurses that looked after me are simply amazing.


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