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Life’s Unforeseen Turns: Desire to Live

4 minutes to read
Shona Hurndell

Shona Hurndell

(Mindfulness Coach, Tapping-Emotional Freedom Technique facilitator, Reiki Master, Psych K Facilitator, Eden Healing Energy Work)

The diagnosis was clear. I had a tumour in my right breast.

After the initial shock of the diagnosis and the emotion that surrounds it, reality sets in.

Me. I am fit and healthy; in fact, I have never even been to hospital. What has happened? 

Suddenly you think of your own mortality. Is this it? Is this the end of my story, my life?

If I was able to survive the loss of Steve, I could do this. It was time to find new courage and do what was necessary to ensure the cancer was taken out of my body.

A portal needs to be placed into your chest. This is where the drugs will enter. Putting on a hospital gown and walking into the theatre, I kept thinking of Steve. 

Steve was a true warrior heading into the theatre. He was determined to live no matter what. I tried to be courageous like he was. 

This was a simple procedure, however, it meant that this was the beginning of treatment. With tears streaming, I laid down on the table. A gorgeous nurse asked if I would like to hold her hand. I tearfully replied, “yes, please” as the drugs took effect and the portal was inserted.

The next appointment was to meet my oncologist. When I say “my oncologist”, it’s like saying “my friend”. It is what I needed – a friend to guide me through. I was delighted that “my” oncologist was caring and kind. 

A plan was put in place. So what was the treatment plan? 

You hold your breath as you hear the words “6 rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, partial mastectomy, and rounds of Herceptin”. The process would take about 18 months. These were words that you had always feared hearing. 

I said to my oncologist, “I will be the best patient you have ever had; I will follow all your instructions”.

Behind the courage were the deep whispers, “How was I going to manage?” 

I had a very busy training business and staff that I had to ensure had enough work, and then, on top of that, I found out that Mum was given a terminal diagnosis.

I flew to Palmerston North. Mum and my sister were there to pick me up. 

Mum was looking frail and frightened. It was the first time I had seen her with a walking stick. I gave her the biggest cuddle I have ever given her. She wept in my arms, the sadness of her diagnosis. 

We made the drive to Masterton, just making small talk as we avoid things until we are home, and we have a cup of tea. With a deep breath, I tell Mum of my own diagnosis. Mum cried out, “Not you!”

I had to reassure her that I would be okay and that we were going to focus on her and ensure that she was as comfortable as possible and be surrounded by those that she loved and loved her.

The day of the first round of my chemotherapy comes closer. There is a meeting with the charge nurse giving you a list of things that could happen while having the treatment. 

It’s daunting to think that while we all know about losing your hair, there are so many other side effects. 

The day of round one of chemo arrives. 

For me I was unable to drive after each infusion, therefore I needed someone to drive me home. It’s confronting as you walk into the space and lined up are La-Z-Boy chairs with people all linked up to bags of liquid being slowly dripped into their bodies. 

After the first round I could not believe it, I had no side effects. There is a new language to get used to. Infusion 1, day 4 is when side effects can be felt. 

But I felt good. I can do this. 

In between rounds of chemotherapy, I was heading down to spend time with Mum. I remember one day she was in a hospital bed at home, and I went into the bathroom. 

As you do, I flicked my hands through my hair and my hair started to come away. I became nervous washing my hair as each time you lose more, and bald patches are showing. Every morning there is more hair on the pillow. I decided to have what was left all shaved off.

Mum decides she doesn’t want a funeral, instead she would like a party. So we organised a party for her; a celebration of her life. A week later Mum passes, finally at peace.

When having infusions at the hospital you begin to recognise people that are on the same cycle as you. Faces become familiar, a nod, sometimes a smile; hello again as you follow a routine. 
This time I introduced myself to a beautiful young mum. I had seen her a few times at the hospital with her husband who was looking after her so lovingly and gently. She shared her story. 
The cancer had gone undetected as the doctor suggested that the changes in her breasts were from breastfeeding. It took a while before a diagnosis was finally made. 
Now, it seemed almost too late. The prognosis was not good.

Treatment continues. 

You start recognising other people and chatting. One day a young woman comes into the treatment room. She has long black hair. The minute she sees the La-Z-Boys she has a panic attack. 

Everyone in the chairs held their breath just for a moment, as we all felt for her, having also felt the same on day one. 

The reality of the situation was sinking in. She sits down beside me and has another panic attack. After she is linked up to the chemo, I lean over gently and quietly whisper, “Everything is going to be okay.” 

Her mum looks at me with sad eyes, and asks “what can I do”? 

I start sharing what I have learnt that makes things a little easier. Her mum is busy taking notes. On my last round of chemo, the gorgeous lady returns with a small gift thanking me. 

I was lucky I had very minor side effects from chemotherapy except one day I felt the room moving when I was teaching a large group of students. 

That day I had to dig deep to get through. 

It was a long trip home, even the tightness of my wig hurt, all I needed was to lie down and sleep. 

Your body will push back on you when you have pushed yourself too hard. It was time to listen to my body.

After chemotherapy the tumour had shrunk, so now I just needed to complete the rest of the treatment.

Next comes a partial mastectomy. 

In theatre, an incision is made into the breast and the remains of the tumour are taken away. An overnight stay and I am back home.

This is followed by daily radiation treatment. 

You begin a new routine going to the hospital, undressing, putting on a gown then waiting with others for your turn. Being surrounded by huge machines that move around you and you need to keep very still. You are trusting that this will do what it needs to do and that there will be no other damage. 

My last treatment was infusions of Herceptin. 

I met a beautiful young woman that I had seen each time I was there. Her prognosis was not good. We talked about Māori Healing methods as conventional treatment was not helping. 

There must be more than all this burning, cutting, and poisoning the body. I was beginning to wonder if there was more that you can do for yourself? 

After my final treatment round, I left the hospital with a nagging feeling. Now that I have been through this, how do I live? 

Little did I know that the answer was on its way.

On the reception desk at the hospital was a flyer for a Cancer Healing Retreat supported by the then Auckland District Health Board. It was facilitated by a Canadian oncologist/radiologist Dr Rob Rutledge. 

I booked onto the weekend workshop. 

I was the first to arrive that day as I knew deep down that this was the beginning of something new for me. Whatever I was going to learn would be life-changing, and it was!

To read Shona’s previous article, see Life’s Unforeseen Turns: A Journey of Love, Loss, and Resilience.

Shona has been involved in education firstly as a teacher, becoming a lecturer at the tertiary level before establishing a training business. Today, she continues to work in the corporate sector facilitating a wide range of workshops…

If you would like to learn more about Shona, see Expert: Shona Hurndell.

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