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COMMEN-TERRY: This is not good-bye. This is ‘see you later.’

Waiting for surgery while I watch my cancer mass grow has been a strain on my mental health.
BC Cancer- Victoria

Note: This column goes into detail about cancer treatment and the mental challenges, and may be triggering to some.


As Tom Petty sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

The last couple of months have been tough.

For those who missed my previous column, I am dealing with cancer. I had a surface melanoma removed three years ago. It has returned, in a lymph node. Stage 3.

I discovered a very small lump in March, and immediately went to my doctor. Tests confirmed that it was cancer. The one good thing is we caught it early. Every doctor I have seen has said the same thing: “How did you even find this lump? It is so subtle.”

It’s not very subtle anymore. Whereas I had to shift my shoulder a certain way just to feel it at first, now I can see it when I look in the mirror. It is growing rapidly.

To put it into perspective, when I first discovered the lump, less than three months ago, it was the size of a cherry pit. Now it is the size of a plum.

Frightening is not a strong enough word.

The anxiety is constant. I have chosen to remain at work to this point as it serves as a great distraction.

It’s the down times where the dark thoughts creep in.

Nighttime is the worst. Getting to sleep is a challenge. My brain will not shut off.

If I wake in the middle of the night, I may as well get up and watch TV; otherwise, I find myself lying in bed, thinking the worst.

And the waiting. Oh, the waiting.

For the first six weeks, I had one procedure or another happening every week. I made two trips to Victoria, including a consultation with the surgeon on May 9. Then the brakes were applied.

I had one more pre-surgery procedure to go - a CT scan, here in Courtenay. When I got word that the first available opening was more than four weeks later, depression set in. That scan finally happened on Saturday (June 8).

Next step is surgery.

I was hopeful this would be a minor procedure. Go in, remove the mass, get out.

It’s a lot more invasive than that.

The surgeon will begin with an incision starting at the back of my ear, running along my jawline to my chin, then down to my collarbone, creating somewhat of a flap to open up. From there, he will remove the affected lymph node, along with all other neighbouring lymph nodes as a preventative measure.

Because of the intricacy of the procedure, it must be done in Victoria. Due to the possibility of infection, my hospital stay will be anywhere from a week to a month. I won’t have any idea as to the recuperation period until I am discharged.

Despite the recent delays, the fact that we have come this far in less than three months is a credit to our system.

My sister, who is a doctor in Alberta, has been attending all my consults via phone, and she is quick to point out how lucky I am to be in B.C.

According to her, just getting a diagnosis in Alberta would take twice as long. I wonder how many lives are lost while they wait?

For me, although the wait has been a strain, it’s a relief to hear we are in good hands in this province.

It’s also a relief that I am in such good hands, personally. Not just with the health-care system, but equally as important, with my support system.

My wife, Erica, has been so strong, and encouraging. She has definitely had the short end of the stick as far as the whole “in sickness and in health” vow is concerned. But that matters none to her. She is my rock. My nurse. My hero.

Our friends have been so helpful, keeping us busy. Whether it’s weekend golf invitations, dinners planned, or just an evening of visiting and playing dominoes, their support has been invaluable. The letters and notes from friends, acquaintances, even strangers, wishing me luck, sending thoughts and prayers my way, have been appreciated. And the Record office staff has been amazingly supportive, and understanding.

My message to everyone is 1) wear sunscreen, and 2) no matter how small and insignificant it seems to be, get any new growth checked out. The best-case scenario is that it’s nothing at all. 

For now, I leave the editing duties in the capable hands of Erin Haluschak. The time has come for me to step away from the desk and focus on my health. I am confident I will return, and hopefully stay away from hospitals for a while.

As my publisher, Artur Ciastcowski said, “This is not good-bye. This is ‘see you later.’”

Terry Farrell is the editor at the Comox Valley Record