Ten years ago, my younger sister and I were reflecting on the fact that we had both lived longer than our father, who had passed-away suddenly from a stroke at the age of 48. Even though our father had died at a young age, we still felt somewhat grateful that we had managed to survive somewhat longer.
My father was a fireman, as well as a builder and cabinetmaker, and he had led the fire team that extinguished a chemical fire that had ravaged one of the ships damaged in the attack on Sydney Harbour by Japanese midget submarines during World War II. My Mother always maintained that it was the chemicals from that fire that ultimately killed her husband - our father.
Mum said that Dad always had a florid complexion after that fire and that firemen in those days didn't have the protective equipment that they have today. And even though Dad had a physical check-up every year and was pronounced completely fit each and every time, Mum went to her grave 40 years later convinced that it was the chemicals that had killed him.
Fast-forward ten years and there I was at 63, never having been sick in my life, let alone having been hospitalised, only to be confronted with a major health challenge. Having enjoyed a charmed existence and a very happy life, and having lived 15 years longer than my father, my cancer diagnosis hit me like a Mack truck. I was told that I could be cured if I underwent and survived major surgery (13 hours), as the cancer had not spread from my mouth and lower jaw, however, if I did nothing, I'd be dead in six months.
Well, here I am six months later … I obviously survived the surgery and thus far my recovery is proceeding well. The operation took a little longer than 13 hours. I was in intensive care for a month and hospitalised for three and half months, including for the six-week period of my radiation treatment (this was largely as a result of the fact that we live in a "remote" area).
Because the fibula bone was taken from my left leg to reconstruct my lower jaw (which disappeared along with the offending cancer), I couldn't walk for a couple of months. After the surgery, my head was swollen to nearly twice its normal size and most of my bottom teeth were gone, So, not only did I need to learn to walk again, I had to learn how to talk and how to eat again as well.
Of course, there wasn't just a downside to my experience. On a positive note, I managed to lose 35 kilos along the way and no longer have to take medication for high blood pressure. Whilst I can now walk, talk and eat, (albeit still in a limited fashion), I also have a positive prognosis. And the fact that the exercise cost us $50,000 over and above the contribution of our private health insurance and Medicare, we regard as a small price to pay.
I've learnt a great deal through my recent experiences. I've discovered how tough I can be and what a lousy patient I make. I realise just how wonderful my wife is and how blessed we are to have so many wonderful friends and neighbours. I now understand how fortunate I was to have never suffered from a serious health or injury problem. I discovered just how lucky I'd been.
Notwithstanding the pain and fear attached to my illness, I've now met people who I never really knew existed before, simply because I had never had the misfortune to suffer from a major health problem. I've learnt that what I have endured over the past six months, others have experienced or might experience over a lifetime. I've witnessed the cruel tragedy of a family trying to deal with the impending loss of a beautiful ten-year-old child because there is no treatment available that could save that young life. I've now realised just how lucky I am.
For the first 50 years of my life, I believed that I should treat others as they treated me. This seemed fair and reasonable and most people I knew seemed to have a similar philosophical outlook. Not anymore.
My experience has had a profound impact on my outlook on life and I now believe that if I can do something for someone, I should, regardless of whether it is appreciated or not.
I also believe that I have no right to complain: That the world is full of people, the majority of who are far worse off than me and the majority of Australians.
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