Cancer: My Experience, My Journey – Hell on Earth Happens

CArolyn's 40th


My wonderful friend artist David Rankin sent a special photo to me from Shelter Island, New York recently, as he gently sat watching a gaggle of geese travelling above the water on a grey idyllic day – gorgeous and full of good cheer, which I needed to soothe my soul.

Optimism has always been my middle name, since the days when I had polio as a small child, through having shock therapy treatment as a child of nine years, when no one can tell me why, and the rest of the awful childhood diseases of the 50’s.

Carolyn in LeatherWhen I left home to be married at 20, I needed to start a new chapter of my life as my family was far apart.

My husband travelled constantly for more than a decade during my children’s formative years, having some 110 trips in ten years.

Apart from childhood maladies, generally back home we all kept immunized and in as good health as possible.

It was my mission in life to ensure the safety and security of the men in my life. During their growing years, I fed my three beautiful boys only good wholesome fresh food and concentrated on helping to build their immune systems as best I could.

By the time they left home they had a good handle on life, and how important it was to look to their own issues; including the washing the ironing, making the beds and all those dreaded chores we all hate to acknowledge, but are essential for not only our well being but also our self esteem, whether a man or woman.

Carolyn McDowallThis past year many of you have kindly plugged into my cancer journey and experiences along the route, encouraging me as I have endeavoured to gain as much of a cure as possible.

After all, it’s important.

Bums Matter Too, as my nurses often remind me at Epworth Hospital, Richmond in Oncology, where a year and more ago they asked me about my experiences and, would I please ‘write them down’.

Having suffered a six-month regime of chemo and side effects for bowel cancer the first time, I was hopeful all seemed to be going well until Chemotherapy round two of some 4 x 2 weeks, which started last month.

The idea I think was to help me to be ready to go into an immunotherapy program, hopefully unscathed.

Well that was my idea… but as we now know now my best-laid plans seem often go astray.

Going to Sydney to MC my best friend Martyn Cook’s Public Memorial service in April 2019 was a hard moment for friends and family.

Martyn Cook Redfern

His sister Michelle said to me she had hoped he would be around for at least another two years. Indeed, so had we all. We do not know how precious life is until it becomes a memory.

During my time in Sydney and the hard times after, I bit down during my sleep, likely because of the stress, eating a filling right out of one of my lower teeth on the right hand side next to one of my molars.

Set of metal Dentist's medical equipment tools

By the time I came home I was in agony, because it was tearing my tongue to pieces with a jaggy edge. It took days to get into a Dentist (not our usual) where she just filed it down a little and informed me I had to have an extraction somewhere else. Had never heard of such a thing before.

The days went by and the tongue healed thank heavens, so much so I didn’t see any urgency. My first mistake.  Then on the Tuesday of the next week two days before my second round of the next lot of chemo, I suddenly found myself in a very difficult place, not being able to walk properly with my left side leg.

Just went to bed Tuesday night with everything feeling normal. Then, woke up Wednesday feeling as if I was in a very strange place. My left-hand leg wouldn’t work properly. Also my my side was acting as if it was a ‘second or so behind’ my brain.

Julain Opie Walkers

Trying to ignore it didn’t go to plan either. The toes on my left foot kept causing me to trip over a number of times during the day. The whole new look with my bum in the air as I overbalanced over the bath was not a good one, but there it was.

Cancer is certainly not pretty on any level, whether its breasts, brains, bums or a balancing act.

Paul my eldest son picked me up on the third day to go for the second session of chemo and I told him about it. He looked puzzled, becoming alarmed too. Especially when he saw me tripping while endeavouring to get into my chair at the Day Unit for my treatment.


When he returned to pick me up following Chemo number two, he brought me a very smart Fred Astaire type‘cane’ out if his prop cupboard for making seniors living style advertisements for his firm.  Tap dancing in style.

You can imagine what I commented and we had a lot of laughs together.  He and I have always seen the silly side of life together; so important.

Informing a young nurse about how the odd second behind my brain didn’t seem to work, he noted if I had a difficulty I should bring it to my Dr’s attention.  Rightly so!  However, as I found out later in the morning, my trusted Dr was away.

This meant I had left long before his back up Dr came around.

So, I wondered what next. Oh well, I said, tomorrow is another day … will work it all out then.

Wrong again!

The next day it became apparent something else very drastic was happening. My few month-old tooth cavity broken in Sydney started to throb, lots.

Trying to get into the family dentist was out of the question, so by the middle of the day my son and I conferred, realizing we had to take on someone new immediately. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.  A new dentist we have never met before said extraction was the only option and now!


What a disaster that turned out to be.  He gave me five cartridges of anaesthetic, which seemed exceedingly high to me, proceeding to grind the tooth agonizingly right out of my head – taking just on an hour to do so. It was really hell on earth. Don’t tell me dentists have improved their manner in 50 years, would never believe it.

As we left, my son and I asked the receptionist if we might have a prescription for Panadeine Forte please, which she said emphatically wouldn’t be required. No, Panadol would do we were told.  Clearly, she had never had this procedure or experience personally.

Carolyn wearing TurbanPaul dropped me home and within an hour I knew I was in big trouble… with hospital emergency the only option and as quickly as possible. Have to say, you really do know when you are 74 and things are not going right.

He came back and drove me to Emergency, where we waited until ten pm as a number of ambulances had come in with ‘chest pain’ and other urgent matters.

So, now I was at the bottom of the list. It was a tooth right? And, we have an attitude toward teeth! They’re not as serious as other maladies.  Not sure how I managed to survive for the next five hours in reception.

How Paul managed to keep his end up either with my looking so grave I have no idea, but the ordeal finally ended when I was ready to die rather than keep living. Seems to me in all my years, I have never experienced such hell on earth like it; surely childbirth and other horrors are nothing compared to tooth pain.

Eventually the Dr finally saw us with the two nurses on duty. They became clearly alarmed at what they found, giving me Endone straight up along with Panadol to ‘take the edge off’ while they conferred before sending me home.

Carolyn by Antoine Matarasso at Brisbane 2009For the next three days I became a resident on my son’s couch in his apartment, as he and his lovely wife looked after me as I cried, agonized, vomited and just about gave it all up, begging for them both to please help met morph me into heaven.

This week I was supposed to go to Sydney and stay with my second son for a few days and have some one on one time.

Had also wanted to see a dear friend before he went into hospital for a serious operation.

Mac, Martyn and I were the three musketeers together after all.

Despite my best intentions, it is now not happening because I cannot manage to walk even a few feet, let alone go for a few supplies.

Cancer patient resting
Talking to my GP on the Saturday she organized me to go into hospital the following Thursday to be given an MRI to see what was wrong. Things have gone rapidly since. In the end there was no time to wait.

It’s not good news. It is all about a rare cancer of the brain I have now contracted (just wishing it wasn’t the case). So, am already in radiotherapy daily for the next three weeks while my Oncologist thankfully back home again and all his marvellous colleagues and nurses who have looked after me with so much care, as have my sons.

Together with the the lovely ladies of their life, they have while dealing with all the never ending shocks in a row, have been a tower of strength. For me, words can never express my love and thoughts for you all.

So, now I have having extensive radiotherapy every day for the next three weeks with my wondrous Oncologist thankfully back home again and looking after me with so much care.

Smelling the Roses

Am still endeavouring to stay on track for Star Wars at Xmas, so do help me to keep going along.

They have moved me into a posh single room of my own and Paul, Ross and Belinda took me out to a fabulous lunch over the weekend in my super duper whizbang wheelchair.

Smelling flower

Stop and smell the roses regularly everyone, please.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, July, 2019

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