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 Update #3 from brother Jack Richards

16.05.19. Jack Richards in his battle against the evil cancer is most appreciative of the kind thoughts of support from commenters on this blog. Such kindness has prompted Jack to share a mini journey through his interesting life. We will include such updates if and when Jack chooses to share.
Update 2 begins: Thank you everyone for your kind words and support. It really bolsters my outlook on things to know people are behind me in this. Death is something we all have to face at sometime but I’m a bit pissed-off that fate has chosen me to take that last great journey a decade or so earlier than I expected. Such is life, hey.
13.05.19. Dear Family and friends,
Here’s something of an update as I’ve decided to chronicle this whole thing; both for the relief it gives me to share some of the load and also as something of a guide to others if they are ever unfortunate enough to get a similar diagnosis.
I’m back home and actually feel quite well. A week ago I was sure it was my last day in this life. I got to Corryong Hospital where they pumped me full of morphine, stuck me in an ambulance, that took me back to Albury Base Hospital. After a CT scan they determined that my gall bladder had become massively infected for some reason.I spent that night being injected with morphine, not a drip but the condensed stuff in a needle, and the pain eventually retreated. I had a very fitful night, drifting in and out of consciousness, and being regularly injected.
Last Friday, just a week ago, they removed my gall bladder. I vaguely recall being on a bed outside the theatre for a number of hours – and then nothing until I woke up in recovery many hours later. It took a while to realise where I was and what had happened to me. I tried to move but couldn’t as I had a drip in each arm, both legs were swathed in some sort of pneumatic blankets that squeezed them every few minutes, I had a drain in my side, a catheter in my bladder and oxygen tubes up my nose.
I’d had “keyhole” surgery where they’d shoved 3 laparoscopes into my belly, pumped it full of air so that it blew up like a balloon, and removed my gall bladder somehow. The pain was still intense and made worse from the bruising and the air; but the worst thing was being completely unable to move with all these pipes and tubes stuck in me and being completely and utterly helpless.
Last Friday night was the worst night of my life and even the strongest drugs didn’t seem to have much effect. The slightest movement caused screaming agony. The worst thing and the most humiliating was that, at some point in the night, I lost control of my bowels and shat myself. The nurses had to come in, cut off my boxer shorts, clean me up, and then put me in a rather large nappy. I shat myself twice more that night and there’s nothing that robs a man of his dignity and pride more than to be lying helpless in a bed in a nappy full of shit. The bladder catheter was misery and seemed to press on a nerve that made me feel like I desperately wanted to pee plus it seemed to be about the size of a 1/2inch garden hose. They told me they shove something in, inflate that as far as a urethra will expand and then shove the garden hose up that.
On Saturday I recovered control of my bowels and begged them to remove the catheter – which, much to my eternal gratitude, they did. The pain started to dissipate after that and by Saturday afternoon I was able to get out of bed and take myself to toilet; albeit dragging a stand with several drips and the drain bag still attached.
The pain from abdominal bruising was still quite severe whenever I moved but that started to abate as well. The air in my stomach made swallowing difficult and caused intense pain just to swallow some water. But that’s now mostly passed.
By Sunday I started feeling human again but then they decided I’d contracted a lung infection and started me on powerful antibiotics for “hospital pneumonia” – a common disease from being bedridden and unable to breathe deeply.
By Tuesday I felt like I could go home but I’d been booked for a PET Scan for Tuesday that they then put off until Thursday. So I had that yesterday and the results were sent to Dr Richard Eek at the Border Cancer Centre. He’s an oncologist and a very good one I’m told. In any event, the last of the drips were removed yesterday and the last canula was also removed this morning. They’d taken so much blood that all my veins had collapsed, and they couldn’t find another vein to insert a canula, even with an ultra sound, but it didn’t matter and I had the one still in place for a week until it was removed this morning.
I saw Dr Eek who explained much to me, not that I remember much of it. The outlook is very grim indeed. I have metastasising Stage 4 cancer of the pancreas and that has spread to my liver. There’s a chance that, if I start on the nastiest chemo therapy on 29 May I mighty get 12 months, maybe as long as two years – but that will depend on how my body reacts to the toxins and whether I get some of the nastier side effects. The chemo destroys your immune system so you become very susceptible to any infection and that can become very serious very quickly. If that fails to make any difference to the growth of the tumours, then it’s palliative care and terminal care and it’ll be “game over” sometime in August.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had a number of CT scans, ultrasounds, MRI scans and PET scans. I’ve been thinking how lucky I am to have been born in The Lucky Country where even in a modestly sized regional city all these things are available and it’s barely cost me anything. How fortunate am I to live in a country like Australia where I can get this sort of treatment from such thoroughly professional people. I’m glad I paid all that tax now. There are countries that don’t have the machines, or the surgeons, or the drugs or the nursing and hospital staff that have been available to me at Albury Base or an ambulance to take me there from Corryong. We are truly blessed in this country. While I was getting all this lavish care I thought about people in countries like Venezuela, Yemen, Honduras, Cambodia and a hundred other countries with the same disease as me and who would just have died last week in the most abject agony.
Dr Eek gave me a whole lot of stuff to read about treatment options and the progress of this disease. I can’t bring myself to look at it just yet. I’ll take a few Endone so that I can step outside my body and normal state of consciousness and consider things objectively – like it was happening to someone else. I have no intention of being heroic in any way and will take as many and as much morphine and fentanyl and whatever else they have that will blot out both the physical pain and the psychological pain. There were so many things I wanted to do, nothing grand or outrageous, like to be around to take my grandsons down to the creek with a fishing line; be there to watch them play football or run around at Little Athletics; see them grow into men. Sadly their memory of me will be much like my memory of my grand-father who died in December 1955 when I was 4. Just a snapshot or two from a time so long ago.
I don’t fear death. I’ve never believed in an afterlife or a day of judgement or a spirit realm or anything else. Death is just eternal nothingness. All those trillions of molecules, forged in an ancient star, that assembled themselves into me in a gazillion to one chance about 68 years ago will disassemble themselves and I’ll revert to being stardust in a place where there is no time; just nothing at all.
I have to go back for more full anaesthetic surgery next week sometime. They are going to insert some sort of valve into my left shoulder so that they can use it to pump in the chemo. Apparently, I get a pump attached somehow in Albury, can come home, and then get the pump removed after 2 days over at Corryong hospital.
I’m so used to being waited on, having pretty nurses come around every hour or two, that I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do with myself. I think Alice has lit the fire, so I’ll go in there and watch the football. Nothing much else to do on a rainy May afternoon.
*********************************************
UPDATE: 14.05.19
Both my parents lived well into their 80s and I thought I’d probably make it to that age as well. But then I think of the misery they had over their last decade or 15 years: my father had had his bladder removed due to cancer and had a colostomy bag attached to a stoma that greatly effected what he could do and where he could go. On top of that he had emphysema that made just walking to the mail box like running a marathon. Many times over his last decade he told me he wished he could die because his life just had no quality. My mother had a series of minor strokes at age 70 that turned into progressively debilitating dementia. She had once been a real mover and shaker and was awarded the Order of Australia for her 50 years work for various charities like the Red Cross, Catholic Women’s League, VIEW, Probus, Country Women Association, Crippled Children Society, establishing Womens Refuges as too many other things for me to remember. But she spent her last 5 years curled up in the foetal position in a nursing home unable to remember who she was let alone who we were. The person she had been simply disappeared over the course of a decade until there was just a body with a heart beat. When Dad died in 2010 and Mum in 2016 there was sadness, of course, but also a feeling of relief that their sufferings had come to an end.
Perhaps I am lucky that I’ll get the chance to die with my boots on, with my mind still functioning at 100%, and still able to go about my daily routine without much in the way of physical impediments. About the only thing I can’t do, as a result of the two operations I’ve had on my stomach, is to swing the block-buster.
At the end of October I started a fairly big DIY project. My house is a big old weather-board farm house with 120 square metres of verandahs on three sides. So my verandah is bigger than a town house I once owned in Canberra. In any event, the previous owner who installed these extensive verandahs extended them about 1.5m beyond the roof line at the northern and southern ends. As a result they were exposed to rain, ice, and blistering summer sun light and this became water damaged over the years, the nails came out and the whole had to be replaced. So, in October, I ordered a couple of lengths of 100x100x4 SHS, about 30m of 25x25x3 angle, 10 lengths of 4×2 timber. about 250 lineal metres of 75×19 pine decking, 75m of aluminium battens, and about 50 square metres of clear corrugated plastic roofing.
To cut a long story short I fabricated all the steel posts and trusses, replaced the water-damaged joists, installed the battens and roofing, tore up all the old decking and replaced that. I had 3/4 of the job done when I first took sick. All that was left to do was replace the joists and decking at the northern end of the house. I’d mixed and poured over 3000kg of cement to make sure the posts would never move and used lasers to make sure they were exactly where they should be. Anyway, on Friday my youngest daughter and her husband collected me from hospital, brought me home, and on Saturday and Sunday everyone pitched in and we got the last of the job completed. I am so pleased that it’s finished as I’d torn up the old decking and there was this massive hole 7m long and 1.5m wide starting at the back door. But, apart from some cosmetic painting and a few other little things, the job is finished and it’s such a load off my mind.
Over my adult life I was always into DIY things and did as many TAFE courses as I could. I learned to be a welder, oxy and electric, something of a carpenter, a small motor mechanic, an appliance electrician, a concreter, a brick layer and paver, an engineering draftsman, and a fairly reasonable painter and decorator. I have a 9m x 6m workshop and power and hand tools for just about every conceivable job that’s likely to arise on a little hobby farm. I think my workshop is better equipped than many a tradie’s workshop I’ve seen. The pity of it is that I’m the only one in the family who knows how to use most of these tools.
I have hand tools that have been passed down over the generations from my father, my grandfather and I even have an old wood spirit level, with a date stamp of 1902, that belonged to my great-grand-father. My great-grand-father was an interesting man. He joined the NSW Mounted Police in about 1882 and rose to be the Superintendent of Mounted Police for all New South Wales by 1918. My paternal grand-mother used to claim he was “the most hated man in New South Wales”. He was a very big man with hands like hams and was a real “old time cop” who, wherever he was stationed, dealt with petty crims in his own way i.e with his fists and the bull-whip he always carried with him. Wherever he was stationed, and he was stationed at a lot of places from Newcastle to Bourke petty crime dropped to near zero in a very short space of time. He didn’t worry too much about charging people or respecting their “human rights”; he just took the whip to them and ran them out of town. He was a very good horseman and rode everywhere up until he retired around 1930.
It’s very cool, no, it’s cold here this morning – as it tends to be in winter when you live along the western side of the Snowy Mountains National Park. I’m hoping the mists will clear and the sun will emerge so that I can get on with the little bit of painting and replacement of the barge-boards in on my last renovation project.
I still find it so difficult to believe that this s really happening to me. It seems like some sort of nightmare that I’ll wake from at some point. I know, intellectually, that it’s all true but on the emotional level I just can’t accept that I’ll shortly be going to that big workshop in the heavens. Sometimes I find myself asking, “why me”? And then ask myself, “Why not me?”
I recently read that about 3100 new cases of this particular cancer are diagnosed in Australia each year. So that means about 9 people get the same horrible diagnosis and prognosis as me every day of the week. I had a great mate, Jim, a fellow I house-shared with 1971-1974, who died of this exact disease in 2009 and he was a year younger than me; and another fellow I knew well, Steve, who was a great mate of my brother-in-law, who died from it about 5 years ago and he was 7 years younger than me. When Jim died he still had two sons in Primary school.

UPDATE: 17.05.19
Thanks everyone at MM for your kind thoughts and encouragement. I’m off to Albury Base Hospital to have a “subclavian Portacath” inserted in my shoulder. This thing is inserted into an internal vein so that they can administer the chemotherapy starting as from 29 May.
Winter seems to have come on early this year. It’s just after 6:00am and about -2 and ink-black outside. I have to drive about 160km to the hospital. Luckily I seem to have recovered quite well from my recent surgery and am feeling quite fit.
I desperately want to get away from the hospital early tomorrow so I can make it to a polling booth and vote against Shorten and the socialists. I am so hoping that, on Sunday morning, Scott Morrison is still Prime Minister.
{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Pensioner Pete 13/05/2019, 6:53 am

    Thank you for updating your situation Jack. I simply wish a miracle comes your way and the cancer departs. Best wishes from PP.

    • Aktosplatz 16/05/2019, 2:12 pm

      Me too, Jack.

  • Jarrah 13/05/2019, 7:44 am

    Praying for you Jack, hope the treatment somehow brings a miracle as per PP’s comment above. All the best, mate.

  • DT 13/05/2019, 8:32 am

    Very best wishes to you Jack.

  • Albert 13/05/2019, 8:40 am

    Hang in there Jack and best wishes to you.

  • Penguinite 13/05/2019, 9:06 am

    What a great intrepid soldier! Thanks for sharing! Hope our reading of your words lessens the pain and discomfort you are obviously suffering! Keep taking the Endone! Pain is so debilitating and energy sapping! Here’s a metaphorical hug to keep you going!

  • Lorraine 13/05/2019, 9:36 am

    Well Jack what a bloody shame. My Husband George also had cancer, Lung cancer, and apart from the out of pocket to the Professor in charge, we had all the services you have mentioned , top professionals top care and the hospice ,all paid for by our taxes. As you say we are lucky, the very best of luck to you on your next course of action. God be with you.

  • nev 13/05/2019, 9:57 am

    Thank you Jack and we will keep hoping for your miracle. To your grand kids, wife and family and many who know you well I’m sure you are their hero.
    The fact that so many of us here at MM can say thank you for your great effort in bringing us up to date. We see your courage as heroic too.

  • Eliza 13/05/2019, 10:28 am

    May your God be with you Jack and thanks for keeping us updated on how you are doing and as always written with such clarity.
    Take Care but have as much fun as possible with your family and friends.

  • ibbit 13/05/2019, 12:14 pm

    Hello Jack – what an exercise in descriptive clarity your update is. And what a baptism of fire you have recently undergone. I, too, have reason to marvel at how lucky we are with our medical treatments. I fell and gave my head a good old wack, was carted off to hospital by ambulance, had various examinations, a CT scan which found I had a subdural haematoma. Paid not a cent. Am home with a sore head and an admonition not to drive for one month. Getting old is a bit of a bugger, but as with my father, I don’t consider you to be old. Hang in there.

  • Botswana O'Hooligan 13/05/2019, 1:10 pm

    Jack, for what it is worth I almost conquered the pain by running an auction in my head and selling it to the highest bidder for you see I am allergic to opiates and used to vomit after an injection so most of the stitches in my tongue and throat would tear out. I used to lie as still as possible and post that bastard of a pain to Peter Abeles and Bob Hawke, even Bill Kelty and his mistress but it never went away completely. After the first operation out of the seven my wife had to go back to Russia because immigration refused to extend her tourist visa by a few days so I had to fend for myself and liquified baby tucker more liquid and got it down in trickles. No wonder babies hate the stuff for it tastes like cats piss or even worse. Must be smoke in my eyes mate for they are running not because of my woes but for yours so I gotta go. For Christs sake hang in there and don’t ever give in, think about posting the pain to those Labor bastards. Bill M

  • TommyGun 13/05/2019, 3:17 pm

    Dear Jack,
    You have been through fire but have (by way of our excellent doctors, nurses and equipment as you say) come through and been given some extra time. I am glad! Thank you for sharing this visceral experience with us. I don’t think I would be able to cope as well as you have. I can’t add much to what other MM friends have said, except to say that you live in a beautiful part of the country; enjoy! (I worked for several years at Falls Creek; not too far away as the crow flies.)
    Best wishes,
    TG

  • polynomial 13/05/2019, 7:45 pm

    hope you get to do everything you set out to Jack.

  • Gregoryno6 13/05/2019, 8:05 pm

    Jack,
    I don’t know what to say. I’ve never been through anything like the ‘treatment’ you describe here.
    I’m in awe of your ability to maintain and persist. Because it sounds like a taste of hell.

    • luk1955 13/05/2019, 9:32 pm

      Agree Gregory. I have never been through anything like that but have seen other people go through that. JR is a brave man and composed of strong Aussie atoms and molecules unique to Australia. I will be thinking of the hell Jack is going through and wish Jack the best and hope that his suffering is easing.

      • Finn 17/05/2019, 8:44 am

        DAMN STRAIGHT

  • Neville 14/05/2019, 1:17 am

    Ah Jack, what a time you’ve had of it! And, more to come. Hang in there mate! I have also had the gall bladder out; stones in my case. The pain was something shocking, so on that, I can truly say that i know what you went through.
    But I ain’t had all the other, and I can fervently say I bloody don’t want to! THAT lot, I ain’t got a clue what it’s like, so a big thanks for trying (VERY successfully!) to explain how it goes.
    Do keep your spirits up mate. Like so many others above, I wish you the very best!
    Cheers, Neville

  • luk1955 16/05/2019, 7:19 am

    Ah Jack. A man after my own heart. A DIY. I am of the same way. Lots of tools and a big barn to use them. My youngest son is a self taught mechanic who runs a motorcycle transport business. Does all his own vehicle repairs. Oldest son is using tools to do minor works, and the middle son is learning about renovations. As long as you can use the tools, you have a way of coping with this disastrous news. I saw what Alzheimers and a small stroke did to my mother, and it was not pretty. Thanks for the update.

  • Botswana O'Hooligan 16/05/2019, 7:47 am

    G’day Jack, we are a lucky country really although we bitch and moan about it a lot. You mentioning the care given you in a smallish town made me recall my early days in Russia just after perestroika when gunfights on the streets were common and all kinds of mayhem took place. Medical facilities were non existent and we lost our driver, a lovely young woman both in looks and spirit, from kidney disease. We didn’t know and she never mentioned it but dialysis would have saved her and there was none available. By the time we pilots found out and shipped her off to Vladivostok where treatment was available, it was too late and she died. I hired another driver, a young bloke who had not a word of English with the proviso that he learned enough to understand us in a month, and he did. His wife had thyroid problems and the only medicine available was iodine but I got stuff sent up (two of my kids are medico’s) and treated her. The driver was an ex Spetsnaz bloke who could turn his hand to anything too and when our Pommy made main hangar heater threw in the claw (we had a pussycat aeroplane according to the Russians because we kept it in a hangar and the temp never got lower than about -10C) our engineers had conniptions and ran the airwaves to the UK red hot trying to order a new guts. Sasha had a bit of a squint at the innards of the thing, went to the local aeroplane graveyard and came back with electrical panels with all sorts of stuff hanging from them. He wired it all in and the heater resumed operation. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and got a sort of a comment along the lines of–neat but not gaudy he said as he sewed the cats arse up with barbed wire– but it worked. I suppose we pilots were a soft touch but we bankrolled a lot of the Aeroflot girls when they pay didn’t arrive and they always paid us back. I had a small medical kit with a heap of anti biotics and used them when needed, no one died and our local workers thought I was some kind of bloody genius. That’s all changed now and Russia has caught back up with the World but I remember it each time I shave for my face is a bit lopsided from frostbite. Take it easy mate, don’t give in and keep writing to us.

  • Penguinite 16/05/2019, 8:10 am

    Hey Jack at our age most of are having trouble swinging the old block buster! Keep smiling!!

  • ibbit 16/05/2019, 8:44 am

    Hello Jack, in a funny sort of way I envy your history. My father, being a farmer, like you could turn his hand to anything that needed doing around the farm, building a new house and fixing the refrigerator when he had the time. being just two of those things. He died at 63, but he was a “lucky” one – went out to weed his vegie garden and fell into it, dead from a massive heart attack on his birthday, of all days. Only 63, so l thought there really was no justice in the world.
    I loved the story of your great, great grandfather. Reminded me of the copper who policed our local town and farming district. There was almost no crime, but occasionally a teenager decided he would chance his arm and cause a ruckus. Sarge – a big man – would come along, administer a hefty kick to the rear end, cart him of to the “slammer” take him home when he had cooled of and tell his parents what he had been up to.
    He also was no respecter of human rights – might actually have sneered at the idea, believing as he did that folks had the right to live in safety and peace.
    Love your writing and hope you keep well enough to continue with your delightful updates.
    I echo the wish of some above for a miracle, but being a realist I know that living to the utmost during this time, is the best “miracle” a body could have.

  • Maryanne 16/05/2019, 9:15 am

    Jack, you’re a damn good writer too. Please keep the updates and reminiscences coming.

    I keep reading that young people today are the “best ever educated”. Tosh and piffle says I. They’re been warehoused in schools for far too long and that’s the opposite of being educated. Is ours the last educated generation?

    • luk1955 17/05/2019, 7:50 am

      Yes Mary we are the last educated generation. And it’s not education the students get now, it’s pure Hitlerian propaganda about how to serve and worship the state. And those large corporations. Be good little brownshirt fascists.

  • nev 16/05/2019, 12:11 pm

    Great stuff Jack and so glad its therapeutic for you. I hope I have your strength when my turn comes, however it comes. Like I have said before you’re an inspiration.
    All the best mate!

  • Aktosplatz 16/05/2019, 2:20 pm

    Greetings Jack. I have often thought how I would be in your position. Now we are finding out because you’re telling all of us. On the one hand I flinch, but on the other, more importantly, you are showing us the life of a man who has lived life to the full, and will be the same right to the end.

    As I reflect, being the age I am, my own departure from this life can’t be that far away. We’re all different, and so my life has not been like yours from what I see of you, but nevertheless I too have had a very good life with all of its ups and downs.

    I have lived in 4 countries including Australia (arrived 1976) , and this one is the best by far, over the other three. And that’s because of people like you.

    May all our ‘transitions’ be peaceful with all broken fences mended.

    Thank you, Jack, God Bless.

  • TommyGun 17/05/2019, 6:26 am

    Lots of people like you built this country and made it what it is, Jack.
    I just want you to know I (and many others) appreciate your efforts.
    Agree with your sentiments about the bloody socialists!

    Best wishes,

    TG

  • ibbit 17/05/2019, 9:59 am

    Jack, a friend of mine went on the same journey as you are embarking on and he did it with courage and great patience. I admired him and I admire you.

  • Austin Ayforti 17/05/2019, 4:52 pm

    Thank you Jack for sharing this with us. There are so many of us sending you our very best wishes. I lost my wife to cancer over 6 years ago and understand about the porta-cath and your upcoming chemo treatment. I sincerely wish for you as smooth a journey as possible and feel that even with the possibility of some side effects the benefit far outweighs them.

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