Lighter in Heart and Full of Hope
by Evangelia Dascarolis
Cancer entered my life for the first time at the end of 2013.
In the few years prior, I had been a devoted carer for my much-loved late husband and soulmate (Peter), as his condition with Parkinson’s disease worsened and health declined. During that time, I felt well enough within myself and I was over 70, so a mammogram, albeit sensible, had been pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.
In January 2014, I was in hospital having a lumpectomy on my right breast. Fortunately the cancer was contained, had not metastasised and the sentinel nodes were clear. I felt like I had dodged a bullet. Fifteen sessions of radiotherapy (over three weeks) followed.
Alongside the cancer treatments, I started addressing my unresolved grief, as well as my deteriorating scoliosis condition. Life had to go on, and I had a concerned family to consider – my mantra was “I must not worry the kids”.
Coming to terms with the loss of my husband, many radiation treatments, and a long and drawn out spinal fusion and recovery, was a lot to deal with over a relatively short period of time. Counting my blessings – of which there were many – sustained me through the challenges.
Once I started feeling well enough, my bucket list became my priority.
I had visited Greece many times with Peter, so it was time to explore Australia, and in 2016 the Kimberley beckoned. What rugged beauty! What exhilaration! A totally new experience, travelling with a small group of marvellous people and revelling in the wonders of the Kimberley, was a balm for my tired soul.
In 2018, my body became covered in eczema, and when lesions and bruises appeared on my lumpectomy site, a biopsy was ordered. I had been taking Tamoxifen since 2013 and had been taking good care of myself, so another cancer diagnosis was unimaginable, but CT and PET scans verified Angiosarcoma caused by the radiotherapy and a “hot spot” hidden under my scapula.
My radiation oncologist apologised to me, but how could I blame her? It was explained that Angiosarcoma’s are rare, and usually happen 20 years after radiotherapy.
My excellent surgeon was honest enough to say that this was the first case like this he had seen, and needed to confer with his colleagues regarding treatment options. The outcome was one option, a total mastectomy, which was performed in June this year .
As soon as I recovered from the mastectomy, there was only one thought in my mind – The Gawler Cancer Foundation – and it was the best possible decision I could have made. Why didn’t I attend years before?
Even before leaving home, I knew the right decision had been made. Travelling in the bus from Melbourne to the Yarra Valley reinforced the decision. When our group walked through the front entrance, the calming immediately began. A morning tea of fresh crudities and healthy dips were served before our first group session with Paul and Maia Bedson.
Our healing journey had begun and full participation was required. With Maia and Paul as our guides, it was both a relaxed and intensely life-changing experience. The information, statistics, empathy, and guidance were invaluable. The food, mostly organic and entirely plant-based was absolutely delicious!
Learning to meditate was fairly new to a few of us, but Maia and Paul were competent teachers and highly qualified practitioners. We all loved the peace of the beautiful meditation sanctuary, surrounded by trees and birdsong.
It was hard to talk openly about my cancer journey (writing is easier), and harrowing and humbling to hear of the experiences of others in our group. So many admirable and brave people – some with supporters, others alone. How quickly we bonded. There was genuine warmth and empathy amongst the group, and that included Maia and Paul as well. Meal times were riotous – the laughter loud and contagious. I remember thinking – who would guess that we are all dealing with a life threatening illness? Not us, this newly formed Gawler gang!
I am sure we would all agree when I say that we left the retreat lighter in heart, full of hope, and with a greater understanding of ourselves, of others, and how to deal with our afflictions.
I am incredibly grateful that I was able to attend the retreat at The Gawler Cancer Foundation. It was a privilege, and I hope to return one day. Thank you to all the staff at the Foundation, and furthermore to Ian Gawler, who made this whole experience possible. Also a special thanks to Michael Johnson and his magical Harp, who gave us a preview of what heaven must be like.
My heart-felt love goes out to everyone I met during those five life-changing days.