The Sea Of Hope
by Katherine Meritakis
It was the last hot day of autumn in Melbourne for 2016, April 18 to be exact, when I decided to take my health “into my own hands”. Driving home from my temp job as a teacher, in an unfamiliar area, I used my “Navman” to guide me and detoured from the freeway onto a long road that led to the beach. It was a pleasantly hot, balmy afternoon and the beach was the perfect place to unwind and relax after work.
My days of late had been confusing. I did not feel “quite right” though doctors had insisted in the last eight months prior, that tests I had done, indicated I was healthy, with no evidence of illness. My last test, an endoscopy, revealed a healthy stomach albeit some inflammation, otherwise, my GP told me in his nonchalant manner, it was nothing to worry about and I was as healthy as could be.
Despite that, I did not feel 100% and in my desperation, for several months, I sought the advice from various medical practitioners, the internet, and those who had experienced similar symptoms to myself: bloating and a little nausea at times. I felt lonely and scared as I searched for answers: was my bloated abdomen age-related as some thought? A fibroid? A hernia? Or the after-effect of having four large babies, the last which were over 7 pound twins? That afternoon, it was my intuition that drove me to the beach to search for answers.
The beach was a beautiful spot where the clear, pale blue water is shallow and goes for several metres before it gets deep.
It is always slightly windy there but the view is majestic and awe inspiring. The salty air and quintessential atmosphere I feel, is the place where ultimate reflection can occur- it is where dreams are made, wounds healed and questions answered.
I lay on the rich, dense, sand and it enveloped my body perfectly. With this deep sense of relaxation, serenity but also fear, I proceeded to conduct my own 9-point abdominal examination, as my doctor had done 10 months prior. To my horror and almost immediately, I felt a massive lump, bigger than a mango on the right side of my abdomen. There it was, as I had suspected – my intuition was correct all along!! In the few days that followed, I received a shattering diagnosis of advanced Ovarian Cancer.
At my first appointment, in a hospital gynaecology clinic, I was told my condition was grim and I had little chance of survival, as the cancer had spread to my right side and had most probably metastasised throughout my body. If it was not in my organs, I was told it was most definitely, probably in my stomach. The young doctor nervously mumbled “Sorry”, when I asked about prognosis. Despite ensuing feelings of doom, I managed to seek the opinion of the surgeon, at a private consultation. This appointment was on the Friday and by Monday evening I was having major surgery to remove the tumour, as well as other organs.
Terror and disbelief consumed me. I was filled with questions. Why wasn’t I helped earlier, when I was crying out? Why had a GP five years before not listened when I asked to start having pelvic ultrasounds to check for ovarian cancer? Why did that same doctor say “What’s the hype – ovarian cancer is an old ladies’ disease!?“? Why was I denied access to an examination, when I had clearly requested it? Why had this opinion influenced me to the very core, preventing me from speaking up, insisting on a pelvic ultrasound, or seeking a second opinion from a different GP? Now my young life was in jeopardy, at the height of my career and productivity. What would happen to my family, especially my four young-adult children who were still grieving the loss of their father nine years ago? How would they ever recover from the loss of both parents? How could my life be cut short, so suddenly with no opportunity to do something about it?
After being released from intensive care, a friend came to visit. As I lay there in pain, feeling numbness and anxiety about my future, my friend talked to me about The Gawler Cancer Foundation as a resource and place of hope and healing. At the time, recovery seemed as far away and remote as the Northern lights; and I knew I couldn’t possibly afford the luxury of a health retreat, as beneficial as it would be. In the months that followed, feelings of fear relating to my mortality persisted.
I tried to remain positive as I undertook six-rounds of chemotherapy; and felt privileged to experience minimal side-effects and have access to a cold-cap, which minimised my hair loss and allowed me to look ‘normal’ to the outside world.
It was in the waiting room of the chemotherapy unit at the cutting edge, and architecturally breathtaking, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, that I picked up a copy of “Living Well” magazine, which reminded me of the recommendation my friend had made several months earlier. The stories inspired me, so I decided to research the Foundation further and when I did, I found that their holistic approach to cancer recovery resonated with me deeply… I knew then that attending a retreat would be the next step in my treatment plan.
Although I did not know much about the program itself, I knew that for several years prior to my diagnosis, my life had been complex and misaligned with my core values and fundamental personality. I had been living on the edge with extreme ‘busyness’, endless to-do lists, and high levels of stress. I knew that if I had any chance of recovery, and reclaiming my life, I somehow needed to visit The Gawler Cancer Foundation and learn about their philosophy and principles.
It was my son who called the Foundation, and they were so encouraging and supportive. As I was unemployed at the time, they emailed us some information about their bursary-funding program, which made attending the retreat a real possibility. I am so deeply grateful to the people behind the bursary program – those funds enabled me to attend the cancer retreat program, when I was at the lowest point in my life and at the crossroads between healing or succumbing to my illness.
The sessions, particularly on managing stress, meditation and emotional healing, gave me the tools and insights to turn my life around. I have had a lifelong interest in healthy eating and holistic living, in the few years prior to my diagnosis however my lifestyle had been out of balance and devoid of self-care. Attending the program empowered me to realign myself with who I was previously – a health conscious, calm and positive person. It also extended my knowledge of food as medicine – cancer nutrition, the benefits of a wholefoods diet, and the importance of organic food.
The retreat, situated in the Yarra Valley is a haven of beauty and peace. Having spent the last year indoor – mostly in hospitals – the experience of reconnecting with the wildlife and nature was also conducive to my process of self-healing, which began happening within me from the start of the four-night retreat. Listening to the stories and fears of other participants with various forms of cancer on the first day, was the beginning of the cathartic and healing journey, as special bonds and friendships were forged. I felt the immediate support and empathy of everyone involved, and no longer felt alone.
At the conclusion of the retreat I felt more peaceful, and empowered to be the driver of my own cancer journey. Our future is a mystery for all of us – that is the beauty of life! However, with the knowledge gained from The Gawler Cancer Foundation on lifestyle, diet, meditation and emotional healing, I feel more equipped to stride forward positively, rather than allowing gloomy statistics to dictate my future.
I came home with a renewed sense of tranquillity, hope and purpose.