10 May 1948 - 14 September 1998

My Sense of Dread

This is an email message I sent to friends six months after Hazel's remission (a word we didn't use at the time, lest fate be tempted) had ended. She'd had radiotherapy and was undergoing a new kind of chemotherapy (taxol), but there didn't seem to be much response.

The occasion was Hazel's fiftieth birthday. (Actually, I'd missed it by seven minutes.)

From: bobm@agsm.edu.au
Subject: Hazel turns fifty today!
Date: Mon, 11 May 1998 00:07:36 +1100 (E )

Dear Friends of Hazel,

Today -- Sunday, May 10 -- is Hazel's birthday.

But she is not well. After almost eighteen months of remission, she started getting strong bone pain last November. She had radio-therapy on her neck and back (which were at risk of fracturing) over Christmas and has been on taxol chemo-therapy since January, which is due to end in ten days. But for the most part the pain has persisted, although blood tests have shown no deterioration. Although bone secondaries may take weeks or months after the beginning of chemo for the pain to diminish, it is now four months since the chemo started, which means we're concerned, concerned not least because she's lost weight and has suffered constipation and nausea from the chemo and the pain killers (mainly panadol/panadeine so far).

There is also concern that her right upper femur (where it enters the hip) is at risk of fracture and they're talking of operating to put in rods, but she's weak for major surgery. Meanwhile, we are taking to the oncologist about starting another round of chemo using the cocktail that she had two years ago, which led to the remission of 1996/97. The problem is that the tumour develops resistance to the chemicals -- a sort of natural selection, so that eventually they become ineffective. We play for time.

So the plans for her birthday in Tuscany went west -- she hasn't been up to the mountain house since before November, since she hasn't wanted the jolting of a car trip for two hours.

Her sister Pat and mother Ada arrived as all this was starting in early December, and prolonged their visit to the end of March, when her other sister Joan and her husband Ken arrived for 3 1/2 weeks. (They managed to get up to the Barrier Reef for 4 days). A week after they'd gone home, Pat came back for six months, which means that the day-to-day things -- kids after school, keeping Hazel company, driving Hazel to hospital, etc -- are taken care of.

We told Zoë last Sunday that Hazel could die from her disease (but left her and son with some hope -- not least because we don't know). Zoë's response was "You're kidding!" and then she told me that a friend of hers had asked her how she felt about the possibility of her mother's dying, and she'd said that Hazel was just sick -- so it was time we spoke to her. I told son last November, inadvertantly really, that Hazel had cancer; he knew how serious that was.

So both kids know the possibility, and talk to Hazel about things, which is tough on them, but better than being lied to and kept out of the way.

There are some photos of Hazel and the kids on the Web, taken last August when my sister was up for the School holidays, one of the most recent times that Hazel was in the Blue Mountains.


Hazel's spirits are good, all things considered. She is getting some sleep each night and gets out every couple of days. Today -- her birthday -- after opening the presents and celebrating with the strawberry mousse birthday cake with five candles, we went out looking for a chest of draws for son's room on a fine brisk autumn day. Yesterday we bought a walking stick to protect the right hip. But she's lost much weight, as well as all her hair. Both of which are reversible if/when the chemo works.

She's not up to seeing people much, but a card or note would be welcome.

I'm well, as are the kids. Zoë's in Year 2, son in Year 3 and his soccer team has won two out of two this season (last week he kicked the one and only and so winning goal in the game). Both are learning piano; Zoë has Hazel's painting skills.

Please contact me for further information, even if I can't always reply immediately.

Thanks for your love and concern,


In the meantime, please feel free to email me, Robert.

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Last Updated 5 March 1999