In May 2016 my wife Dominique was hospitalised with a high fever. A year later, she died – another statistic taken by bowel cancer. This is her story.
Dominique was admitted to Wellington Hospital in May 2016 with a fever after feeling generally quite unwell. She was discharged a week later, with no apparent cause found. This was our first mistake. This was the time when we should have asked more questions and insisted on more tests.
In December that same year, shortly after returning from holiday, Dominique started feeling unwell. She had been generally unwell but we ascribed it to cholesterol medication, low iron, and some possible kidney infections along with a raft of other symptoms that doctors were treating.
Was it a matter of treating the symptoms and not the cause? On reflection, was this a failure of doctors overall to ask more questions, or was it our fault for not asking enough questions? Our reliance on medical professionals to identify what may cause the issues is probably not unwarranted, but the blame rests with cancer – I feel like the doctors did everything they could on the back of a medical system filled with red tape.
On this journey we had enlisted the help of our own specialist to look at Dominique’s kidneys. He explained that the effects she was feeling were unlikely the result of a stone lodged in her kidney. We paid for our own CT scan and they found nothing.
In January 2017 Dominique ended up in hospital with similar symptoms to what she had had in May the previous year. We almost felt like the doctors thought we were imagining the symptoms, but the fevers were real – even we couldn’t magically make Dominique’s temperature go up on demand.
After about a week she was discharged with no reason given for the problem, again. I spoke at length with Dominique, and she and I agreed that we needed to push our GP to run more tests. An ultrasound looking at her gall bladder detected lesions on her liver. The good news was that they had found something; the bad news was they had found cancer that had spread from somewhere else.
February was essentially the beginning of the end.
It was my birthday and we went to Wellington Hospital for an urgent CT scan, but all they could do was take blood and now search for cancer markers. The CT scanner was undergoing maintenance and the other one was busy.
Time was of the essence, but we were starting to understand that we were facing the inevitable. Dominique had the CT scan the following week and it confirmed what we already knew: there was a tumour poisoning Dominique, killing her rapidly.
Probably about a week or two later we met with a specialist surgeon at Kenepuru Community Hospital. He told us that the cancer was inoperable and that the oncology team would need to see us to discuss options. Not one for messing around, Dominique wanted a prognosis. The surgeon went on to explain that he thought with chemotherapy we would possibly buy her some time, but without it she was facing months at best.
It felt like forever until we got an appointment to see the oncology team. It was now March and we still didn’t have a way forward. Before we could actually meet the oncologists we had to take Dominique in for a liver biopsy. It was frustrating, because they already knew it was cancer but they needed to do more tests.
On March 31 we met with the oncology team, almost two months from the day a radiologist picked up the stage four lesions on her liver. The prognosis was that the cancer was very aggressive. There was a 60 per cent chance that chemotherapy might slow it down, but no cure and no way to stop it.
On April 18, Dominique had her first round of chemo. The barrage of medication, feeling unpleasant, hair loss and other side effects now started – but at least chemo had begun. This was our only hope to buy her some time. May 22 was to be her fourth round of chemo. We had started seeing some good results in the liver, which would ultimately help with how Dominique was feeling, even if the cancer was actually still there. But we never made it as Dominique was taken to hospital with a fever.
Later that week, on Friday May 26, I got up, said goodbye to Dominique and went to work. At about 11am I received a call from my sister-in-law saying Dominique had collapsed and had been rushed to hospital.
When I arrived at the hospital Dominique said to me she was worried the cancer had spread to her brain. Her words weren’t even cold when the head oncologist arrived – I could see the dread on their face. Dominique had a blood clot somewhere between her lungs and heart – a pulmonary embolism. The cancer had also indeed spread to her brain. Blood clot treatment would possibly cause a brain bleed, because of the cancer that had spread.
There was no winning. We were admitted to a private room in the cancer ward that night. When I awoke I could see my wife slipping away. We had visitors in and out during the day and I stayed with her as much as possible. The only sliver of hope we had was that if she made it through the next 72 hours, she would probably be in the clear. But she was slipping away – I just knew it, I could see it.
Her mum and dad, along with our three kids, Keegan, Declan and Sage, finished their visit and started on the relatively short journey back to Porirua. Not too long after, she screamed my name. She had said very little else leading up to it – it was the first time in our short cancer journey that I had recognised fear in her voice – and so the end began.
I hit the emergency button, the room cleared and I was left standing outside. The intern oncologist called me in – he was in tears – there was nothing he could do except to try and make Dominique comfortable as she passed away. I messaged our family to come back. As our sons and then 5-year-old daughter entered the room Dominique slipped away. I was relieved that our kids had not seen her gasping for air. I had told her that everything would be OK, and she needed to be brave – I would make sure our kids would be looked after.
We were all pretty shell-shocked. She was 40 years old. Dominique will always be remembered as a loving mother who gave everything of herself. Keegan, Declan, Sage and I will make sure we live on to make her proud.
Bowel cancer and any other kind of cancer doesn’t discriminate – don’t stop asking your GP questions and don’t be afraid to ask for more tests. If it doesn’t feel right listen to your body. If detected early enough you still have a high survival rate, but detected too late and you have little to no chance.
Credit: Stuff story