Michelle was enjoying life! A happy, healthy, busy life as a wife, mother of two, loving daughter, friend to many and a dedicated nurse.
She had a headache one morning before heading to a stressful day at the hospital during Covid in 2020. She thought little of it until the words on the patient's chart she was reading became completely unrecognisable. Michelle’s life was forever changed from that moment on.
2020 was a year like no other for me. This is the time when the whole world seemed to turn upside down and nothing would ever be the same again. This is where my story begins. July 2020. Also the year of the nurse.
There was nothing good for nurses in 2020 or for me personally. My name is Michelle, and up until this point in my life I was a busy working nurse, wife, mother to my 2 teenage children and friend to many. I had a very normal, full, happy and healthy life that was until I was diagnosed with brain cancer.
The Covid pandemic was upon us and life in the hospital was frantic, terrifying and uncertain. I was rostered on for a Saturday shift. I had a headache from the day before, but I had put this down to being stressed about Covid in the hospital and what I would be facing at work this day. It wasn’t unusual for me to start my day with a couple of Panadol tablets for a pounding headache, especially if there was any sign of stress.
By 11 am that day, I was reading patient notes, as is my usual routine, when I found I could not make any sense of the words I was reading. I turned the page but still the words were a jumble. I started to panic, wondering what was happening and turned my attention to the numbers printed on the patient bed- still I could not make sense of what I saw.
I rang home and spoke to my daughter- a wise 13 year old- she helped me calm down and confidently advised me to sit down while she her called her dad, Chris.
My husband wasted no time and was by my side before I knew it. Together we went to the ED of the hospital I worked in and explained my confusing episode. It felt strange to be in the hospital dressed in my nurse’s uniform sitting with patients, as I had become one. I had never needed the emergency department before. I waited to be reviewed. The doctor performed a range of tests and questioned me before informing me that I needed a CT scan. As I was feeling better by this stage and was able to make sense of words again, I felt this was unnecessary worry, and I should just go home.
I stayed for my CT scan, and was surprised with the worrying look on the faces of the staff when they asked me to come in and tell me the results of the scan. The doctors eyes welled with tears as she told me I had a lesion on my brain. I was going to need to stay in hospital and I was going to need surgery. I was told that my symptoms were the result of swelling on the brain and I had had a seizure. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I could not believe this was true and was happening to me.
Surgery was booked a few days later, and I had a craniotomy to resect the tumour and work out what type of tumour I was dealing with. The operation went as planned with no complications -except for Covid restrictions that meant my husband had to drop me at the front door of the hospital on the day of my surgery and my children couldn’t visit me while I was there. I couldn’t wait to get home to them. I just needed to see my neurosurgeon in 10 days for a review and the results of what they had removed. This was the real life changing event- when my surgeon informed me that the news was not good. I had a Grade 4 Glioblastoma. He told us I had a guarded prognosis and began to explain my treatment options. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, sick and devastating- it was so overwhelming. My husband and I were in shock, my heart dropped to the floor and my sunshine dimmed. It was all a blur for me. We left his surgery and had no idea where to go and who to tell or what to do. We sat in our car just shocked at the news. I was wondering how I was going to tell me children who were waiting for me to call them. My mum was waiting too- it broke my heart to tell her- I know it broke hers too.
Half an hour after we left the surgery I got a call on my phone from one of the MHF Brain Cancer Coordinator nurses who spoke with us about what needed to come next. Who I would see, options I had, and how she would coordinate my treatment over the coming months. I felt real support and care. She gave me her number and told me to call with any questions or concerns I had.
Shortly after, I started radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The MHF nurse was there with me at every meeting and every step of the way as I navigated this strange new world of doctor’s appointments and oncology treatments. I had 6 weeks of daily radiotherapy and intense chemotherapy. Radiotherapy finished and chemotherapy continued for another 18 months after this.
All the while I received the best care. I received so much support and love and care, and found the MHF was there for me in my darkest time. I was helped to stay positive and became determined that life would get back to normal, albeit in a different kind of way. 8 months after my ordeal began I went back to work, this time as a nurse, not a patient.
Today I am pleased to say that I am well. I have a brain MRI every 2 months and I have been told there is no sign of the tumour. I am so thankful for this.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining. Today I have a new perspective. I am a better nurse – I have a new understanding of patients and the care I can give them. I understand how life can change in a moment as I have been there too. I recognise my blessings and am thankful for these. I am surrounded by love and friendship and blessed to have a beautiful family. I couldn’t ask for anything more.