My Second Act … Washuntara May 2018

A TRANSATLANTIC PERSPECTIVE … A story about care in two countries

G’day or Howdy!
I’m not sure which greeting would better serve given live on either side of what I lovingly call the pond, the Pacific Ocean.
I am Washuntara, a sixty-year-old Australian who’s spent the best part of his life as a successful songwriter in Nashville. I’m also a non-drinking, non-smoking Buddhist who wishes he was a vegetarian and didn’t love coffee. I share my days with a delightful Mid-western woman. I am a Diarist.

Why am I in this empowering publication? I’m a recent Cancer survivor and beneficiary of medical care in both Australia and the United States. This dear reader leaves me with an amiable case of double gratitude.

For months on end, Queensland to California, the doctors said, “It’s not much of lump, don’t worry. ” Who me worry! Finally after determined investigation, an excellent Mid-western female Doc from Milwaukee referred me to a brilliant ENT colleague.

Two weeks later, sitting in the snow on the pavement outside his clinic, I knew I was in real trouble. This compassionate man in his pressed white coat gently informed me that we were almost certainly dealing with a late stage, HPV related, throat cancer. That it was dangerous, difficult AND survivable.
“Washuntara I recommend returning to your home land and its medical system,” he selflessly acknowledged. I jetted back to Australia the following day. It was a long flight.

Entries from my personal 2017 Diary

• Time passed, free falling back to Australia, I found myself caught beautifully by my island home. Proceeding to get sick, very sick, and very very sick, I did not want to die but there were times when I didn’t honestly know how to keep on living. Radiation and Chemotherapy concurrently to head and neck burns hard into the human spirit, its effective and brutal.

• In Australia, I have been and continue to be the grateful recipient of mighty care at the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital. The entire medical system and staff enveloped me in love and laughter. Their professionalism and expertise was overshadowed only by their compassion. On their watch, I am now 12 months Cancer free. With the deep listening and steady guidance of a skilled Cancer counsellor, I’m starting to actually believe it. With the love of my beloved and beloveds, most days I still manage to find joy.

• I know how lucky I am, especially regarding my ability to have had a choice around which nation I’d be treated in. My strong-hearted Milwaukee ENT/surgeon did also, and he emphatically told me going home was my best shot.

• In the days, months, and years of recovery ahead, I am ever so grateful to all those who have and continue to fight for our Aussie medical system. I have undoubtedly received the best medical care possible. I have never had to consider that without medical insurance my already difficult circumstances would have become insurmountable – financial and otherwise. Somebody wiser than I once said, ”You can judge a country by the way it looks after its less fortunate.” Australia you got this one!

Live Wild – Dream Hard – Love Big …Washuntara


                      YA GOTTA !

Dear Friend
I hope this correspondence finds you well and happy. Let me start by saying that never have I experienced so much push back as a writer. The truth is I really do not wish to look back nor write about where I’ve been in these past six months, and here goes.
I love the movie Sliding Doors; I have not loved reliving its story line. In short, and as previously  written, March this year 2017, I was thrust head long into what seemed someone else’s scary life, one of a singing man with the terrifying diagnosis of stage four throat cancer.
Time passed, free falling back to Australia I found myself caught beautifully in her compassionate and efficient health care net. Proceeding to get sick, very sick, and very very sick, I did not want to die but there where times when I didn’t honestly know how to keep on living. Radiation and Chemotherapy to head and neck burns hard into the human spirit, its effective and brutal.
Thank God for the love and laughter I found myself enveloped in by all at the Royal Brisbane hospital. With their help and the gentle listening and guidance of a skilled counsellor, most days I still managed to find joy.
“Not always a bed of roses but im so glad love chose us.” Soon after the diagnosis my dear Elise Eaton travelled from the states to be by my side. We set up a sweet little house in downtown Brisbane with flowers and an altar. We took our daily refuge in the Buddha before walking slowly to the hospital to see what the other medicine gods could offer. During these daunting days we each experienced compassion and courage I don’t believe either of us knew existed prior.
Every step is healing, every step a miracle, every step freedom! With her unwavering love and friendship, the hands on help of a few close friends, and the prayers of many, we stumbled onward. And yes we witnessed miracles, some ordinary others not so. Alfred Hitchcock used to chide his actors with my favourite Hollywood quotes. He said, “remember your lines and try not to kick over the furniture”, and that’s all I ever tried to do.
Sliding door, scans are all clear, I fall on the floor crying.  A new life, a new story, bearing the striking and beautiful title; A Second Chance. Cancer free. Breathe … let me say it again I am cancer free. The treatments have been a success and there is no sign of cancer at all. Thank you for your prayers. I surely needed em!
Today I’m four months south of that second sliding door. September 20, the day after my all clear, just to prove to myself that I was still alive and could be in the world, I bravely or foolishly one or the other, chose to return to America. When my chemo addled brain refused to read the overhead departure numbers correctly and the big white Virgin jet bound for Los Angeles flew away with out me I begin to realise my new normal was going to be weird.  I did get it worked out the next day, got on board, ate the price of a new ticket, had a lovely flight and here I am.  These beautiful crazy states of America.
The weeks have seen me grow stronger and there is still a road to travel. My voice is also weak and eating difficult. I’m not the traveller/ troubadour I once was and have not been able to sequester the necessary energy to visit with so many of my family here in America.  This makes me sad.
Yesterday in my best southern voice I laughingly told a Wisconsin brother that post treatment “I’ve got more ticks on me than a Tennessee Coon dog.” And its true, the list of concerning body and emotional side effects after head and neck radiation-chemo seems totally endless and unknown. Folks that have had throat cancer are screened and scanned every 6 weeks for five years in the Aussie health system, so at least that keeps me informed as to what’s happening inside this lovely flesh and blood suit of mine. The one that is cancer free.
I’m so Grateful!
I’m freaking alive!
Let me say it again … Grateful
What’s the take home from all this …  “You Cant Stop Love”
PS Again thank you for your time. Thank you for your patience and prayers.

A Update May 17 2017

IMG_2346 2Thank you for opening this email. I wish to up date you on my previous urgent correspondence
and to express my gratitude for your mindfulness around my situation. You can’t stop love

Firstly … thank you for your patience in me getting back to you.Lastly … I have, thank god, better news.

One month ago, back down under and reeling from a head and neck cancer diagnosis just received in the US, I surrendered my will to the medicine that would attempt to stop the disease and it’s spread. I am grateful I did.

Mid morning, on April 12, 2017, an hour into my scheduled neck dissection at Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital, the highly practiced mind and skillful hands of my New Orleans soul surgeon Sarah Kelly, decided to abandon the procedure mid way. Rather she chose to back her experience and gut, and put a halt to the use of cold steel to remove the back of my tongue, the golf ball size tumour, and fifty glands from the left side of my neck.

Sarah speaks from my bedside … “ Whilst cutting into your tongue base something just didn’t feel right so I stopped. After consultation with my team they agreed to back the decision, Wash I’m sorry to put you through this but I need to look again, to go back. During surgery I was able to get to the difficult location of what I believe to be the primary cancer and have taken fresh samples to biopsy. Now I want to take larger core biopsies from the neck tumour before going any further. I need to be sure.”

One LONG week I waited. Finally receiving a call from a delighted and relieved Dr Sarah. She informed me that the original needle biopsy of the neck had in fact proven to be incorrect. Both the small primary in my tongue and the neck tumour are squamous cell carcinoma of the viral stream, which according to all statistics, responds extremely well to radiation and chemotherapy. “Surgery is not the protocol for SCC cancer,” she reported happily and she would now go ahead and organize the Hospital Oncology team to begin seven weeks of treatment. The cure rate is high.

I am now living around the corner from the Royal Brisbane, and on my second week of receiving both radiation and chemotherapy. Five days a week, “Clarissa” (the name I’ve given my protective mask) and I are bolted into the laser beams, on top of this there are weekly chemo infusions. The procedure will last for seven weeks with an expected six months of recovery post treatments.

Two weeks ago I had a feeding tube inserted directly into my belly to enable me to eat when the treatments make it too painful to swallow. This made things become real quickly. A hole in your Hara is not a wound I would take on again. It is not meant to, nor does it heal, like many other ancient wounds made to a man’s belly.

It is a difficult and life-altering mountain I am facing. The medical care I’m receiving is truly amazing. Thank you Australia for fighting for a health care system that truly cares when you need it. I have found Medicare’s love, professionalism and expertise overshadowed only by its compassion. My care is free of charge.

IMG_2455Thank god I have Elise Eaton by my side on this climb, I would simply not be able to do this with out her.

In closing, I have confidence, a confidence that comes as strength to those who are frightened. Dear friend we have chosen each other well! I am mindful for and grateful to you for being one of my beloved family of choice. My Sangha.

I often get scared. Cancer can be scary.When I do, I try to practice “Dear Fear I am here for you”

You can’t stop love … Washuntara