Chapter 41 – Bad News

“A man who fears nothing is a man who loves nothing, and if you love nothing, what joy is there in your life?”

– Sean Connery as King Arthur in ‘First Knight’

After experiencing some troubling symptoms, Austin had a CT scan of his abdomen upon returning from filming in Ecuador, and the radiology practice told us to take the resulting films to a doctor as soon as we could.

Amy and Austin Stevens in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
Copyright Austin J Stevens

‘Ok,’ I said, ‘I’ll call Dr Thomas.’ I phoned the GP’s office and explained the situation, and the receptionist told us to come in straight away. Austin and I climbed into the car in silence and I started the engine. We reached for each other’s hands simultaneously.

‘It’ll be all right,’ I said. ‘You’ll see.’ But my voice sounded hollow. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that grew worse with every passing second.

‘Should we open this?’ Austin asked, indicating the envelope.

‘No,’ I said. ‘Normally I would, but this time I think it would be best if we wait until we have Dr Thomas in front of us who can help us interpret it. He can answer any questions we might have.’

Austin nodded, holding the envelope containing his results as though it were a bomb about to explode. I reversed the car out of the medical centre car park and struggled to stick to the speed limit as we neared the General Practitioner’s office. I pulled in and turned off the engine, and we sat for a moment, suddenly not wanting to enter the building. We were paralysed by uncertainty and the fear of what we might be about to hear. Reluctantly, we locked the car and walked with our arms around each other into the doctor’s surgery. After informing the receptionist of our arrival, we took seats in the waiting room and braced ourselves in silence. I decided that for once in my life, I would take the path of the optimist, rather than my customary path – that of the realist.

‘It’ll be ok,’ I said, despite my intuition screaming the opposite.

‘I like your confidence,’ Austin replied, ‘but I’m not so sure.’

Neither am I, I thought to myself. Instead I said, ‘Whatever it is, we’ll handle it together.’

Austin simply nodded his head unconvincingly.

‘Austin?’ Dr Thomas called from his consulting room. Austin squeezed my hand, grasped the envelope and turned to go.

‘I’ll call you if I need you,’ he said. With that, he and Dr Thomas disappeared into the consulting room. The door closed, and I heard the murmur of soft voices emanating from inside. I picked up a health magazine and tried to read, but I could not keep my mind from wandering. After only a couple of minutes, I heard Austin say, ‘I’d better get my wife,’ and my heart sank. The door opened and Austin looked as worried as I felt. He said nothing, and I stood and followed him into the consulting room, softly closing the door behind me. I took a deep breath and sat beside Austin, seeing past the half smile on Dr Thomas’s face to the concern in his eyes. Austin took my hand and squeezed it hard as Dr Thomas handed me the CT films.

‘These results are quite concerning,’ Dr Thomas began. ‘What this shows is an abnormal growth on the prostate gland.’

I felt as though I was going to be sick, and my mouth was suddenly too dry to speak. I nodded and gestured for Dr Thomas to continue.

‘The radiologist has identified two cysts on the prostate, one of which is very large. This cyst is pressing on the bowel and is likely to be what’s causing the symptoms Austin complained of. There is a smaller cyst on the other side, which appears to be simply fluid-filled, but the larger cyst is what we call a complicated cyst. You can see what appears to be calcification at its base, and its involvement with the prostate gland.’ Dr Thomas indicated the correct place on the film and I immediately identified the area he was referring to. ‘I must tell you that this is very unusual. I’ve never seen cysts on the prostate in my entire career. I’ve never heard of a case of it.’

‘Trust me to get the thing no one’s ever seen before,’ Austin muttered.

‘How big is the cyst?’ I asked.

‘The large cyst is five centimetres in diameter,’ he said, ‘big enough to be causing some problems.’

Oh my God, I thought. I felt the blood draining away from my face as I asked, ‘Do you know what it is?’

‘I can’t tell conclusively at this stage,’ he replied, ‘but we need to rule out the possibility of cancer.’

Austin and I squeezed each other’s hands again and I felt all our plans for the future slowly collapsing around us. I realised the road we were about to go down could be a long one.

‘What do we do now?’ Austin asked.

‘I need to make an appointment for you with a Urologist. As it’s now Friday, the soonest I can do that is Monday, if there is a place. These specialist surgeons are often booked up some time in advance.’

‘I’m supposed to be filming in Borneo in a couple of weeks,’ Austin said quietly.

‘This problem will most likely require surgery,’ Dr Thomas said. ‘I will write a letter explaining the situation to your employer. I don’t think you’ll be going anywhere for a while. You have health insurance here, don’t you?’

We shook our heads. ‘We live in Namibia,’ Austin explained. ‘This is my first visit to Australia in quite some time. I’ve just been given residency. I have a Medicare card, but that’s all.’

‘You can’t afford the luxury of time here,’ Dr Thomas explained. ‘We can put you on Medicare’s public hospital waiting list but I don’t know how long it will be before you are seen. I’m afraid that without private health insurance, being operated on immediately so you can recover and return to filming faster is going to be expensive.’

‘How much do you think we would be looking at?’ I asked.

‘At a guess, probably between $10,000 and $15,000,’ Dr Thomas said quietly, ‘and that’s assuming that the cysts are benign and won’t require any further treatment.’

‘What is the likelihood of cancer?’ I asked.

‘I think it’s probably unlikely, but it is a possibility,’ Dr Thomas answered calmly. ‘We won’t know for sure without a biopsy. I will contact you with the details of your appointment with the specialist as soon as possible. Do you have any other questions?’

‘What are the possible side effects of prostate surgery?’ I asked, forcing the words out. I already knew the answer, but I wasn’t sure if Austin did.

‘The main problem with radical prostate surgery, such as to remove the gland in cases of cancer, is that the nerves around the prostate can be damaged and impotence and urinary incontinence can be possible complications of that. But I don’t want you to worry about that now. Let’s see what this is first.’

We left Dr Thomas knowing we would have a very difficult weekend ahead of us, waiting for an appointment with the urological surgeon as our fears consumed us. I parked the Nissan outside our cabin at the holiday park and we walked inside in a state of shock. We sat down on the lounge chair together and I fought to control my emotions, which were rapidly spiralling downward.

‘I’m so sorry my love,’ Austin said.

‘It’s not your fault!’ I exclaimed.

‘Oh yes, it is. You can bet I’ve done something over the years to cause this. I didn’t mean to drag you into this. I didn’t mean to complicate your life.’

‘My love!’ I exclaimed. ‘I’ve been happier since I met you than ever in my life and I wouldn’t change a second of it for all the world.’

‘What if we can’t make love after the surgery?’ Austin asked.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said, my voice breaking with sadness.

‘We’ve only just got married,’ Austin said. ‘You know what we’re like, what would we do if… what if for the rest of our lives we couldn’t…’

‘We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it, and that’s a big ‘if,’ I replied. ‘I love you so much it wouldn’t be an issue for me. I’d still want to be with you.’ I snuggled in next to Austin on the lounge, barely managing to hide my despair. ‘It’ll all be ok,’ I said. ‘We can handle anything as long as we’re together.’

Amy and Austin Stevens camping at Brandberg Mountain, Namibia.
Copyright Austin J Stevens

For the rest of the evening I did my best to remain upbeat. We watched television in an attempt to distract ourselves, but Austin’s strong grip on my hand never lessened. Neither of us were hungry that night, and our worry had exhausted us. I went to shower earlier than normal, and as the hot water spilled over my face and shoulders I felt a wave of pure fear envelop me. What if it was cancer? What if it had already metastasised? I had just found the love of my life. Had I given up everything I had ever known, made an international move, spent more than a year doing battle with government departments for visas and finally made it back here with the man I love, only to lose him? I knew I was letting my worries get the better of me and that I couldn’t let Austin see me like this. I took several deep, measured breaths in an effort to slow my heart rate. Get it together! I told myself. You’re no good to him like this! Reminding myself that there was no point worrying until we knew what we were dealing with, I stepped out of the shower, dried off and dressed.

I found Austin lying on the bed in the dark, his tense posture betraying his wakefulness. I climbed over next to him and we held each other tight, together but still alone with our panicked thoughts. I gently stroked Austin’s hair with my fingers, trying to convey with my touch what I could not trust myself to say in words. Laying there in the dark, thinking how the man next to me was my whole life and worried that everything we’d worked towards was about to be taken away from us, I felt the unfairness of the situation and my horror at my powerlessness bubbling up inside me. The darkness and silence felt crushing. I struggled not to crack, but then the tears rolled down my cheeks and I sobbed uncontrollably.

‘What is it?’ Austin asked in alarm. ‘Please don’t cry my gorgeous,’ he said tenderly, wiping the tears from my face.

‘This is so unfair!’ I blurted before I could stop myself. ‘I can’t live without you.’

‘Don’t cry,’ Austin said. ‘I’ll always be with you.’

We clung to each other desperately, wishing this had never happened. Our days as carefree newly-weds seemed suddenly over.

‘I thought once we had our visas we could create a second home base for ourselves in Australia and start moving forward with our lives,’ I explained, slowly regaining control of myself. ‘And then this happened…’

‘And now we’re waiting again,’ Austin said. I nodded. ‘Don’t worry,’ he continued, ‘I’ve felt there was something wrong for a while, and now we can figure out how to deal with it. Like you said, we’ll get through it together. I’m fine as long as I’ve got my lush.’

‘I’m sorry my love. I just love you so much.’

‘I love you forever,’ he said.

‘I love you forever too.’

To be continued in Chapter 42, when we meet with a urological specialist surgeon…

Have you or a loved one ever suffered a health scare of your own? How did you get through it?

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