In 2006, Tricia La Bella’s life was turned upside down. She heard the word that no one ever wants to hear: cancer. Once she recovered from the shock, she changed her life to save her life. The experience proved to be a valuable teacher, offering life-changing lessons about healing and well-being that reshaped her perspectiveand inspired a career change. After twenty-five years in the fitness industry, Tricia used her ordeals to transform her passion for helping others in a new way: she became a life coach, and things started to get back on track.
In 2011, she heard that word againthis time, for her husband, Steve, who was diagnosed with stage four mantle cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Here, she shares their remarkable journey back to health and hope, describing how the power of love and support can pull anyone through the darkest days of their lives. They learned that even in times of intense challenge, there is always something special to draw uponthat even when things are at their worst, life has a way of delivering the unexpected.
For Tricia and Steve, their special gift arrived at 22:44.
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22:44 Our Hidden Gift
Find the Way to Discover Your Own
By Tricia L. La Bella
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Tricia L. La Bella
All rights reserved.
When You Know Something's Wrong
When you get that gut feeling (from who knows where?), just go with it! You'll look back from the future and understand what it was all about.
For many months, I had a nagging feeling about Steve's cough.
"You better get that cough checked out," I'd say regularly.
He'd respond with a roll of the eyes that declared, You're nagging and worrying for nothing. He'd assure me he'd had it looked at and it was just a lingering cough from a virus.
The thing was, he did have a virus with a cough residue last year and again this year, but it seemed that it never really cleared in between.
In addition to the cough, I had a feeling that he just wasn't the same. What did I mean by that? Well, it was difficult to define, but I sensed he was in some sort of struggle—a struggle where the thought of taking on new things seemed too difficult.
When I made suggestions to do or go somewhere different—with a "Let's check out ..." or "Let's ..." or "Why don't we ..."—he wasn't interested. In fact, he seemed slightly irritated by the idea.
We began building our beach house at Maslins Beach in January 2011 (it had already been put on hold when I was diagnosed with cancer back in 2006), and although we were both excited about the project, I noticed he lacked the energy and drive to deal with many aspects of the building. Fortunately, as he pointed out, I was working part-time and did have the time to take them on. Still, I felt that something wasn't right.
I remembered thinking how tired and "full" he must have been. I questioned whether that was normal, or whether he was abnormally drained. I had that ongoing sense that something was going on, but nothing stood out.
When we finally got the keys to the beach house in July 2011, Steve was so excited and proud. He had worked hard all his life, and to finally build the house meant great times ahead with family and friends. It was a time in our lives when work was supposed to slow down a little. But that's not how it was.
We found that time to work on the house didn't just arrive out of thin air. There was already plenty to do with our Highbury home, not to mention work commitments, so there was only a limited amount of time for work and pleasure at the beach house.
Sensing the difficulty, I did what I could to organize all the bits: blinds, carpets, floors, furniture, appliances, decorations, sundries, and so on. Steve would say there was no point in him doing it because "the boss" (that's me, apparently) would have the final say anyway. I suppose there was in fact some truth to that, but in the past he would still have come along to give his ideas and get involved.
It seemed that there was one thing after another that stopped Steve from doing things. He had problems with his back. The last time his back "went out" was when he went surfing with his cousin's husband and good friend who also enjoyed the surf. That was about six months earlier. It was sad that the very thing he loved caused him problems. In fact, he would say that since he turned fifty, everything seemed to have fallen apart! First his knee stopped him from playing indoor soccer, then the other knee stopped the social tennis he loved, and then his back stopped him from surfing. No matter how much therapy he underwent, he always seemed to struggle with his back.
Then it was time to do the more physical aspects of preparing the house: cleaning windows and outdoor areas, scrubbing floors, gardening, moving furniture. His back stopped him from tackling many of the jobs that needed doing at the beach house. He felt that nothing was moving, but at the same time, he knew he wasn't up to it.
Steve was a hairdresser with his own business, and he was still working harder than ever on the hairdressing floor. At his age, many hairdressers were doing mainly management rather than the hair work, but Steve really loved that part and found it hard to let it go. So he found himself doing it all—managing and doing hair—and it was getting harder and harder.
About four years earlier, we'd had the biggest surprise when our son Dion told us that he wanted to drop out of university (where he was studying physics and maths) and begin hairdressing. We were really shocked by this—he had never shown any desire to be involved in that profession. Unsure of his motives or if it was going to be right for him, we honoured his request and sent him off to hairdressing school.
We were pleasantly surprised at his natural ability and talent for the work. He'd always wanted to manage a business, and we began to think there could be a chance for him to help his dad in the future. But that would be a long time off, because he was still quite fresh at the trade.
So the jobs at the beach house remained, but that was OK. There was no need to rush. I have learned that time frames are all self-induced, and if you can't, you can't. Not that Steve liked that concept. Jobs not done frustrated him. He was a worker and kept going until the job was done, so this didn't feel comfortable for him. He was so happy when his back improved, and he listed the many things he intended to do that weekend.
But soon after, he was hit with a virus and felt quite fatigued by it.
He wasn't happy to be stopped again. In all his forty or so years of working, there weren't many days when he didn't go to work. He had a very strong work ethic. In fact, even if he was sick, he felt he could and should go to work. I sensed he thought it weak if you didn't operate like he did. He could never understand why people didn't work through "minor" illnesses. But this illness did seem to stop him from pushing through in the way he was used to.
Because of his illness, jobs remained undone. Luckily, the internal aspect of the house was completed enough for us to spend nights there. That was great—we got a taste of how it felt to switch off and relax. Steve began to talk about his intention to cut down a day a week in February to gain some time to enjoy the beach house and life in general. I changed my work schedule to ensure we would both be together for a few days each week.
That new plan was the start to our slowing down.
Even though we had a plan, I had an overwhelming feeling I was moving against the grain, as though a tide was pulling me in another direction. It felt like a knot in my stomach, but I couldn't explain the reason.
My fiftieth birthday was coming up in October, and I had always said I wanted a big celebration with my friends and family. It was the five-year anniversary of the all-clear for bowel cancer, so it was to be a double celebration. But somehow, I resisted getting things organized. My daughter and niece kept asking when I was going to organize my invitations and other things that were needed. I felt a resistance that I couldn't explain.
Was it that I just didn't want to turn fifty? No, that wasn't it, because I've never had a problem with my age. But for some reason, it was difficult to actually set a date. Nothing seemed to flow. In the end, I decided on a date and swiftly put a few things into place.
I didn't know why, but it still felt all wrong.
It was near the end of August 2011 when my mum phoned, telling me that my dad had just been taken to the hospital by ambulance. The ambulance officers weren't sure, but they said the severe pain in Dad's back could have been his heart, and they weren't taking any chances. We rushed to the hospital and were mildly relieved when the emergency-room doctor suggested Dad had pneumonia and required antibiotics and an overnight stay.
The next day, he had a CT (computed tomography) scan and a suspicious mass was spotted in the upper lobe of his left lung. Although nothing was confirmed, it meant a process of further investigation was ahead. During the next two weeks, he underwent biopsies and tests, and it took another two weeks to confirm that the mass in his lung was in fact a carcinoma.
From there, we went through a roller coaster of emotions. We discovered from the PET (positron emission tomography) scan that while the tumour was malignant, it was contained in the upper left lobe, which meant a successful surgery and he'd be cured.
It was amazing watching my dad take the news and deal with the process. I'm not sure if it was denial or amazing acceptance, but whatever it was, he tackled it brilliantly. He continued his volunteer work, which included bus driving and helping prepare weekly lunches for the "oldies" (as he termed them) at the Italian Village, until a few days before he was to be hospitalized.
When he explained to his family overseas what was ahead, he repeated what he was told by the surgeon—he would have his left lung's upper lobe removed and remain in intensive care for about twenty-four hours. By the second or third day, he would be walking around, and he would be home in about seven to ten days. He reassured them it was "nothing"—I'm not sure if that was to help him or them, or if he really believed that.
On September 26, the morning of the operation, my mum, sister, and I stayed by his side until he was ready for his surgery. Our goodbyes and good-luck wishes betrayed a glimpse of the awful possibility that any surgery brought—that he might not make it through. It was a deeply emotional moment.
Immediately after the operation, we were to get a phone call from the surgeon to let us know how the surgery went. He had estimated it would take two hours to complete, so when after three-and-a-half hours we hadn't heard from him, we naturally started to feel a little anxious.
When the call came with word of a successful surgery, the other details seemed distant to my ears. They decided to keep him in an induced coma for twenty-four hours—a little longer than usual because his body did struggle because the tumour was wrapped around his pulmonary artery. Amazingly, the surgeon painstakingly chipped away at the tumour with utmost precision. We later learned it was like scraping tissue paper from the artery. One slip and it would have been over.
We were OK with the induced coma, as the doctors reassured us it was standard procedure after such an operation. Watching him in that state, however, was painful. The tube that went down to his lungs seemed to cause him a lot of problems, and he just didn't seem to be coping very well. Days passed with him still in the induced coma. He faced an onslaught of challenges, including a pneumonia infection, a heart attack, and a procedure to insert a stent in his coronary artery. They later learned it had a 90 per cent blockage, so we were amazed he survived the surgery.
It was like a nightmare had unfolded.
My parents' fifty-fifth wedding anniversary came while Dad was still in his coma-induced state. We tried to make a special night for Mum by having everyone over for a dinner. We toasted both of them and hoped for a better celebration when he was well.
It ended up taking seven days to see him out of intensive care and into high-dependency. The doctors (as were we) were amazed and relieved when he pulled through. It only took a day or two to see he was on his way back. His humour and wit were amazing. He seemed in the best of spirits—he could hardly believe he'd had the operation.
Many things made him laugh and feel happy. Geelong beating Collingwood in the AFL grand final was the most significant. He joked with the nurses. When one nurse asked if he was "finished" (with his dinner), he promptly replied, "No, I'm Polish!"
When Mum tried to help him perform his much-needed deep-breathing technique with cues of "in through your nose, out through your mouth," he promptly reinforced his understanding of the technique by repeating "in through your nose, out through your arse!" My son, who had been visiting at the time, couldn't believe how "in form" Dad was, and together we laughed and felt relieved that he was back.
At that point, I felt confident he was going to be OK, so I made the decision to go ahead with the birthday celebration that I had reluctantly planned. He wanted me to have the party, as did my mum (they were both party people and enjoyed a celebration). So I confirmed with everyone that it would go ahead, even though I was still struggling with what he had just gone through.
I didn't have much enthusiasm or desire. It was more like, "I'll do it, but my heart is not feeling very comfortable with it." Steve, my sister, and I worked like bullets, once the decision was made, to prepare for the event. That was the Tuesday before the party on Saturday.
Then something changed.
Dad seemed a little agitated and unsettled, and we suspected an infection. He had been moved quite swiftly from high-dependency to the ward, and both my sister and I felt it was too soon, as his stats were not stable. But that was what the doctors decided.
The next roller-coaster ride had begun. Within two days, he was back in intensive care with an infection. The doctors reassured us that he could get past this next obstacle, but it would require very strong doses of antibiotics. Dad was keen to get up and out of bed to come to my birthday. The doctors thought he was delirious, because they weren't aware there was to be a party. Days melt into one when you are in intensive care, but Dad knew it was Saturday morning, October 8, and it was the day of the party. The doctors were amazed at how clear he was, given his situation. My sister and mum promised Dad a double celebration together with his own birthday that was coming up on October 22. He was happy with that.
So my birthday celebration went ahead.
It was good to see Mum have some joy, for we had spent the last three weeks at the hospital dealing with the ups and downs of Dad's recovery. It was great to have all my friends and close family there to celebrate my birthday and five-year remission.
We all sent Dad lots of love and best wishes for his recovery. While it was a great party (so said the guests), it was a blur to me. I was there but not there. My heart was feeling pain and worry for what was happening with my dad.
Steve knew how difficult it was for me to go ahead with the party. He witnessed the emotional outbursts each night after I returned from the hospital. Steve knew the close bond I had with my dad and how it was breaking my heart to see him so ill.
It's amazing how wonderful Steve was, and how much strength and support he gave me during that time. He just knew what to do. He would comfort me and encourage me to express all my emotions. He would just hold me while I poured out my heart. I felt his heart was breaking too. He looked strained and tired, but despite that, he was my rock and nurturer.
We were at the hospital each day and did our best to bring something special to Dad during this time. We played his favourite music (he was a choir member and had an appreciation for opera), surrounded him with beautiful healing essences, and brought loving touch to his body with a gentle massage to his swollen and bruised arms. It was all we knew to do in the given situation. We spoke to him as though he could hear our words, and we expressed our love for him and our sadness for what was happening.
Dad passed away on October 24 following many complications post-surgery: infection, aspiration pneumonia, kidney failure, and septicaemia. We all felt, however, that his soul had left his body two days earlier, on his seventy-ninth birthday. That was the day the hospital phoned for us all to be there. It seemed at that point he had already left.
Fortunately, Dad had been induced into a coma at the end, so he didn't endure the physical suffering associated with each of the complications. Unfortunately, his loved ones endured the emotional pain of watching him leave. Although he may not have been consciously aware during that time, I'm sure he would have felt the magnitude of love and comfort we brought to his final moments. They were moments to be treasured.
Excerpted from 22:44 Our Hidden Gift by Tricia L. La Bella. Copyright © 2013 Tricia L. La Bella. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1: The Mack Truck.................... 1
1. When You Know Something's Wrong.................... 3
2. The "Firsts" Are the Hardest.................... 16
3. You See, We've Been Here Before.................... 22
4. A Change in Life Direction.................... 33
5. The Mack Truck.................... 42
6. The First Cycle of Chemotherapy—Part A.................... 48
7. What Comes from Adversity?.................... 60
8. Cycle Two—Part B.................... 70
9. Cycle Three—Part A Again.................... 78
10. Cycle Four—Part B Again.................... 83
11. Give and Receive.................... 94
12. Gratitude.................... 98
13. Cycle Five—Part A Again.................... 105
14. Healing the Deep Wounds.................... 113
15. Cycle Six—Part B and Another Infection.................... 120
16. 22:44—A Whole New Life.................... 127
17. Scan Results.................... 131
18. Moving On.................... 135
19. A Quick Summary of Things That Had Meaning in Our Lives................ 138
Part 2: Find the Way.................... 143
20. The Start of My Search.................... 145
21. My Trail of Thought.................... 147
22. Key Finding 1—Know Your Traps.................... 165
23. Key Finding 2—Be Yourself and Create Your Life.................... 207
24. Key Finding 3—Connect with Others.................... 238
25. Key Finding 4—Live It Here and Now.................... 256
Part 3: In a Nutshell.................... 271
26. Tune In.................... 273
27. Rebalance.................... 276
28. Shift.................... 280
Appendix 1: Resources.................... 289
Appendix 2: Steve's Top Eleven Recipes.................... 295