Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Politicos beware my slam-dunk cancer odds

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I owe my life to our public health staff, many of whom could be cashing in across the Tasman. Photo /  NZ Herald
I owe my life to our public health staff, many of whom could be cashing in across the Tasman. Photo / NZ Herald

On Friday I went into hospital for my last round of chemotherapy.

In 2 years I've had three rounds of surgery, several months of chemo, with other assorted drugs pumped into me.

When I was first diagnosed with bowel cancer it was serious - but not necessarily fatal.

My bowel surgeon seemed to think I'd get through the ordeal, so I didn't bother passing on the cancer news to others.

Although it was a nuisance, I managed to cope quite well on my own with the surgery and the aftermath.

Unfortunately for me, last September my surgeon told me the cancer had spread to the liver. It was a case of secondary liver cancer with virtually no chance of survival.

It has to be said that it must be terrible for medical professionals to tell people they are likely to die. I felt sorrier for him than for me.

When I went home and checked out reputable websites, it was far worse than I thought. It seemed more than 96 per cent of patients with secondary liver cancer were dead within five years with most not surviving the first year.

I was told by my surgeon I could go down in as little as six weeks, with probably an outside time of 18 months.

This advice was confirmed by a couple of mates who are doctors. Even more bad news was that Maori men are four times more likely to die than the rest of us. I'm an optimist but even I couldn't spin a 1 per cent survival rate.

One of my mates advised me to get my house in order quickly. I thanked him for cheering me up.

Apart from a four-letter word starting with F, I've surprised myself with how calmly I took it.

This time I had to tell my family and friends. I also needed to put in a succession plan in my union. Therefore it didn't take long before it reached the media and I had to front foot it by writing a couple of columns on the situation.

I was rather embarrassed by the support I received.

The most surprising came from right-wingers and political opponents. Obviously I hadn't been hard enough on them. Next thing they'll want to come to my tangi. But over the past six months the strangest thing has happened.

I've sailed through my chemotherapy and my surgeries (my surgeons are gods). I was determined to ignore any symptoms and continue on as long as I could. The symptoms started badly but over time it seems they just gave up.

I feel fine. My friends even think I've made the whole thing up to garner attention.

My daughter has been serene throughout. I asked her recently what she really thought about it. Her response was if I wasn't worried there was no point in her worrying either. A chip off the old block.

Now that I'm on my last chemo run, I feel I've misled the Herald on Sunday readers. My surgeons are now saying it's likely that I have a 50 per cent chance of being alive in five years time.

I felt like I was in a group of 100 people in September which was told one of us would live. I know this is crazy but I thought at the time, "Well, why not me?"

This week I've graduated to another group of 100, where half of us will make it. I don't want to be silly about this, but I like my chances.

I survived one in 100 odds, so 50 out of 100 must be a slam dunk.

I've always been proud of our public health system and I owe the extension to my life to them.

These people could make three times their salary across the Tasman. Politicians who attack our public services might like to ponder that.

Because of these people, the only way this column will terminate is if my editor gets sick of me because I've become too soft.

And there's no chance of that.

It's election year. Every politician who deserves it is getting a good kicking.

- Herald on Sunday

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