Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unplanned Journey by Tanya Unkovich

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Unplanned Journey

VMI (January 1, 2009)


In both her professional and personal life, Tanya Unkovich describes herself as “a mixed bag.” As a qualified CPA and expert in accounting software, she provides counseling and consulting services. Later in life, she received training as a life and corporate coach and now maintains a private coaching [therapy] practice in Auckland, New Zealand. Her latest career developments include writing articles for local magazines, publishing Unplanned Journey and the accompanying workbook, and fulfilling speaking engagements. On the personal side, Unkovich traces her passionate approach to life to her Croatian roots. She pursues health and wellness on all levels—physical, emotional, and spiritual—and prefers to fill her hours with fun, creativity, friends, family, and Fergus the cat, who is a source of absolute joy.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: VMI (January 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1933204753
ISBN-13: 978-1933204758




November 8, 2004

It was November 8, 2004; we were at my mom and dad’s home to celebrate Phil’s birthday, just the four of us that night. My parents were not aware that Phil and I were awaiting the results of a biopsy on a lump in his left armpit, a procedure that had been done some five days earlier.

The secret of this lump that Phil and I shared had caused me much distress during the previous two weeks; however, Phil insisted that we tell no one. My mother however, knowing her daughter, knew that something was not right with me during this time but did not push me for an answer when she approached me about my somber moods. Oh how much I wanted to share my concern with her, but I could not, as I had sworn to Phil that mom and dad were not to know. We were not to cause them any concern. I however could not help myself and had told three girlfriends during these two weeks, simply to release the pressure that was upon me and eventually he too had told a close friend.

On the day of his birthday, my concern was that it was five days later, and we still had not heard the result of this biopsy. Phil, however, was still not concerned. Earlier that day Phil and I had spoken on the phone, and when I asked him if he had heard from the doctor yet, he said to me. “No and I am not worried either Tanya. God is not going to give me sickness now. I have too much to do in this world.” He did add that it was only a five percent concern for him. I was not convinced that all was well until we had heard the final result, and the simple fact that this result was taking so long was worrying me.

The day of Phil’s birthday was long and arduous for me as each time the phone would ring my heart would pound as I wondered if this was the call we were waiting for. How I got through this day was by means of a fantasy that I had created and which replayed in my head constantly.

My fantasy was that we would be having dinner with mom and dad, one of her fabulous feasts. Phil would receive a phone call from his doctor whilst we were dining saying that all was well, that the lump was simply an infection of some sort and there was nothing to be concerned about. We would then tell mom and dad what we had been going through over the past two weeks and that everything was fine, and within days we could now move ahead and enjoy our dream holiday of a Caribbean cruise, on which we were due to leave three days later. We could then proceed to really celebrate Phil’s birthday and enjoy the remainder of the evening.

This was my fantasy and what I needed to hold onto in order to get through this day, November 8, as the alternative was too unbearable to invest any more energy into. Anyway, that sort of thing would never happen to me and was not part of my life plan.

Intuitively I knew that Phil would receive the call whilst we were there for dinner. However, I did not know which way the pendulum would swing for us––after all it was a fifty-fifty chance either way. What kept me positive and thinking that the outcome would be favorable was simply the belief that surely Phil and I would never be given such an enormous hurdle to overcome in our lives. We were the perfect couple, with the perfect love and perfect life. This alone kept me positive and any other outcome would simply be a tragedy.

There still existed many facts that continued to fuel my fear. Firstly and most importantly, the lump was still there, and it was not getting any smaller. Secondly and my most fearful was what my intuition kept telling me, that Phil had cancer.

I could not rest and be at peace during this wait. Little snippets of peace would blanket me, but would be short lived as the fear would roll in over and pull the comfort of this blanket away from me as if taken by a corner and whisked away, often leaving me shivering.

That evening I was unable to enjoy mom’s famous roast chicken, which as always, had a crunchy golden roasted skin, with the flavors of garlic, olive oil and salt in exactly the correct portions that only mom could measure to perfection.

It was just after 6.15 p.m. when Phil was about to cut his birthday cake when the sound of his cell phone ringing startled me. I recall the exact times very clearly as each moment was like an eternity for me that night. I knew that this was the call. My fantasy had begun. How would the pendulum swing?

Immediately my heart began to race as I heard Phil say, “Hello Rhona,” he stood up from the dining room table and walked about ten feet to the kitchen bench with the cell phone in his left hand. I followed him staring at his face, his blue eyes, just to get some indication from his expressions, his words or his tone that all was well and I could then continue to live out my fantasy that I had so perfectly composed with my perfect outcome.

It was Phil’s reply to Rhona in four words that altered my life forever, “What time tomorrow morning” that I knew the pendulum had not swung in our favor. I placed my hands on the kitchen bench, bent my head down and looked to the fawn tiled floor. The feeling of overwhelming nausea immediately came over me, and my breathing became heavy. It felt as though pins were jabbing into my head. I looked up and was facing Phil as he used his spare hand to look for a pen and began shuffling on the kitchen bench to look for some paper. He settled for the back of an envelope. He said very little at first then commenced to ask Rhona what the results were. She did not want to say on the phone, but he insisted that she tell him and said that he would rather know now than wait until the morning.

The walls of the kitchen began to turn around me as I watched Phil write on the back of this envelope the words, lymphoma and small cell carcinoma with a question mark. He ended his conversation to Rhona saying that he would see her at eight thirty the following morning.

Phil slowly placed his cell phone on top of the envelope that now held his fate, and I immediately draped my arms around his neck, terrified. I could not cry; I could barely get air into my lungs. I just held him as my head was nestled to his left. Phil appeared to be strong, in fact, like someone who did not want to be fussed over at that moment. He appeared in shock and was later to tell me that this was one time that he was in fact very frightened.

Meanwhile, my parents were still sitting at the dining room table confused and looking at us both. But by this stage knowing that something was seriously wrong. I can still see my mother’s look of confusion as she kept saying to me, “Tanya, what is wrong?”

It was I who looked at my mother and said, “Mom, Phil has cancer.” I recall seeing her look of confusion become a state of absolute disbelief in the words she had just heard. Briefly and hurriedly I informed them of the sequence of events during the previous two weeks.

Phil said very little, as he sat there, obviously in shock and stunned. It was then that my very intuitive mother told me that she had sensed something was wrong with me over the past weeks, that I was not the same. I was quiet and distant, but she was unable to pinpoint what was happening to me. However, she admitted that even this mother would never have expected something like this to be troubling her daughter, whom she knew so well.

Horror now replaced the joy that my parents had felt only ten minutes earlier as they were about to sing happy birthday to their son-in-law, who they referred to as their fourth son. “Not our Philip” were the words that mom repeated, I can still hear them.

Phil and I sat down again at the dining room table where his uncut birthday cake still remained. I wrapped my arms around my waist and started to cry in disbelief, rocking forwards and backwards in my chair. This cannot be happening to us; this is not true, not Phil, not my precious Phil, were the thoughts that were racing through my very confused mind.

Once again the dining room felt as though it was spinning around me, and all I wanted to do was to escape and return back two weeks to that feeling of bliss that I was experiencing in my perfect life.

Phil was slightly annoyed at my reaction, and he was trying to indicate to me that it was not something to panic about and not to frighten mom and dad any more than they should be. Mom and Dad both kept reassuring me of the same, saying that Phil would be fine and that I should calm down and that once they simply cut out the cancerous growth, “he will be fine,” they kept saying.

Never in my life had I hoped that my parents would be right as they tried to comfort their little girl, their terrified little girl. Phil did not show his fear that night as I did; whilst he was in shock and frightened, he tried to be strong for us all.

No matter what anyone said to me at the dinner table that night, I had a terrible feeling. Something inside me knew that it would not be as simple as cutting out a cancerous lump. It was far greater than this, and something big was about to happen in our lives.

Phil’s frame of mind changed to being slightly jovial, and he was determined to have a piece of his birthday cake that mum made for her son-in-law: banana with chocolate icing on top. He proceeded to cut his cake but without the usual joyous singing and ate this piece of cake in a manner to show his mum he appreciated and enjoyed the cake that she made for him. This was what he portrayed. Phil’s state of happiness was in fact his own defense mechanism kicking in as he was trying to protect himself from what his consciousness at that moment was actually not able to assimilate. I believe that Phil also wanted to protect us from seeing what he was really feeling at that moment.

Whilst we were still at my parent’s home that night, I went into the bathroom upstairs and made a phone call to my close friend Catherine. I was trying to speak as quietly as I could to tell her what we had just heard, and all I can remember is Catherine replying in her gentle Scottish accent saying “Oh no.”

Catherine had been my main support, not only during the previous two weeks, but also during many other painful journeys in my life. It was Catherine whom I had phoned in the early hours of a cold May morning in 1998 after we had discovered that my father had just been diagnosed with cancer. We cried together on the phone that morning and we would be shedding many more tears together in the months to follow this phone call.

As we drove away from mom and dad’s, I recall them standing at the front door of their home saying goodbye with hand waves that were not like the usual ones of joy but simply raising their hands in some form of acknowledgement, neither of us really knowing of what.

I knew very well what would happen behind that closed front door once they went inside. In spite of being strong for both Phil and I that night, normally mom and dad do not mind expressing their feelings, and this would have been done whilst they were together behind that closed door. Their tears would have flowed as they held each other, in utter disbelief of what they had just learned, of what had just been asked of their little girl and her husband to now endure in their life.

On our way home, not a lot was spoken in the car between Phil and I; we were silent. However we wanted to commence our fight against this beast inside Phil’s body immediately. Phil was an Area Manager for a supermarket chain, and his office was at our local supermarket, only a five minute drive from our home. Phil had always kept a very healthy diet and was at one point in his life a vegetarian, so he was very knowledgeable about food groups and what his body needed.

We had decided to stop there before returning home and we began buying organic vegetables, fruits, cereals, vitamins, and anything that we felt would help cleanse Phil’s body and somehow take away this nightmare. We were in shock and disbelief as we frantically looked around the market, wanting to find anything that would assist us and provide us with a feeling that we were doing something towards the cause.

Later that evening, the two of us sat in the lounge together praying that somehow this nightmare for us would end, and we could return to our simple life as it was only two weeks earlier.

All we knew was that Phil had either Lymphoma or Small Cell Carcinoma; we knew nothing about either of these types of cancer. I had heard that Lymphoma was treatable and knew of people whom had survived this type of cancer but was not sure about those other three words. Somehow, with the word small in the description, Phil naively assumed that Small Cell Carcinoma was perhaps not that bad. Little did we know how deadly three words could be.

We were later to learn that small cell carcinoma of unknown primary (SCUP) is a deadly and uncommon cancer that is usually diagnosed in the lymph nodes, liver, brain or bone. The prognosis varies from a few months to several years depending on the location, extent of disease and response to therapy.

The following morning I was physically and emotionally shattered. Apart from momentarily dozing, neither of us slept that night. Phil got up and went to the gym early that day, as he did every other morning. Today would be no different for him. He was going to continue with his life. I did not have the energy to do much at all; my body was in shock and shaking. It astounded me that Phil actually got up and did his usual gym routine.

At five thirty that morning I phoned my friends, Sue and Meg, the other two friends who were aware of our dilemma during the previous weeks, and I just wept. Whatever sleep I got the night before was not enough to remove the nightmare when I awoke that morning. Yes, last night did happen and yes, my fantasy that I had so perfectly scripted did not come true.

When Phil returned from his workout, he told me that his friend Tony stopped him at the gym and said “Mate, you are looking really good, what are you doing? I have never seen you look in better shape.” Phil told me that he sarcastically wanted to say, “oh just get cancer mate, that’s how you do it.”

Phil and I went together for the eight–thirty appointment. Even though we were early, Phil’s doctor Rhona came out to get us as soon as we arrived. The first thing I noticed as she approached us was firstly her gentle but very nervous smile and then her beautiful bush of black wavy hair.

Rhona had been wonderful to us both in the past. I had always respected her for how thorough she was and her beautiful manner during the times when I sat with her and cried to her about not being able to conceive and become pregnant. She was originally from South Africa, and I often felt comforted by her accent and soft voice. However, on this morning, no matter how softly and calmly Rhona spoke, when I heard the words “secondary cancer,” it was as if she was shouting them directly into my face.

My knowledge of cancer was reasonable, and what I did know for sure was that secondary cancer was not good and it meant that there was a primary cancer elsewhere in Phil’s body. The biopsy result was not yet conclusive, and further tests were being performed to rule out lymphoma. They believed that Phil had small cell carcinoma, which we were told apparently often originates in the lung. This meant that whatever was in his lymph nodes in his armpit was not all there was, and it was not going to be a matter of simply “cutting out a lump.”

Once again I began to feel nauseated, and the room was closing in on me. I could barely look at Phil, who was also in shock and feeling the same disbelief that I was. Immediately I visualized a tumor inside Phil, sitting on his lung. Then I began to tremble harder and stronger, wanting to escape from this cage that I was placed in. All I wanted was to return to my life before October 25 when all was well in my world, and I was ignorant of what in fact lay ahead in my life.

This was November 9. We were due to go on a Caribbean Cruise only two days later––a holiday that Phil desperately needed and one that up until October 25 I had looked forward to so much.

My immediate reaction was that we could not go on this holiday and that Phil had to begin treatment of some sort to remove this cancer from his body immediately. Rhona already had a verbal suggestion from an oncologist that Phil was not to travel, and I agreed. “We cannot go, please, let’s stay home and get you well. Start treatment, do whatever to stop this beast.” Phil said no, and he insisted that we go on this holiday. For him this was to be the beginning of his healing. He said he was tired and needed to rest and was adamant in Rhona’s office that nothing or no one would hold him back from this holiday which he so desperately needed.

He became angry with me in the office at my fearful reaction. I did not want to lose another moment to this disease which was inside Phil’s body and what I sensed was moving rapidly.

It is only as I now write this that I can look back and feel, Phil, you followed your heart your intuition and your decision was perfect. Who was I to suggest what you were to do with your body? Phil said no to everything that everyone was firing at him that morning. “This is my decision and I need to do this, we will go on this holiday, I need this holiday, I need this rest, I want to start my healing by resting my body, and I will not have chemotherapy.” It was as simple as that for Phil; this was his body and his call.

I don’t know how we got home that morning. All we had to do was to walk two hundred meters from the Doctor’s surgery which was across the road and down a side street from our home. We walked in silence. Looking at Phil was my greatest pain. At that moment, I could see his fear as we crossed the busy road, both of us oblivious to all the traffic on that Tuesday morning. Tuesdays would not be the same for me for many a month after that day.

Once we arrived home we made a couple of phone calls: one to Phil’s friend and confidant Debbie and once again I saw his fear. I held him tightly with my arms around his waist as he spoke to her.

A few moments later, I called mom and dad and told them in my Croatian tongue that it was worse than we thought––that it was on Phil’s lungs and who knows where else. I recall having to repeat it to Dad so that he understood and even louder again so he could hear what I was saying. This however was disrupted by the wailing in the background that came from my mother’s heart. I cried as I told my father. I could hear his tears also and feel his heart being taken from his chest as I did my best to explain what I understood of Phil’s condition.

I made this call from our bedroom as I was looking out at nothing on the street. It was a busy main road with the constant sound of cars going past. This morning however, the sound of the cars did not register in my thinking and the noise that would so often have bothered me just did not compute, because all I knew and could think about was that my husband Phil had cancer. Nothing else mattered any more.

Phil asked that my parents tell no one of his diagnosis, not even my brothers. I pleaded with him that we not keep this a secret that my parents needed support here also, and he finally agreed that yes my brothers could know, but no one else was to know at this point. My father left mom alone for awhile as he went to my brother Zel’s office to tell him what was now happening in our family.

Phil headed off to work shortly after our phone calls, and, once he had departed, Zel phoned me, and finally I was able to release the anguish that had lodged itself in my chest that morning. We were both in tears as we gently spoke. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, facing the mirror of my bedroom suite looking unbelievably at a distressed woman in the reflection as if I was watching a movie. I could not believe and did not want to believe that it was actually I who was looking back at me.

Horror overcame me as I watched this movie, and I began crying to Zel that I did not want to lose Phil. I did not want him to die. Once again, my arm was wrapped around my stomach as I sat on the edge of my bed rocking forwards and backwards. Did I think that this cradling of self would ease my pain, perhaps? I will never forget the words that Zel then spoke to me, “Tanya, if it is God’s will to take our brother Phil, then one thing I know is that he will be in Heaven, and that is what really matters.” Whilst I knew this to be true, this was not to be the outcome; it could not be.

Phil did want to visit his sister Marie that morning to let her know what had happened to us over the past two weeks and what he was now facing. Marie was special to him, very similar to his mother, Moira, who had already passed away some 18 years earlier. Marie was his “big” sister, with a big heart, who had a huge love for her “big baby” brother.

When we arrived at her shop she knew that something was wrong, since we had both shown up unannounced––something that had never occurred before. As I walked towards her I could see her apprehension which was hidden behind a smile that was placed on her face as if it was painted on.

It was Phil who began to tell her that he had cancer and the brief details of what we knew, and then came his first tears. Finally he was able to let his tears come with his big sister. He did not need to be brave at this moment. How he would have loved to have had his mom with him at that time I am sure.

Marie was stoic. The three of us held each other closely in her shop as I then completed the story which Phil had begun, as much as I could, with the only words that I knew, “cancer, secondary, probably lung.” I was strong, but my voice was trembling. I too wanted to cry, but I could not. This was Phil’s time now to shed those much needed tears, and, as difficult as it was for me at this time, I held mine in for now.

Those other big words, small cell carcinoma, meant nothing to me at this point. In time however, they would haunt me––they would wake me in the night and it would be a long time before I could see or hear those words without trembling.

The three of us continued to hold each other and formed a little triangle, me, hoping that these cuddles and love would be what would start to shrink this foreign beast that had lodged itself inside Phil’s beautiful body.

Phil was such a proud man. He trained hard at the gym and always liked to look his best. He was well known for his beautiful wardrobe of clothes. He was naturally lean. At six foot three inches tall he weighed in at only eighty four kilograms when we met; as he did a lot of running. However, that was something I knew would change after being in a Croatian family. He needed some padding; my mom thought, and she had much joy in doing this!

By the time of our wedding day some two years later, Phil was ninety kilograms and at the time of his diagnosis he was ninety six kilograms, of which he was very proud. I remember one night when he was coming to bed as he proudly waltzed in to our room after his typical lengthy shower, and I said to him, “Do you love your body honey”?

“Hell yeah,” was his jovial reply, “it’s the only one God gave me and I am going to look after it!” This was something Phil always did.

No matter what shape or size we naturally are, I realized first hand at the time of Phil’s illness how lucky we were that we had healthy bodies.

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