The words ‘you have cancer’ are some of the most fearful words we can hear. To hear these words once is life-shattering. To listen to them twice is no less challenging. The only difference is the second time around; you know what you are in store for. When I was first diagnosed in 2001 with triple-negative breast cancer, and to say my world turned upside down is an understatement. At the time, I was 35 with a two and half-year-old and an 11-month-old baby still being breastfed. My breast cancer diagnosis was the last thing I expected to hear. I had breastfed both my boys, never been a smoker, only drank modestly, and rarely got sick.
I came under the care of my specialist cancer surgeon and Professor Arlene Chan with my first diagnosis. My medical team had a plan; I would have a lumpectomy with lymph node removal, six rounds of chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiotherapy. My specialists continued to reassure me that I would get through the treatment. Off I would trundle to chemo sessions with a toddler in tow, who suffered enormously during this period with separation anxiety. The only solution was to be patient and take him with me. The fabulous chemo nurses took it all in their stride, feeding Charlie with icy poles from the freezer that they used for the patients. I want to publicly thank both my surgeon, Arlene and the fantastic staff behind them. Their dedication and research efforts allow people like me to fight this disease. The diagnosis made me realise what was truly important, and I vowed that I would value health as the most important asset. I knew I needed to get through treatment and get on with raising the boys.
To all young mums in the same position as I was in, “you’ve got this, and you can do it. Some parts won’t be fun, and it will be hard, but you will find the strength you never knew you had.” The boys are now fine young men with good hearts and great work ethics, each pursuing their careers.
In 2018, I hear those three words again. In a way, this diagnosis wasmore challenging; telling the boys Charlie and Max, who were by this time 17 and 19, was the most difficult discussion I’ve ever had to have with them. The most important thing was getting a plan to work through – one foot in front of the other. This time around involved a mastectomy and another six rounds of chemo. At this time, I came to appreciate the advances made in treatments since 2001. The anti-nausea meds, the cold cap, and immunotherapy are some of the enormous strides made. Initially, I thought I’d give the cold cap a go and see how I coped with the cold. To my surprise, I could handle the cold, and to anyone offered this option, give it a go. I now have a great head of thick, soft curls. I can honestly say I’ve never had such a great head of hair! Thanks, Arlene!
The boys really stepped up to the mark and were a tremendous support and again were my inspiration to push through the hard days. I want to thank them and my team of family and great friends for all doing their part. Charlie decided to get a mullet during my treatment! All I can say is if the boys in your life ever want to get a mullet, do it while the mother is two rounds deep in chemo, care factor zero! Trish thought it was hilarious in the chemo ward, and there was much banter between the two of them.
Charlie and his friends did the 2020 Rottnest Channel Swim. The swim was important to Charlie; he turned his shock into something positive as a young man coping with his mother’s diagnosis. What a brilliant day and effort by all the boys. If only you could bottle the energy of the day, what a great place the world would be. They raised $7,500 for BCRC-WA, and I felt humbled by their efforts. I hope that writing ‘my story’ helps others in my situation to have hope. You will meet incredible people along the way who are so dedicated and passionate about fighting this disease, and your diagnosis and treatment are at the core of their determination.
Love to all,