“Nine months ago I was sitting in a doctor’s office in a lovely floral cotton gown and hearing that I had breast cancer. Two lumps in my right breast, Stage 2, Grade 3 with 1 lymph node involved. The doctor who diagnosed me was wearing a Byron Bay style turban. She had just finished her chemo for cancer. There was someone in the waiting room behind a curtain and I could hear them crying. Another cancer diagnosis.
What a frightening and bewildering time. I was 46 years old, and hardly ever even caught a cold. My immune system was better than most, I thought. But there I was. The weeks and months that followed were filled with appointments with the surgeon, many nerve-wracking scans and tests, two surgeries – a double mastectomy and lymph node dissection – then oncologist appointments, prognosis information and four months of so-called dense dose chemo. I now know that dense dose does not mean you receive a treatment every fortnight. It means that the drugs will make you quite dense! When I look back at that time I see I was living in some kind of parallel universe where life feels very different. You are poisoned and drugged.
Right now I am having three-monthly checkups and my cancer is in remission. I am on a new drug, which has its own set of side effects and makes me cry a lot. All of the treatments have put me into meanopause. Yes I did spell that correctly. MEANopause. If I was on Big Brother I would have been voted off yesterday. Having said all that, I am so very grateful for all of the treatments that are available. I feel very grateful that I can be here to complain about every single one of them!
There is a lot of fear in a cancer diagnosis. You fear for your future and your health, fear for your family’s future and well-being, fear when someone at the shops sneezes near you when your white blood cell count is low. It happened!
When I was diagnosed I decided to tackle my cancer challenge the same way I tackled work challenges – I would work very hard, stay calm and focussed on my goals and do my research. I would keep working at it for a long time. Forever if I had to. As long as it took. I began an anti-cancer diet, exercise and meditation which I continue today.
For me, having cancer has meant coming to terms with a new body. I have a new body shape, but I like it better than the old one – even though it’s not all real – I’ve finally lost the few kilos I’d been trying to lose for years! I have a new appreciation for nose hair. I received eight free skin peels and hair removal treatments thanks to chemo. I have newfound respect for skin care, make-up, wigs and headwear.
I have had an amazing experience being involved with the Look Good Feel Better program. When I was diagnosed with cancer, make-up was the last thing on my mind. Look Good Feel Better and the wonderful volunteers reminded me what a difference some beautiful new skin products, make-up and a wig can make to how you look and how you feel. Before long these things became a lifeline to me, and they continue to be, nine months later.
There is no doubt that cancer has changed my life forever, but there have been good things this year. I have had the chance to meet many new people and make new friends – including one woman I met at my Look Good Feel Better workshop.
I have never felt so loved and supported by so many people. My husband, Peter, house-husband extraordinaire, my boys have been so loving and give me a reason to keep going and be the best person I can be. My friends and family and work colleagues have been such amazing support.
It has been a time when I’ve needed other people more than ever. A time when you cannot imagine having to go through it alone. I am left feeling that I can never thank everyone who faced this with me enough – like I haven’t thanked everyone enough.
I have realised that with cancer, fighting fear is the biggest challenge you face. Fear is very powerful. It immobilises you. It stops you living the life you have. All of the love and support I received from the people around me gave me the strength and courage to get through the worst experience of my life.
Could I have gotten through this if I knew no-one else cared about me? No.
Can I get through anything if I just know that other people care and love me? Yes. Then I can do anything.
Can I face being seen in public without my wig? Errrr maybe… I’ve heard the GI Jane look is the new black!
Isn’t it true that the people in your life make a huge difference? It’s the people in your life who can make a good life great. A bad experience better.”