New boobs and new friends

The air bags are out and the implants are in! Too much information — sorry!

It’s now been five weeks since my most recent surgery and hopefully one of my last. This was a pretty involved one although it only meant two days in hospital which was amazing but brilliant.

A 6am hospital admission was followed by a visit from my reconstruction surgeon who drew all over my chest with a permanent marker before I was wheeled down to pre-op where I was met by my general surgeon and the anaesthetist.

The general surgeon had his turn first, removing my ovaries and tubes – a decision we made based on the fact that I have the BRCA2 gene, which increases risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Not that I was aware of the changeover as I was well and truly off with the operating theatre fairies, but the next surgeon then came in to remove my the air expanders that had been in my chest since January and had totally outstayed their welcome.

They were bloody awful things and I was ready for them to find their way into the rubbish bin. The implants are a lot softer and more natural and I can now even sleep on my side – which is sheer bliss!

Purple Brad day June 2016
At Nicola Peachey’s bootcamp with Sharon for Purple Bra Day

 

In the weeks following this, my fourth surgery since my breast cancer diagnosis in October 2014, bootcamp called. I’d never done a class before and the only reason for this attempt was to support fellow breast cancer survivor Nicola Peachey who hosted the event to raise money for Breast Cancer Care WA’s Purple Bra Day.

Nicola and I met in June last year when I spoke at Breast Cancer Network Australia’s Pink Lady luncheon. She came up and introduced herself and I will be forever grateful that she did. She’s been an amazing support over the past few months.

Incredibly, at the bootcamp, I ran into another gorgeous woman who I had met (although she was a lot clearer about our first meeting than I was). Sharon re-introduced herself to me. We were both at a Look Good Feel Better workshop last year. Now we both had a head full of hair (check out mine below) and were coming out the other side of treatment stages of our life battle. People come into your life for many reasons, and these two have certainly entered mine to help with my sanity! They are absolute gems!

July 2016
My hair is getting longer — woohoooo!!

 

From here there may be some ‘minor’ surgeries but they are more for cosmetic purposes.

Most importantly our little family of four is counting down the days until we head off overseas for four weeks. In 82 days, 2 hours, 38 minutes and 22 seconds (the Countdown app on my phone is very specific) we’ll be on our way to the USA. We all need something to focus on and we can’t wait to create some more amazing family memories.

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Finding the right words a year on

It’s got to the point where I dislike the word ‘milestone’ almost as much as the word ‘journey’.

In my working life as a sports journalist milestones are mostly used to mark a significant achievement for a player – usually game tally milestones. The greater the number, 100, 150, 200 or more, the more lauded the milestone.

In my personal life, in particular when it comes to analysing my health, milestones seem to be used to reflect the next stage of your cancer ‘journey’ having come to an end or when you had to suffer through another part of this energy-sapping and emotionally-draining disease.

Two weeks ago a major ‘milestone’ was noted (not really celebrated cos that just didn’t feel right) when May 6, 2016 marked a year since my final chemo treatment. The fact that my chemo schedule took seven months from start to finish is almost forgotten as the focus goes on the end and not the bits in between!

 

The hair journey tells the story of the first milestone

 

Although it is a date that will always been tinged with sadness as it was the same day my husband’s mum, my much-loved mother-in-law passed away.

As I prepare for another round of surgery this week, another milestone is creeping up.

It’s nearly a year since my first operation. Nearly a year since I was first truly challenged to deal with the true physical assault this disease would have on me by removing my right breast.

Unless you have undergone a forced physical change of this magnitude it’s impossible to understand just what impact it has on your life – in every way!

Looking at yourself in the mirror and accepting the image being reflected is nothing short of heartache. And it’s there everyday. But it’s better than the alternative and not being given a chance to rid my body of this disease and continue to watch my children grow and learn and become gorgeous little humans.

Speaking of my babies, they both amaze me and surprise me often with the way they have dealt with what has been thrust into their reality at such young ages. The little man has just been recognised publicly by Breast Cancer Care WA in their latest Spirit Newsletter for his fundraising efforts. We were at a final last year between Fremantle and Hawthorn and he went out scrounging discarded AFL Records after the game as I enjoyed a glass of bubbles in the Media Room. He came back with about 10 and just as I was wondering what on earth we were going to do with them he said “I’m going to sell them to raise money for breast cancer.”

My beautiful boy with his fundraising rewards

 

Needless to say I burst into tears and there weren’t many dry eyes in the room when I explained my water works.

They are very special my babies and while they are being exposed to the raw reality of having watching a parent go through this ‘journey’ they are learning amazing empathy and what it means to be a good, genuine person in this world!

 

Crazy Mother’s Day selfies

 

So as the milestones continue to come and go – we will mark them appropriately and reflect on what they mean – how far we have come and how hard we have fought.

I’ve continued to be blessed and surrounded by amazing people and a few of us got together to celebrate life and raise much-needed money for the McGrath Foundation at the Curtin Uni Wesley Football Club’s Pink Tiger Day. It was seriously one of the best days I’ve had in a long time!

 

Sharing an amazing day with some amazing women!

 

Surgery this week is to remove the air expanders that have turned my chest into a ridiculously uncomfortable, rock-hard wall, and insert permanent implants that will look a lot more like boobs and less like big, over-inflated air balloons stuck on the front of my body.

I’ll also have an oophorectomy (one of the new, favourite words I have picked up along the way) – which is the removal of my ovaries and tubes. That’s elective/preventative surgery we decided to go ahead with given my BRCA 2 genetic position.

Bring it on I say – it’ll drag me closer to my next ‘milestone’ and finally I’ll be able to buy some bras that actually fit (and not daggy old surgical bras either)!

Preparing to lose control

There’s meals galore made and in the freezer.

My shoes have been sorted and lined up at the bottom of my wardrobe!

Birthday presents for our youngest have been purchased ready for his seventh birthday on January 31.

School shoes have been bought and all the school uniforms ironed ready for the start of Term 1 on February 1.

This is not about me being a super-organised, super-mum.

This is about control.

From 4.30pm this Wednesday I will be somewhat out of control. Well the control of my life will be in the hands of others at least – doctors, anaethetists and nurses.

So the past few weeks have been dedicated to organisation, planning and controlling as much of my life as I can before I go under the knife for the next step of my ‘journey’ – a second mastectomy and bilateral reconstruction.

I’ve tried not to think about this procedure – there’s not going to be a lot to like about it (at least not for the next eight months or so). But in essence it’s an operation. It’s something that, in consultation with my surgeons and oncologist, we have decided is the most pro-active and sensible way to significantly reduce my risk of another Breast cancer or ovarian cancer diagnosis (removal of my ovaries in a few months time should take care of that)!

And I’ll do whatever I have to to reduce that risk. I’m 42 – I’ve got a long life to live and I want to live it with new boobs so I can feel as ‘normal’ as possible. (I dislike the word normal as much as I dislike the word journey! After all, what is normal? For me, I’ve chosen to undergo reconstruction. My son finds it all pretty fascinating. Especially after he just assumed this is how I would look (lopsided) for the rest of my life. He asked me if my boob would grow back? I said it wouldn’t but a clever man named Tony was going to make me a whole new one and fix the other one!

In the past two weeks I’ve had a friend undergo a mastectomy and another friend had to say the saddest farewell of all when she lost her 23-month-old in a tragic accident.

Life is all about perspective and while what I will go through this week and following months is plain crappy and cruel, it’s what I have to do to save my life and ensure I see my kids grow up. And that’s what it’s all about. I might (well I bloody hope so anyway) end up with a nice pair of boobs, every decision I have made has been about survival – nothing more, nothing less!

Who knows, I might get lucky and score a hospital room with a river view from where I can watch the Australia Day fireworks along the Swan River! Or maybe I can make friends with someone in one of those rooms – if only I could take a bottle of champagne with me!


These two are what life is all about xx

A year ago today!

Milestone, anniversary, landmark moment, commemoration — whatever you want to call it — today marks 12 months!

It was 12 months ago when Ross and I sat in my GP’s office and she said THOSE words “you have breast cancer.”

We knew. We had known for a few days – not officially – but we knew. The scans, biopsy, phone calls to bring our GP appointment forward a day – it was all adding up to bad news.

I honestly thought my ‘shit fight’ would be over by now. I had honestly hoped at least.

Memories from the last 12 months
Memories from the last 12 months

When I first met with my surgeon three days after my diagnosis, one of the first things he told me was to put my diary away! I like to be organized and still love my written, hard copy diary. I had it with me that day and as he talked about treatments (starting with chemo, followed by a mastectomy and then radiotherapy) I flicked through my diary pages and, for me at least, I had it all done and dusted by now.

And I guess his treatment plan is done, but my diary planning didn’t account for a dodgy BRCA gene, a delayed start to radiotherapy because movement in my arm had been restricted by surgery and my lack of understanding about how long recovery would take between all these stages.

It’s been a mongrel of a ‘journey’ and while it is not over within my timeframe – with reconstruction, second mastectomy and ovary removal to come – it’s all gone OK!

So, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Every case of breast cancer is different. Every treatment is different. How everyone reacts to their treatment is different.
  • Phenergan makes me sleep like a baby (even when the cricket or tennis is on the TV in the chemo room)
  • Taking steroids at 10pm and then forgetting to take your sleeping tablet sent me loopy and meant I was wide awake at 3am buying tickets online for me and my 10-year-old daughter to go and see her YouTube hero Tyler Oakley (and here’s the three of us before the show because in my drugged-up stupor I also purchased VIP meet-and-greet tickets)!!
Abbey, me and Tyler Oakley
Abbey, me and Tyler Oakley
  • People are inherently kind, generous and just amazing – from dinner, High Teas and lunch box snacks to flowers and fluffy robes
  • Oncology nurses are some of the most incredible people on the planet
  • I am only just starting to like the colour pink again! I was diagnosed in October – breast cancer awareness month – and at first I wanted to pop every bloody pink balloon floating around in Dr and radiology waiting rooms
  • I love my family more than anything on this earth and hope out of all the lessons they have learned about life in the past 12 months they truly know what is means to have empathy for other human beings
  • It looks pretty funny (and lopsided) when you forget to put your temporary prosthesis in your bra!

And what I’m hoping for now:

  • That I’ll be writing my 2-year ‘anniversary’ blog from America when we take our family back there again having been in 2013 to help celebrate my 40th birthday. We thought that was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but given what we’ve been through in the last 12 months we’re busy planning (and saving) to go back again once my surgeries are done
  • After the final chapters of treatment/procedures are over, at the end of every annual check-up I get told “see you again at the same time next year” and not any sooner!
  • The sickening and still very raw and emotional memories of treatment fade sooner rather than later
  • I am always thankful for the amazing family and friends I have in my life – I could not have done all of this without them

Lunching with a legend (and plenty of emotion)

“Yeah I can do that, I’d love to!”

That was my first reaction when one of my friends Kirsten, who is the Partnership Manager at Breast Cancer Network Australia, asked me if I’d share my story at the first BCNA Pink Lady Luncheon to be held in Perth.

I wasn’t even overawed at the thought of being introduced on stage by one of my all-time favourite sportsmen, Shane Crawford. Well, at least not right up until the moment he said my name and invited me to stand in front of over 100 people, including breast cancer survivors and those like me who were still in the midst of their ‘journey’ (still don’t like that word. In fact, I told the crowd at the luncheon that and my friend and MC Nat suggested a better term would be shit fight – and I think that sums it all up a lot more thoroughly!

This wonderful man has done a lot for BCNA and was an absolute pleasure to meet
This wonderful man has done a lot for BCNA and was an absolute pleasure to meet

BCNA chief exec Christine Nolan, me, Shane Crawford, MC Nat Locke
BCNA chief exec Christine Nolan, me, Shane Crawford, MC Nat Locke
A big crew of former Netball WA staff gathered at our table and were there to support BCNA and me as I ventured up onto the stage after an emotionally-overwhelming video showing the guts, determination and generosity inspired by Shane’s amazing bike ride from Melbourne to Perth in 2013. This wonderful soul raised over $1.3million for BCNA during that ride!

With my 'mental health' buddy Angie and Shane
With my ‘mental health’ buddy Angie and Shane

With the gorgeous Kirsten
With the gorgeous Kirsten
I have to take you back to the first moment I met Shane. He asked how I was going with my treatment and while I gave him a brief answer to my current state of play, typically the conversation turned to a bit of fun when I gave him a gift from my son Jack.

When I told Jack, an avid Hawthorn supporter, I was meeting Shane, he said “Who?”

In his defence I was pregnant with him when Shane played in the 2008 premiership with the Hawks and then retired – so he hadn’t played a game in Jack’s lifetime! He was more than impressed when I went through Shane’s football career and promptly decided that Shane would like one of Jack’s Auskick footy cards – signed of course!

In one of my favourite moments from the lunch, Shane took the card and filmed a little video thanking Jack for the card, saying “I’ll put it next to my Brownlow Medal and my premiership medal.”

It was just gorgeous and Jack was soooooo excited when I showed him.

Anyway, my turn came and I walked on stage, tissues in hand, thinking I could handle this. Eventually I did. But after another gorgeous friend, Angie, came up and held me, calmed me down and got me breathing again. I was flooded with emotion as I started to tell my story, it felt so raw. I looked out at faces, many of whom knew exactly how I was feeling. There were many knowing nods of the head.

It was an absolutely amazing event to be a part of. Getting to watch Hawthorn’s final win later that night sitting next to the great man Crawf later on was a mere bonus.

I had eight more radiotherapy treatments to go and had been for my 22nd session the morning of the luncheon. Heading to hospital every day for six weeks – that had become my new normal.

On the Radiotherapy grind - day-in, day-out
On the Radiotherapy grind – day-in, day-out
While it was monotonous going to treatment every day – generally I would drop the kids at school and head in – it only took about 30 minutes each day and I was home by about 10am. And it wasn’t even close to being as horrendous as chemo – it was relatively painless. Well it got tougher at the end when your skin looks like it’s been exposed to extreme UV light for many hours. Eventually the skin broke and got pretty sore, but nothing a good dash of paraffin and moisturiser couldn’t fix.

Anyway, that’s onemore treatment done and dusted – now we just have to plan for reconstruction (which will include a second mastectomy) and removal of ovaries. We’ll worry about all that in 2016!

I forget

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Sometimes I forget I have cancer. Actually a lot of times!

Maybe it’s because I’ve had a fair gap now in between one stage of my treatment and the next.

This week marks 7 weeks since my mastectomy. Everything went as well as possible with the surgery and the surgeon was pretty happy with the results.

Now we do the “clean-up” — radiation.

In the past 7 weeks I’ve only had five appointments (including two physio visits which I don’t really count) and one lot of blood tests — maybe that’s why my brain has gone into forgetful mode. Because I have been left alone for so long to simply recover and get my body prepared to be scanned, poked and prodded my mind has been taken off what lies ahead of me — well in the short term anyway.

I’m headed back to hospital this week for my radiation planning. This is the second attempt. At the first attempt 4 weeks ago I couldn’t raise my arm above my head. So the Dr sent me away to get some physio and work on getting my arm mobile enough so the scans could be done properly and in anticipation of the radiotherapy that will start about 2 weeks after these scans.

I’ll get my first tattoos as they mark the three spots they will target with the radiotherapy. Then I’ll get a schedule that will set me up to visit once a day for 5 weeks to make sure any cancer cells are well and truly gone.

I caught up with the girls on my husband’s side of the family last week and one of them said to me “I forgot you even had cancer” – probably one of the nicest compliments I’ve had in a while. We talked about why and I guess it’s because life has gone on. There are still things to do, people to see and kids to entertain and educate.

There really is not a lot of time to stop — and I think I like it that way.

I have pushed myself to go to events and catch up with friends, though I do pay a price and I get pretty tired.

IMG_0328 Trainwreck premiere with Denise

IMG_0162 Ant-Man premiere with my gorgeous Jack

But I wouldn’t have it any other way and it keeps me feeling “normal”.

I don’t want to be their friend, wife or mum with cancer — I just want to be me!

Please – no more icy poles

The everyday, inoffensive icy pole!

If you were playing on Family Feud and asked for a word to describe an icy pole these might be some of the answers (even from those families you can’t believe win through to another night with some of their incredibly mind-numbingly dumb responses)

* cold, sweet, tasty, hydrating, refreshing, yum!

Well six weeks ago I may have agreed with those answers – but not anymore! In fact I may only eat another two for the rest of my life.

My mind has taken control and the simple icy treat once associated with hot days running around the holiday caravan park or running around under the sprinkler in the backyard now reminds me of something much more sinister – chemotherapy.

When I was going through my first course of chemo drugs – Paclitaxel – I wondered why some of the patients around me were getting icy poles and I wasn’t! Had they been better behaved than me – well perhaps their veins were well behaved (something mine have never been)!

No, they were just being given a different drug. So after 12 rounds of not being spoiled with an icy pole I finally got my turn.

Chemo number 13 and over the nurse came with my sweet treat – just after she’d wrestled with my veins and just before she sat down to slowly administer this new, nasty red drug called EC – (epirubicin and cyclophosphamide).

It’s not quite the “red devil” – that is the name given to yet another different drug which I have not had to have – but it’s a bitch of a thing that has certainly seen me act like the devil! 

The icy pole is used as a way of trying to reduce the onset of mouth ulcers by encouraging the chemo drugs away from your mouth by making it cold instead of a nice, attractive, warm place for the chemo to cause havoc!

Ten days – that’s about the time it takes for me to feel human after a dose of EC – and I get another hit of it this Wednesday. So I’ll apologise in advance to everyone and anyone who comes into contact with me for the 10 days afterwards. 

The nausea is a killer. I have very little patience for anyone or anything. My fingers feel numb, my big toenails are bruised, mouth ulcers are an absolute joy and I’m tired beyond belief. I don’t know if it’s just the EC or the “not for suggestion” bucket of anti-nausea drugs my oncologist has prescribed me to take for three days after treatment. There’s some good stuff in there and they knock me for six as well. 

But I’m learning to cope better with each treatment and learn more about my limitations – I have to or my family and friends will start saying the phrase “better the devil you know” is a complete load of crap!

I become the devil you never wish you’d met. But I have an excuse right?

As for those icy poles, they now represent one of the worst periods of my 41 years on this earth and I can’t see how I’ll ever learn to look at them in a loving way ever again.

As for those friends and family – I have “let them in” a little more along the journey.

My beautiful friend Tania came with me to a Look Good Feel Better session which was all about giving you the confidence to use makeup when your skin isn’t feeling the best and you’ve lost your eyebrows and eyelashes! It was brilliant and so good to have a friend there with me! 

And then there’s been Kate – one of my gorgeous high school friends. We have known each other for 26 years and still she’s prepared to come and sit by my side while i battle this demon. How lucky I am to have these women in my life – and they are just two of a band of people who have allowed me to deal with this my way while also being there to support me when I need it (even if I don’t know I need it)! Xxx

Mourning my old self

March 12, 2015

I’ve been mourning the old me in the past week, more than ever before.

It’s been a hell of a ride since last Wednesday (well the most recent ride anyway) when my chemo drugs changed.

I’ve gone from a weekly installment to 3-weekly regime – and to say the goal posts have moved is an understatement.

On the last lot of drugs — of which I had 12 — I felt very tired the following few days and had bones that ached with the simplest movement, but I never felt nauseous. I haven’t felt like this EVER!

My oncologist provided me with a great range of drugs – steroids, sleeping tables, anti-nausea medication – to help ward off the ugly side effects I may face. The most concerning part is that I think all those drugs worked – and I still feel like I’ve either got a hangover of the nauseating kind or I’m pregnant and experience morning sickness.

I’ve rarely taken any medication in my life but now I am making up for it and my body is wondering what the hell is going on.

I don’t even feel like coffee or wine — what the hell is wrong with me?

And it’s party time at my house when I forget to take the sleeping tablet with the steroid at dinner time — thankfully Beverly Hills 90210 has re-runs on at 3am and it’s not all infomercials!

So needless to say the combination of drugs (intravenous and tablet form) and lack of sleep mean my emotions have been stripped bare and are out there to be manipulated by those around me and by my very own mind.

Walking down the hallways of my own home I see images of beautiful children and proud parents. They all beam at me as though that image captured the best moment of their life. One after they other, they look down at me, rekindling some amazing family memories.

This photo of Abbey and I was taken five years ago. I want that person back.

That person had life and love in their eyes, a beautiful 5-year-old and a crazy one-year-old and planning what adventure this family would take on next.

She also had pretty good hair then and I’ll be asking for that colour again when mine decides to reappear in some normal form!

I look back and think that person didn’t appreciate what she had then and worried about mind-numbingly boring things. But that was life then and it’s very easy to look back and wonder if you wasted those years, those years that have so far turned out to be some of the best of my life.

Would I be mourning this person regardless of being sick? Would I be mourning her as a natural part of the aging process? Probably!

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Last day of the year

December 31, 2014

Wednesday is chemo day.

But not today.

I’ve got this week off and I’m sitting on a deserted beach with a coffee and the paper, reflecting on the year and hoping the next is a bit brighter!

Hoping — but knowing that the next year of my life is pretty much being decided for me.

At the end of each doctor’s appointment they make another one for me and I never really get to pick a day and time — I’m pretty much told when I’ll be back. I guess that’s how it’s going to be for at least the next 12 months and I just have to suck it up!

We have been coming up to Seabird for about the past four years around this time. It’s the most amazing place and we have our friends the Foggos to thank for introducing us to our new summer home — even if we only call it home for a week at a time.

After an hour’s drive we arrive at the boom gates — they lift up and somehow magically your troubles dissolve for just long enough. Long enough to enjoy each other’s company on the beach in the morning, around the pool in the afternoon and at the crest of the beach at sunset.

This morning I took the chance to stroll along the beach up to the café to get my morning coffee fix. The wind was howling and as a result no one was on the beach — I had it all to myself for a while. The peace and quiet was refreshing.

Cheers to the last day of the year and hoping we all find a bit of peace and quiet when we need to contemplate life and how we are going to take on the next hurdle put in front of us!

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Christmas Day – out comes the first hat!

December 25, 2014

Wearing a woven hat on a hot Christmas Day with no buffer between it and your scalp is a pretty strange feeling!

Usually there’s plenty of hair on my head (my hair is thin but I have a lot of it) but this is my first full day with a shaved noggin and I’ve decided hats will be the way to go for me most of the time.

The wig is hot and to be honest, I can’t really be bothered “dressing up” in that every day. I am a pretty wired control-freak but I am trying to simplify my life one small step at a time and just throwing on a hat when I need to cover my head seems like the most logical thing for me to do.

But now it’s going to be obvious that something is wrong.

While I had hair, even when it was thinning, people around me who didn’t know what was going on didn’t have any reason to look at me differently or ask someone if I was ok.

Now, I can’t hide it — and I don’t want to. What’s the point!

While sometimes I really don’t want to talk about myself and what is happening with my treatment, it’s what most people want to know. Not because they are all Mrs Mangels (that reference is for those of you old enough to have seen Neighbours in the “olden days”) but because most of them are genuinely concerned.

I think the thing that scares most people is that this could all be happening to me. I mean if it is happening to me, what is stopping it from being them, their mother, sister or friend.

I’m 41 and I’ve barely been sick a day in my whole life. I’ve never been under a general anaesthetic, never broken a bone and hadn’t had a blood test until I was 30.

Clearly I was saving myself to do as many of these as possible in 2014, 2015 and probably 2016.

Anyway, I now have a nice little range of hats — unfortunately my favourite is a black velvet cap that is bloody hot — and I guess a range of beanies will come in handy in winter too!

But first — cheers to Christmas surrounded by family xxx

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The first “hat for a reason” – Christmas Day 2014 with the loves of my life

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The kidlets with their wonderful grandparents

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A very happy camper with her polaroid camera

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All he ever wanted — a remote control boat!