Love and Marriage
In 2003, I married my beautiful ‘Brave Man’, Gary. I was 33 and he was 37 . We both had great jobs, me a National Account Manager for a big US company and him a ‘deal maker’ for an Australian company that he had just been part of successfully floating on the Australian Stock Exchange.
We loved being newlyweds, we did lots of entertaining in our new house and took off on a honeymoon to Mexico and New York.
Life was full of adventure, excitement for the future and love…..yes lots of love. Could it get any better?
Love and Babies
Of course it did! One year later in 2004, our precious fairy Sienna, was born, bringing more love and happiness into our house than we could have ever imagined.
We were devoted to our little baby, couldn’t believe we were so lucky to have this healthy little blue eyed girl.
A little over a year after she was born, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. This brought heart break and pain but also a closeness and deeper love that we had never felt before. A new motto became, “The West’s never give up”!
There was no history of breast cancer in my family, in fact there was no history of cancer in my family. We didnt’ know anyone who had gone through it before, we were one of ‘those people’ who hear about other people who have had it. Never ever did it occur to us, that it might happen to us. It just always happened to ‘other people.’
All of a sudden we were the ‘other people.’
After surgery, a year of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonetherapy, I was given the ‘all clear’ by the end of 2006.
Life Back on Track
Wanting so much to get ‘life back on track’ and putting it all behind me, a year later in 2007, I competed in the Melbourne Marathon completing a half marathon. I had never done anything like this before and I felt like the little ‘dorky’ kid at school who suprises everyone by coming first in school sports. I would think to myself, “I’ve had cancer I can do anything!”
Continuing with regular check ups with my oncologist, all me results were A+. Feeling the healthiest and fittest that I had ever felt before, I decided to run in the Melbourne Marathon in 2008, again completing another half marathon.
2008 was to be a great year, my little fairy had just started kinder, other than running everywhere like Forrest Gump, I spent my time doing charity work for breast cancer awareness and raising funds for research. I was asked to be ambassador for the National Breast Cancer Foundation where I would be asked to give talks around Melbourne. From a small group of ladies who had just come out of finishing their treatment to 800 people who attended a ‘pink ribbon’ breakfast, I actually felt in some way I was making a differrence.
Three years after my initial diagnosis in 2009, my oncologist finally said that I was able to finish the hormone therapy and try to get pregnant. Whilst hormone therapy was planned for five years, it was decided that risk of recurrance was minimal, so we stopped it two years early and focused on having another baby. I had heard so many wonderful stories about women having babies after going through chemotherapy, so I was so hopefull and so excited. I had a chance of giving Sienna a brother or sister and my Brave Man a son or another daughter.
The same year with some girlfriends, I launched the Make Breast Cancer History Gala Evening, a charity cocktail night where we raised over $100,000 for the Breast Cancer Network Australia and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
In September 2009, just as we were about to launch our Gala Evening, I started to lose my voice and developed a cough. By December that year my breathing was so laboured that I was unable to continue my running. In the mean time, all the tests including a liver biopsy, visits to my GP and to a lung specialist were to no avail, as I kept being told that everything was ok. I was later to find out that mistakes were made, and oversights occurred which prolonged the correct diagnosis.
In January 2010, my annual scans showed fluid around my left lung. The pathology results revealed that the fluid contained cancer cells. Scans, surgery and further investigation showed that cancer was back, now on my liver, chest wall and floating around the outside of my lung.
My oncologist who I now referred to as my Health Stylist, had things in control and would make me better again.
Treatment started almost immediately. Starting with Talc Pleurodesis surgery. This was to drain the fluid around the lung and prepare the area to stop the fluid from coming back again. The surgeon uses a camera to look into my chest wall, it was here he saw ‘rice like grains’ of lesions that would be cancer.
My hopes and dreams for more children were brought to an end, when I was told I had to have an Oophorectomy, the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes. This was devastating news but after pathology results revealed that they had found cancer in my ovaries, acceptance was easier.
Meanwhile, I was having weekly chemotherapy with a week off every fourth week. In addition to this I would start on a drug called Ibandronate, which is used to prevent or treat bone thinning (osteoporosis) in women who are in menopause. And because I had my ovaries removed I would instantly enter the world of menopause. There would be a second Talc Pleurodesis surgery as the first one was not successful.
We would try to make the most of every good moment, any glimmer of me feeling well, we would try and do something as a family together. Sitting up and eating dinner together would be exciting and me going to Sienna’s school to hear reading would be monumentous! Maybe not that exciting in the ‘old life’ but still, we were together and that’s all that mattered.
But sadness would not leave us alone as my Brave Man’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The Brave Man’s, Brave Man Father would slip away before our eyes in only 8 weeks. Our hearts ached for a life that would not be sad anymore.
In August I would develop pneumonia and be rushed to hospital for treatment. Because of the risk of not recovering, my last two cycles of chemotherapy would be cancelled.
It would be nearly a year later on December 9th 2010, that my scans and tests would show “no signs of cancer” and I was given the ‘all clear’.
Life Back on Track
By the end of the year, I was sprouting new hair, going back to the gym and doing everything I could to spend all my time nurturing my little family.
I was determined to get ‘life back on track’, but this time it was different. I didn’t need to accomplish great things like, half marathons or feel like the ‘breast cancer warrior’ with charities and fund raising.
All I wanted was normality for me, my Brave Man and my little Fairy. So we focused on moments and creating memories.
In April we set off for an adventure to France where we danced amongst the poppy fields, came across hidden hill top villages, sat amongst the cherries and lost ourselves amongst the beauty around us and our lovely life in France.
Towards the end of our adventure, I started coughing again.
One week after we got back in May 2011, a scan revealed that the cancer had come back in my liver. We suspected in my chest wall too, due to my symptoms.
After a livver biopsy was performed, chemotherapy commenced straight away. This time once every three weeks as well as continuing with ibandronate.
It would be about 4 months of treatment and then waiting to see if it worked.
In October 2011, my scans and tests came back showing, no signs of cancer and I was given the ‘all clear’.
One week after my scans, I started coughing, I started to lose my voice and my breathing difficulties had come back. Even after a five night stay in hospital and some heavy duty antibiotics, my cough persisted.
I would have a pet scan that showed thickening of the lining of the left lung, “most likely due to an infection”. I would then have a bronchoscopy.
On December 22nd 2011, my oncologist told us that the bronchoscopy had revealed that there were cancer cells on my right lung. I commenced chemotherapy the next day. Every week for three weeks, then a week off. He said we could “knock it on the head”. I believe him, I have to. I told him I would do what ever it takes.
So it’s now six years this month that our life has been interuppted by this ‘incovenient illness’. My fairy is 7, I am 42 and the Brave Man in 45.
Our love has never been stronger and we will never give up. No matter what, it’s ‘Still a Lovely Life’.
In writing this blog, I have found how to stay in the moment, and not let the fear of the future overshadow our lovely life. Writing has been healing and has given me the insight to be grateful for all that I have and the love that surrounds me and my family.
And one day my fairy might read this and know that her mum loved her and her dad so much, for they are my reason now and forever.