Two years ago today, we received my diagnosis. It turned our world upside down. It was just the beginning of a huge journey.
During those two years it has been just as much ugly as it has been beautiful. Behind our smiles and strength is our truth of the real cost of Cancer.
Cancer has cost me my body as it once was. It has cost me my hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes. It has cost us the ability to work, exercise and at times, function as parents. It has cost me full feeling in many parts of my body. It has been painful physically, mentally and emotionally.
It has almost cost us both our souls and sanity, more than once.
It has almost cost us each other.
It has tried to cost us our home, and still might.
On one dark day, it could have taken me with it…
We have felt disappointment, we have felt abandoned and we have felt lost. And we have felt fear. All consuming, terrifying fear.
But there has also been beauty.
Beauty in the love and support from those who have been there and accepted all that has been.
Beauty in the change that has evolved from within. To search ourselves so deeply and learn to love what is, has been a blessing.
The beauty with which we choose to see life, even more than before, gives us a second chance. Being forced to learn lessons so harsh have changed us forever. We will never be who we were before.
Each day we rise and smile. One foot in front of the other as we greet the day.
We have each new day to start again and find hope. Life keeps moving forward regardless.
I am here. I woke up today. I am breathing. Anything else is a bonus.
As I watch her walk along the sand in front of me, I wonder about my Daughter’s footsteps into her future.
She doesn’t walk in mine, and nor would I want her to. But I created her, and I must show her the way.
Because of my own footsteps, I can teach her differently. Because I strayed off the path, I can recognise the signs. Because, once, I hated myself, I can fill her up with my love. Because, once, I hated my body, I can teach her to love hers. Because I never thought I could do anything, I can encourage her to try everything. Because I needed to measure up, I can teach her to ignore judgement from others. Because I was never good enough, I can remind her to always do her best.
In a world that places so much pressure on our children, I can teach her to be grounded. I can teach her to take responsibility, and I can teach her to be self-aware.
I can teach her as best I know how, to prepare her for her adult life. I can invest in my parenting techniques to teach her how to know her boundaries. I can ignore the fourteen year old tantrums and embrace her insights into humanity. I can make light of the drama and emotion to stop the momentum. I can sacrifice being a friend right now, to become her closest in years to come.
I can watch her make mistakes, and be there to catch her in the fall. I can celebrate her joys and successes and be the loudest cheerleader from the sidelines.
I will quietly walk beside her, observing, guiding and admiring the young woman she is becoming. I recognise parts of me in her, but she is a more evolved mirror of my younger self.
Her passion, determination, strength and resilience that shines through fills me with joy. The foundations are there, it will be up to her now. I have done my best. I have to let go, just a little. But all the while, watching, waiting, guiding, and cheering from the sidelines.
At times, apparently I know nothing. At times I am on the receiving end of that acidic teenage venom. At times I am the enemy. At times, I am not the perfect parent. At times, I fail her. Sometimes, I can’t be all for her. And sometimes, my heart hurts for her but I cannot fix it.
She has been through more than a teenage girl should have. In her short life, she has embraced the many lessons that have been presented to her. Life, death, trauma and lack. Unimaginable for some. And yet, she is brave, strong and shines light wherever she goes.
As I imagine her future, I know there will be heartbreak, disappointments and setbacks. I cannot protect her from those times to come that will try to wear her down. I can only continue to observe, guide and cheer her on.
I will never judge. Who am I to do that?
She deserves the safety and security of my love and support, no matter what.
The day will come, when she may not need me so much. She might not want to ask my thoughts and opinions. And that is ok. She will be ok.
For now, I will love her fiercely with my own strength, resilience and compassion. The future will come, faster than we realise.
My Daughter’s footsteps may be the same size, but they will never make the same pattern as mine. And for that, I am grateful…
Yesterday, I watched my 16 year old son, my middle child, play in his men's volleyball team and I saw a boy on the verge of manhood.
Once my shy, sensitive, quiet boy with many anxieties and fears is now accepted as 'one of the boys'. The teammates congratulate each other with the sportsmanlike pat on the butt and high fives! They celebrate the wins, and support each other in the losses.
On the way to the game we were chatting about my son's successful week of work experience with a carpenter/builder last week. It was his first exposure to being on the tools in a real working environment.
He wants to be a carpenter. He knows it with conviction. It lights him up and he feels no doubt.
What an amazing thing for one so young to be so certain of his purpose.
At 46 I am still trying to figure out what my purpose is, other than being a mum and wife!
Whilst chatting to my son, his future flashed through my mind. I had the sense that his life will be great. He is already aligned with his passion and has direction.
I spent many years worrying about my son. His formative years were very difficult and our circumstances were challenging. He was very protective of me, even at the early age of 4, and he also had issues with separation. I would drop him at childcare on my way to work and he would scream as I left. It was heartbreaking. The early years of primary school were the same. Some days he would not get out of the car and I would have to walk him in to the classroom.
I realise now that my son didn't feel safe. For a long time neither did I.
For many years he wouldn't settle at night. He couldn't fall asleep, and when he did he had bad dreams. He was also very angry. Angry with me, angry at the world. We sought help and support, and were very fortunate to eventually find a wonderful woman who helped my son finally find a way to articulate his feelings.
All I could do as a mum was give him love, be consistent and function through structure. They were difficult years, and exhausting.
My son found balance through sport. He has a natural ability. He achieved his back belt in Taekwondo by the age of 11, played footy at the local club and participated in many school sporting activities and competitions. At the end of his final year of primary school, he received the sports award from the school.
I cried in that moment. I couldn't stop. They weren't just tears of pride as a mum, but also joy and celebration. That award was more than just an acknowledgement of his contribution to the school during that year. It signified his healing. His acceptance of all that was and his journey of processing and personal growth.
Fast forward to the now and it hasn't been easy. We have navigated more challenges through the years with our family. My recent journey through breast cancer has been very difficult for our kids. All six of them have coped with it in different ways.
Sport has been the way my son has coped. As I watched him play his game alongside the men in the team, some much older than him, I saw a boy who is confident, happy and ready for the next stage of his life.
As my son and I discussed his work experience, I asked him if he still enjoyed it by the end of the week. He answered and said, "I would love it even if I didn't get paid to do it". And there it was. The moment I realised he has found his purpose.
People who are aligned with their purpose and passion have flow in their lives. Opportunities arise for them in amazing ways.
I know that my son will not have the struggles that I have endured. As long as he is feeling joy through his work and his life, he will be happy. As parents we all long for that for our children. We hope that they will not know the struggles that we have experienced.
There will be lessons, no doubt. His life will change in years to come. He might have his own family one day. He might decide on a career change, or run his own business. Who knows. But for now, knowing that as a young man he has direction is actually a relief.
There is so much pressure on young people nowadays to figure out what they want to do. Navigating preferred pathways is much more complicated than when I was at school. It is almost overwhelming how many different options there are available to school leavers now. There is a big emphasis on attending university. This is not for everyone, and even once you have completed your degree there is no guarantee of employment.
I feel a sense of peace and immense pride in regards to my son's choice to be a tradie. I have a quiet knowing that all will be well. It was worth all the difficult times to now witness his evolution, and I couldn't be more happy for him.
My Dad said to me once when I was in my early 20's, …"I may not always agree with your decisions, but I will always be here to support you". That has always stayed with me, and I aspire to do the same.
Whatever my kids decide to do in their lives, as long as they are happy and are following their inner guidance system that I have taught them to listen to, I know they will be successful in this game of life.
As parents, we can't ask for any more than that…
With love, Ali.
*Big thank you to my beautiful boy for giving me his blessing to tell his story.
As women, we love to connect with other women. It starts when we are young. The bond of the "girlcode" begins as soon as we start interacting with groups.
We started whispering in each other's ears, sharing toys (or not!), and our mums started scheduling 'play dates', as soon as they connected at the local mothers group, childcare, Kindy and school.
Throughout our schooling years, we form friendships, end friendships and move through different groups. If we are fortunate, we will form some lifelong bonds.
Last weekend I attended my thirty year school reunion. It was a great day with many stories being shared about our school days and life since then for each of us. The fact that our secondary schooling was in a single sex environment meant that strong connections were formed, lifelong in fact. Every school creates the same, but being all girls, and some of us living on the grounds in the boarding house, meant that we did not have the distraction of boys and only had each other. Close friendships are inevitable in an all-girl environment.
This also meant there were some clashes, as with any family living together, and as we navigated through our teenage years we relied on each other heavily. Especially those of us who were living away from our own families.
I don't remember a lot of those years, just snippets here and there. My Mum was sick through all of my secondary schooling and died three months into my final year.
At the reunion, as we shared our stories, some of those bonds were still felt. We all reconnected, individually and as a group. It was a surreal moment in time, with the last 30 years feeling like a blur. At one point, after a few wines, we even sang the school song!
Fast forward through the next thirty years and they have been filled with friendships with some amazing women, all of whom have played a part in who I have become, and indeed am becoming.
Through school and the early years following there was always drama. That's just what girls do! We are hormonal, emotional and at times irrational while we are young. There were broken hearts, broken dreams, broken promises and plenty of broken rules! But through it all, those true friends were riding the waves with me.
Then there were the girls I lived with, girls I have worked with and girls I have met through business and in the social media space. It never ceases to amaze me how new people can arrive into your life in unexpected ways. Many of these women are still my very close friends.
I have life-long girlfriends who I have grown up with and am still so fortunate to have in my life on a daily basis. My oldest friend and I are only three days apart. We were inseparable as young girls and our mothers were best friends. To have that history with a dear friend is a special thing.
Then there is that special friend who knows all my secrets! We met on the first day of secondary school. I had forgotten my glasses and had been moved up to the front of the classroom next to a blonde haired girl named Louise. I had also forgotten my essential items to write with and spent the entire day asking Lou if I could borrow items out of her pencil case! I had my braces and bobby-pinned hair and shiny new shoes on. She still reminds me of this day and remembers that she was annoyed that I asked to use her belongings all day and ignored her at the recess and lunch breaks! But I was just going off to the boarding house for my meals with the other boarders!
To be able to call a friend and have a good old offload without judgement is a blessing. To absolutely know that I don't have to hesitate to pick up the phone and call when I'm having a bad day and know that I will hear 'it will all be ok', feels safe and reassuring. To also know that I can call any time to have a laugh, tell my stories of failure and success, or chat about my dreams and aspirations, fills my soul. It heals me.
I have an incredible husband who makes me laugh, and we have wonderful male friends in our lives who bring much to our friendships, but my bond with my girlfriends is different. It is gentle, it is light, it is like your favourite song playing on the radio and you can't help but dance. That connection raises your vibe, and can make an ordinary day turn around in a matter of minutes. It can fill your soul.
I see my daughter at 14, in her first year of secondary school, starting to develop some of these bonds of friendship now. She and her friends are now of an age when they are starting to appreciate the special place that they hold in each other's lives. I see her life long friendships blossoming and new friendships forming. They spend a great deal of time chatting to each other about the issues that come up in their lives. I love watching that happen. I love that they are valuing each other and acknowledging their connections.
I love that I can have a deep conversation and talk with my girlfriends about life, love and lessons. I love that we can be so captured by our chatting that we aren't aware of what is going on around us. I love laughing at the memories of stupid things we have done. I love it when they say to me (through love)… "get a grip"! I love that I have been able to call a friend and say "can I just come and hang on your lounge today"… and you can ask the same of me. I also love that many of my girls are also loved by my kids.
I'm sad that several of my closest friends live interstate and across the ocean, but I love that we can be in contact in an instant. I love that in this day of modern technology I can be talking in real time across the world, or sending crazy Snapchat photos to each other, or we can video call and see each other's faces. We can make the effort to keep these special friendships part of our daily lives if we want to.
As Phil and I sat at our favourite spot in the sun yesterday drinking our coffee, I was observing the different groups of people walking past. There were families and partners, the fellas who had met a mate for a run, and then there were the girls. Groups of girls chatting, laughing and sharing stories about their week. They were in their own little world in a state of joy.
I have huge appreciation for the different types of girls in my life who are my friends. I have attracted smart, empathetic, creative, wise and amazing women into my world, all of whom have a no BS approach to life! They are different nationalities, have different backgrounds and upbringings, different interests, and sometimes different opinions.
I am so proud of them all, and so incredibly grateful that they have chosen me to be their friend. I also love them dearly…
Nurture your friendships with the girls in your life. Treasure the special moments, be grateful for them and show them love.
Do that, and they will walk beside you through your life and all that it is and will be…
Picture this… Last night, Friday night. A quick pizza dinner with my two youngest cherubs and then rushing to get out the door and get them both to their volleyball games. Thankfully they were playing at the same place at the same time!
I was rushing up and down our stairs grabbing a jacket, scarf, beanie and my sheepskin lined boots to keep me warm. It is so cold sitting in those gyms through winter volleyball season and I’m a bit of a cold fish, I need layers!
I flung open my daughter’s door and gave her the hurry up as I flew out of our bedroom and past hers. I turned around and took my first step on to our stair case and then it happened…
I missed a step, and I tumbled down in a screaming heap!
Once I was on the way down, I could not stop myself. I had momentum. I think I even did a somersault.
I ended up at the bottom and smashed the back of my head on the balustrade. I screamed and rolled myself down the last two steps to the floor.
Hubby came running from the family room after hearing my screams. My daughter casually wandered out of her room to see what the noise was, and my son had no idea as his music was so loud in his room!
Phil was worried, as I couldn’t get myself up off the floor for a bit and had a bit of a cry. I was waiting for the blood to be pouring out of the back of my head after such a hard collision, but it seemed to be intact.
I was very concerned that I might have ruptured my implant in my reconstructed breast and had visions of the implant exploding inside and causing all kinds of dramas! Ok, so maybe that is a slight exageration, but the visual did flash through my mind!
I then thought I might have damaged my own boob that has just been operated on only two weeks ago. Not to mention I landed on my frozen shoulder that is almost fully recovered. I feared I had caused damage that would set me back and cause me to start recovery all over again.
There was a lot to check out! Thankfully, everything seemed to be in its place, there was no blood, and I could only feel that my shoulder was quite sore.
Now we were running late to get the kids to their games. Argh!
This was the second time I had a big fall down the stairs. And last time I was wearing the same boots! I was also rushing that day, to get everyone organised and out the door for a family event. That day, after I picked myself up I heard the very clear message “slow down” in my mind.
I am normally an energetic person. Always have been. My sister is the same, and we take after our Dad. Chemo slowed me down for a little while, and during my treatment I have learnt to be much more mindful. However, there are times when that need-for-speed behaviour can come out!
What a lesson the universe has given me!
That’s twice now, next time I might not be so lucky to escape without serious injury. I get it now…
Hubby and I were chatting about it this afternoon and he mentioned that he half expected me to not be breathing when he got to me. “People die like that you know”, he said!
Needless to say, today I have been quite sore in a few places. I had some new aches and pains, and a bit of a headache. But, I will be fine, and I think I am extremely lucky. Today I have been treading carefully!
From now on I will again be remembering to slow down. Physically, as well as mentally.
We should all slow down. We all need to be more mindful.
Would it have really mattered if we were a couple of minutes late? I don’t think so.
If we slow ourselves down, we lower our blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels. All of these biological barometers can contribute to health issues. Living life in the fast lane long term can contribute to serious illness. Trust me, I know.
So invest in your future healthy self, and SLOW DOWN!!
I have failed at my job, in business, as a parent, as a partner, a friend, and as an every-day person. Even more the point, I have failed at being a healthy every-day person.
But how lucky am I?
I am incredibly fortunate. Am I really a failure? I think not. None of us are.
I have failed, but I am not a failure.
I am a student.
I am a student of life.
I sit in my classroom, sometimes ready to answer back the teacher. Sometimes I don’t see the point of the lesson because I don’t want to sit there that day. I didn’t want to get out of bed, get dressed, and turn up to just sit at my desk for hours and be lectured to, or tested, or disciplined.
I would so much prefer to buck the system!
We are all individuals with different learning styles and different personalities. We encounter different classrooms with different teachers and peers. The subjects also change all the time.
Maybe this is just a stupid metaphor, but it relates, for me, to my life!
My point is, even though we have all these conditions, routines and challenges, it is up to us how we learn from them.
You are never going to know absolutely everything, about every subject or every relationship in your life.
Especially your relationship with yourself.
What kind of student are you? Are you the compliant, the rebel, or maybe the average?
Or are you the conscientious?
We all have a basic understanding of what all the descriptions of these “types” are, and we can all identify with one or more.
I think I have been all of the above throughout my life at different stages. Most of my schooling days I was an average student, but before my Mum died during my final year at school I was a bit of a rebel. I wanted to do things my way. There were many opportunities to learn lessons but I didn’t want to hear, or realise, that someone else’s way of looking at an issue just might have been the best way forward for me.
After Mum died I was still a rebel, still doing things my way, but much more compliant. Entering the workforce, studying, and my first relationship meant for me that through my experiences in life, I reacted to, and perceived situations how I thought I was meant to.
I remained compliant until towards the end of my first marriage when I figured out that being this kind of person really wasn’t leading me down the right path. But that is a whole other story for another blog on another day…!
During my mid 30’s I started to become much more “conscientious” in my life. I started to see and react to situations differently. I was waking up to the concept that I didn’t have to think and feel and behave a certain way just because everyone else did, or because I was told to.
I was still the ever learning student, but I had the power to take responsibility for my choices and make some changes. I started to do the work, do the study and really put in some effort.
I realised that by seeing the lesson for what it was, and knowing that I could do the work in creating change within myself, that I could change my path.
And I did. In a big way.
My new husband, Phil, would probably say I am a rebel! I can see the look on his face so clearly! I still also have the tendency to be compliant and I certainly have my average days, but mostly I am conscientious.
As I have been going through my Breast Cancer journey over the last two years, I have learnt so much.
I have been observing, listening, and increasing my awareness. I have also been doing the work.
I have still failed, many times. And I am sure I will continue to fail some more.
However, through some incredible people who are experts in teaching the curriculum of life, no matter what results I achieve, I am the most successful student I can be.
Which one have you been in the past, and which one do you prefer to be now after a few more years of being on this roller coaster called life?
None of us can progress through failure to achieve success, without being the student inbetween…
Give yourself the best chance at success, and allow yourself to fail. As one of my favourite quotes says:
“You can never lose, only win or learn.” Unknown
So good luck in your own classrooms. How you get along with your teachers will be up to you…
Chemotherapy is horrible. There is no other way to describe it, other than with my newly developed unofficial formula of C=MT…
Chemo is the equivalent of being hit by a Mack truck.
I am no scientist, nor am I medically trained, but I am certainly experienced. Unfortunately, many others are too.
After I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and went through my mastectomy surgery, Phil and I attended a long appointment with the surgeon to go through all treatment options. I only had the option of the public health system, but wow, I am eternally grateful that I did.
There was a team of doctors and nursing staff that spent an incredible amount of time reviewing my individual circumstances and deciding as a group what the best recommendations would be.
Treatment is different for everyone dependent upon their circumstances and type of cancer. No one person’s cancer is the same as anyone else’s. There is no ‘one size fits all’. It is an extremely complicated combination of surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and so on. For me, it was decided I would need all.
It is important to understand that I was given options every step of the way. I could choose any or all. It was up to me to decide what was best. Due to my age, family history and type of cancer, the surgeon advised that having the treatment would lower the general risk of recurrence in the next ten years from 60% down to 40%. The decision was easy for me.
I knew that my Mum did NOT have chemo after her mastectomy. Thirty five years ago, they believed they removed all trace of her cancer. They were so confident at the time, and their knowledge was very different back then. Maybe, if she had chemo, things may be have been different. I don’t dwell on that thought, but at times I do wonder about the ‘what if’.
I’m into all things natural and take care of myself with amazing natural supplements but I also wanted to commit to doing everything in my power to reduce the risk of recurrence as much as possible. Being faced with my own mortality, I made a decision that I might have otherwise thought differently about as an observer. Now I was becoming a participant.
In preparation, I had heart scans and blood tests. For some people, their heart can be permanently damaged and I was to be closely monitored and screened thoroughly.
Yes, chemo is anything but natural. Yes it is revoltingly toxic. But it is also very effective at mopping up any other cancer cells that may have possibly escaped and travelled through the lymph system to other areas. The downside is that it destroys good cells also.
There are many different types of chemotherapy. I never knew before, but every single person’s combination and dose of drugs is different. I had six rounds, every three weeks, and my drugs were designed to target any cancer cells still floating around that were fuelled by Estrogen. I had a toxic combination of three different drugs. Each chemo round cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Again, thank goodness for our public health system.
The infusion centre at the cancer clinic at Flinders hospital was full. They receive over forty new cases every week. Yes, you read that correctly, it is not a typo...
Scary isn’t it?
I am told that a well-known, local, working class southern suburb has the highest number of statistics. I won’t name it, I don’t want to freak anyone out. Apparently, the residents in that suburb are the most stressed as a population, in the southern suburbs.
Because the infusion unit at Flinders Medical Centre hospital was full, I was referred to the Repatriation Hospital here in Adelaide for my chemo treatments. And I am so grateful I received my treatment there. Those chemo nurses were absolutely amazing. Beautiful women who took the very best care of me and everyone else in that infusion unit. They made a scary experience much easier to cope with and all but held my hand through the whole journey. It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that work, and they have my total admiration. All nurses do.
Before my first round of chemo, Phil and I attended an appointment with the cancer nurse at Flinders. She gave us all the information we needed as to what we could expect.
I was feeling invincible.
I was informed by the nurse that the Mack truck would hit me and knock me off my feet. I was told that I could be violently ill, experience constipation, diarrhea or both. I was told that I would definitely lose all my hair. I could lose my finger nails and or toe nails. My fingers and toes could go numb and feel like pins and needles. My skin could be severely irritated, dry, cracked or all three, particularly in delicate areas. Sex might be painful. My periods would probably stop, and should. If they continued, then that was a major problem. I could expect ringing in my ears, severe fatigue, loss of appetite, possible weight gain, loss of sleep, and I was at huge risk of picking up every bug going around because of my compromised immune system. They talked to us about chemo brain and that they don’t really know what causes it because apparently the drugs don’t affect the brain. I could expect to feel less mentally alert, confused, emotional, anxious and even angry throughout the course of treatment. I was also not permitted to work as that placed me at too high a risk of falling ill.
Phil was also told that he should not use the same toilet as me for the first seven days after each treatment. This was because the drugs would take that week to flush out of my system and he should reduce his risk of exposure. Being exposed to the drugs could potentially cause him to build up a resistance to them, which would not be good if he ever needed them in the future.
I was still feeling invincible.
I remember so clearly saying to the nurse, …”I am fit and healthy, I am strong and should get through this no problems. I never get sick, so I will be fine. You can’t keep me down for long”.
Little did I know at that point that my Wonder Woman superhero tendencies were about to take a severe beating.
I had five months to get through. I knew it would go fast, but I also knew I couldn’t wish that time away and I still needed to walk every step, of each of the days, through those five months.
I had been given four weeks to recover from my surgery and they wanted to start as quickly as possible. We were caught off guard a bit thinking we had six weeks before I had to start. My eldest son was in the middle of Year 12 final exams and was about to turn 18. He really didn’t need the added pressure and worry. For a long time I felt guilty as a mum that I couldn’t fully support him during that time. It had been a tough year for him already.
My guilt soon turned to pride. I have deliberately raised my kids to be resilient, independent and self-reliant. He demonstrated all of those attributes, stepped up and did what he needed to do. It was tough, and he felt the pressure, but he absolutely did his best and I am amazed at how he got himself through.
The first day had arrived. It was a Thursday. I felt mixed emotions. Phil felt apprehensive, but was as positive and supportive as usual. I’m sure he was as terrified as I was, but he didn’t want to tell me.
We initially expected to be at the hospital for about three hours and spent our time chatting about picking the kids up from school, what was for dinner, and other normal family conversation. We had a ‘just get on with it’ kind of attitude and wanted the day to be over as quickly as possible. We didn’t know how I was going to be affected and were open-minded with our expectations.
We were more concerned with the fact that because the first treatment was scheduled much earlier than expected, my Son’s birthday celebrations were being held a few days away and we needed to consider possibly cancelling. I insisted that the party go ahead and I would be positioning myself on the lounge! I didn’t want my Son to be affected even more than he already had been.
Upon arriving at the infusion unit we had a long wait. We had to see the Oncologist beforehand, to make sure that he was happy with my blood tests that I had the day before. I filled out the obligatory paperwork. So much paperwork, everywhere we went. We chatted to one of the nurses and then she asked me how I was feeling.
That was when I felt the fear. And I cried.
We then needed to wait for the Pharmacist to make the drugs. Because every person’s cocktail is different, they don’t store the concoction but make it as it is needed.
The unit was very busy that day and we waited three hours for the drugs to arrive. We thought we might be finished by this time, and here we were just beginning.
I was hooked up with an intravenous line in my right arm. I can’t use my left arm at all anymore for bloods, lines, blood pressure and so on because of the increased risk of Lymphedema after surgery.
The chemo drugs needed to be administered one at a time. They connected up the machine ready to go after putting on gowns, masks and gloves. This was very confronting for us, but for the same reasons Phil was told not to use the same toilet as me, the same goes for the nurses handling the drugs. They have a much greater risk of exposure through their contact with patients.
I can’t even remember the long scientific names of all the drugs, but I do remember the first one was bright red. It took about twenty minutes to get through the bag hanging on the hook. The nurse sat with me for the first few minutes, which is apparently necessary procedure. She was watching for any reaction I may have had in the first few minutes. She was also keeping a close eye on my veins.
All was going well, and then I was ready for the changeover to the next drug.
I was not prepared for what happened next.
Those first few minutes while the nurse sat with me I was fine. It was after she walked away when everything changed.
My heart started racing, my body quickly felt extremely hot and I was bright red from my toes up to the top of my head. It happened so quickly. I remember saying …”wow, this stuff packs a punch…”
All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe.
The nurses came running from everywhere. They drew the curtain, to either give me privacy or not scare the other patients, or both… I’m not sure which.
They turned the machine off to stop the drug and gave me a quick dose of steroids. They hooked me up to an ECG to check my heart, and put an oxygen mask on my face. Phil had been sitting next to me when it happened and it all unfolded in front of him. He did not know what to do. It was terrifying for me to experience it, let alone him watching it.
Thankfully, the steroids worked quickly. I could breathe easily, my heart rate slowed, my blood pressure started to come down and the lobster redness subsided.
They monitored me closely for some time while talking us through what had happened. I had a reaction. For me, the only way I can describe it is to say it was like an anaphylactic reaction. I was lucky that they were right there beside me. Apparently that kind of reaction is not common, but does happen. Most people recover after and can continue with treatment, like me. But apparently, occasionally, some don’t live through it to tell the tale.
I still needed to have the rest of that drug. Thankfully the steroids avoided any further reaction and I continued on as planned. It would also mean that I needed that dose of steroids before each round of treatment from then on.
The rest of the day was uneventful, but it was long.
We were at the infusion unit for six hours. We were both cared for, fed and watered. And when it came time to leave, we were both shattered.
We said our goodbyes, checked our appointments for the next round in three weeks time and made our way home to go back to normal life and be parents.
That Thursday night I felt fine. The next day, I got up and drove my kids to school. I was feeling great.
By Friday night I was going downhill quickly.
I went to bed Friday night, and that is where I stayed until Sunday.
The Mack truck had hit, and it was hell.
We all know the feeling of suffering through a serious flu and being bed ridden, not able to function. That’s probably the only way I can think to describe it… but magnify that feeling by about ten fold.
What was surprising, however, was that I never suffered with nausea or vomiting. Not once. That alone made it so much easier to cope with. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I hadn’t been well. Thankfully, my Oncologist had agreed that I could continue to take my natural supplements through treatment and they made all the difference.
I got out of bed on the Sunday morning, managed to have a shower without passing out, and spent the day on the lounge with our family around us to celebrate my Son’s 18th birthday. I couldn’t do anything, but I didn’t need to. Our beautiful family rallied around and took care of everything. I spent the day drifting in and out of sleep.
I spent several more days enduring that Mack truck state. I felt weak, it was difficult to breathe properly, and small activities would exhaust me quickly. I spent a week like that, was a little better in the second week and then the third week I picked up again and needed to prepare for round two.
Each subsequent round of chemo was different. Some hit me harder than others. It was such a difficult time and I couldn’t function for much of it.
Round two occurred on Christmas Eve. Again, I felt well that night, and I got through Christmas Day and then the Mack truck hit again. It hit harder than the first time.
I had lost all my hair by this time, all over my body. It was difficult, but I had to accept it.
After my next round my veins in my right arm collapsed and I needed to have a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line put in. This means that they insert a thin tube into a large vein in your arm and feed it through to the heart. It meant that further damage to my veins could be avoided. As a result of the damage to my veins before the PICC line was put in, I don’t have too many spots left that I can have blood taken. Even now, I am often left bruised after several attempts with needles being inserted all over the place!
Because my treatment continued through the summer months, our kids didn’t have the chance to enjoy their school holidays like they normally would have. I spent a lot of that time either in bed, or on the lounge.
Those times were hard. And there were several days when I felt like I could not go on. I remember thinking ‘just take me now’, because it seemed it would be better that way. But… I could fall in a heap and feel sorry for myself, or I could rise and be brave.
Phil and I were so fortunate to have some wonderful friends and family who cooked for us and grocery shopped for us.
We would not have got through without that support.
Through this time, we really saw how wonderful the human spirit can be. Those people in our lives, who gave of themselves so much, made a very big difference in our lives and our children’s lives.
We are forever grateful to those people. You know who you are!
Chemo is long finished now. I was discharged by the Oncologist not long after my treatment ended.
I am in remission.
But, the aftermath is lasting. I have many side effects now that I live with every day that people don’t see. My body is forever changed in so many ways.
The tips of my fingers and toes are numb. My eyesight has deteriorated and needs to be monitored each year. I have a permanently runny nose. I experience ringing in my ears. I still get confused and have lost the ability to mentally plan and organise. I now heavily rely on writing lists, using a physical diary and I need to schedule reminders in my phone. Sometimes I can’t get my words out. I know what word needs to come out, but my mouth doesn’t work. My short term memory has suffered and I have begun menopause. I sometimes wake several times during the night, and in a pool of sweat. I also need to take medication for up to ten years.
However, I have learnt to manage those issues and continue to rebuild my strength. It could still take some time for my cognitive function to improve, and other side effects will be with me forever. I have adapted and accepted that I need to do some things differently than I did before chemo.
My new challenges do not stop me from working, running a successful business, walking along my favourite beach, or functioning as a mum, wife, friend or sister. I may need a bit more time to myself, a bit more down time, and time to move slower, but I can still do almost anything I want to. And I want to…
I am a warrior. I am a survivor, and I am brave. I have a second chance, and I will not be wasting it…
Are you like me, and sometimes make promises to yourself that you don’t or can’t keep? You know, the whole New Year’s resolution scenario that we always have the intention of sticking to but never do?
We like to promise to ourselves that we will eat better, exercise more, spend less, drink less, get healthy and so on. The list can be endless and unless we can be super stoic, totally driven and enthusiastic we can soon be consumed by life, and that one bad day can be our undoing.
So how about considering going deeper? What if you could actually think about what you really want for yourself and make a commitment to doing things differently? It actually is not difficult to do. It just starts with a decision and reminding yourself of your new habit until it comes naturally.
In my experience through my journey, change has come from focusing on how I want to feel. Yes I want to eat healthier, exercise more and so on, but that all flows naturally when I’m feeling good. It really is very simple. You just do something for yourself that makes you happy. And do more of it, as often as possible. My thing is walking on the beach. It instantly lifts me, so I do it as many times during the week as I can and it keeps me in that happy place. It is now a priority and I make time for myself to fit it in.
So back to promises.
We have those that are practical, and those that are on a constitutional level. By that I mean our system. Our internal guidance system that we rely on to make decisions.
And to go to this deeper level, we need to set intentions. They are different from promises.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of a promise, is “A declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen”.
The definition of an intention, is “A thing intended; an aim or plan”. So what’s the difference? I believe that a promise is the outcome of something you want, and the intention is how you will work towards it.
This all came up for me in recent months because of a beautiful friend, Bec, who organised an amazing gathering on our local beach for a group of women over the Easter weekend. We sat together on the sand and were guided through a meditation by our amazing local mentor, Miriam. We then went through a grounding yoga sequence with the fabulous and all-knowing yogi, Dawn, and then Bec taught us a powerful intention setting ritual*. The idea was to set some intentions for ourselves going into winter that we can follow through, in the spirit of self-love. We sat with a partner and a piece of string each. We made a knot in the string and stated our intention. Our partner then repeated our intention and also made a knot, then did their own.
I set four intentions for myself that day.
Those four intentions go around in my head daily. I wear my string on my wrist to remind me of their power. They keep me on course, reminding me how I want to constitutionally shine from within and live my life going forward into the future. At the time, I didn’t realise how they would become connected to a promise.
My life has been forced into change. Through my illness and recovery I have been given an opportunity to do things differently. I could choose to be the same person I was before I was diagnosed, but that won’t serve me. I can choose to react the same to situations as I did before, but that won’t serve me either. I see it so clearly now, but it wasn’t always that way.
For twenty years I have allowed certain situations to affect me. In addition to grieving for my mum, there have been other significant events in my life that have been very stressful and emotional. I can sit here and say that none of it was my fault and completely void myself of any responsibility but the fact is that I played a part. How I have chosen to react to those situations has completely enabled them.
We can’t just turn off our feelings when something happens that upsets us. But we can control our own behaviour and either choose to enter into the emotion of a situation and cause it to escalate, or rise above it, not take it on board, and break the momentum.
Even though I have learnt much over the last eighteen months, I’m certainly not perfect and in a moment of weakness recently I completely entered into a situation that I certainly would normally know better not to. I became so overwhelmed at my own emotions through the situation that it was affecting me day to day. I took it personally.
To process it, I needed to go to my happy place. I needed a hug, a chat, a coffee, comfort food and the beach. I spent the day with my wise, insightful and loving friend Bec. We walked and chatted for hours. I offloaded. We talked it through. I felt angry at myself and frustrated because I could not understand why this was happening. And then Bec gave me an a-ha moment.
She said to me, …”you’re not taking this shit into your success and you’re being forced to process it now”…
The absolute revelation at hearing this nearly knocked me over!
It was so blindingly obvious but I had allowed myself to be so consumed by my own emotions that I could not see the lesson that had presented itself.
The immediate sense of relief I felt was incredible. I let all the frustration go, then and there. I finally got it! There is no way that I am going to take this behaviour forward with me into the future.
And that day I made a promise to myself…
“I am stepping into my success and leaving behind all that doesn’t serve me.”
Together with my intentions, my promise to myself also now goes around in my mind daily. It also reminds me that I am making a commitment to myself to do things differently. To approach life differently and create new patterns of behaviour.
I have gone deeper with my intentions and promise. They have come from within and I am honouring them.
I have not been through all I have to come out the other side and be ordinary.
I am sure that my intentions and promises for myself will change from time to time, but they will now remain part of my daily life. An important part. We need to be kind to ourselves during times of change and I believe that setting up a framework for ourselves through this way can help us succeed.
Through change we achieve growth, and through growth we step into our personal power and find our success.
What are your intentions and promises to yourself? I encourage you to give it a try. You have nothing to lose, afterall, only much to gain…
*If you are interested to find out more about the fabulous Bec and all that she is about, or if you would like to join us on the beach next time, check her out at her Balanced Becca page. She’s pretty amazing and is currently developing some workshops that will help change lives, like her friendship has changed mine. Big love for this chick!