This is a post I have been dreading to write. It’s been sitting on my shoulder whispering to me for months now, but I just haven’t known how to compose it. I didn’t feel ready. I’m not sure I feel any different now, either.
But, here it goes…straight from my heart to the page.
In August last year my cancer returned. What felt like an innocuous little lump under my skin on the side of my chest – something cyst-like and most likely benign – ended up heralding the news I had so feared for the last four years.
After weeks of scans, and biopsies and waiting and worrying, that little lump, along with a lesion on one of my ribs, was found to be Metastatic Breast Cancer. The incurable kind.
To say it’s been a blow would be the understatement of the century. I am gutted. My family is gutted. Our world has once again been flipped on its head in the cruelest way, and every day is a struggle to walk onward, head high, smile wide.
I haven’t felt the urge to write about it until now, but just as my original blog posts served as a kind of cathartic way of expressing my feelings and hopefully educating others about what a warts-and-all cancer diagnosis looks and feels like, I think it would be remiss of me to not continue the story.
I surprises me everyday how little people know about cancer, and the difference between an early stage diagnosis and the metastatic kind. When I first heard I had Breast Cancer four years ago, it was the scariest thing I had ever faced. The treatment was brutal and the road to recovery, long and arduous. I walked it as bravely as I could, fumbling through months of treatment supported by the loving arms and encouraging words of everyone around me.
This time, I am bereft.
I cling to a hope that is not there, and I play out the future I have left over and over in my head. The weeks, the months, the years. Will it be years? Nobody knows. No one can give me the answers I crave.
What I do know is, since my Stage IV diagnosis, I have had 12 weeks of more chemotherapy, targeted infusions of Herceptin and Perjeta every three weeks since September, and monthly injections of hormone blockers and bone strengtheners, and still my cancer continues to progress.
It is now in my right shoulder, my sacrum, two ribs, my left femur, pelvis, and, as of last week, in two chest lymph nodes.
I want to scream WHY ME. I want to walk into my doctor’s rooms and be told there’s been some sort of mistake. I want to look into my beautiful children’s eyes and see long into their future. I want to grow old with my husband and friends. I just want life.
I just want life.
Mortality is a heavy load to bear. And while I know it’s something we will all face one day, I just never thought I’d be facing mine so soon.
For those of you who have once again wrapped Jay and I up in your love, I can’t tell you how grateful I am. We are riding the waves of grief and worry and trying so hard to push aside our sadness and anxiety and make the most of what a beautiful life we do have. I try so hard to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty, and we will be throwing ourselves into as much as we can for as long as we can.
But it will take a village, and I am so grateful for the beautiful one we belong to.
If I asked you right now to describe your body using just one word, what would it be?
The reason I ask, is that Taryn Brumfitt, executive producer of a powerful new documentary called ‘Embrace’ did just that. She asked 100 women that same innocuous little question, and their answers – overwhelmingly negative – broke her heart. Here are some of them:
An estimated 91% of women loathe their bodies.
Go on…read that sentence again.
Nine in ten of us…that’s basically all of us: our girlfriends, our mums, our aunties, wives, daughters and nieces.
I know I have struggled at times to accept my body, and I don’t think I’ve ever once looked at myself in a mirror and thought ‘beautiful’.
I have clutched cellulite and wished it was not there. I have willed my breasts to grow, my thighs to shrink, my nose to – I don’t know – look different! I’ve even worried about my bloody ears, my wide feet, my saggy bum.
I have counted calories. I have de-toxed and dieted. I have tried to exercise dissatisfaction away, and I have felt guilty about food. For a while in my early twenties it was dark and oppressive. I was consumed at not being ‘enough’.
From here though, at the ripe old age of 39, and particularly framed by my recent experiences of breast-cancer treatment, I think about all that time I have spent unhappy, comparing myself to the perfect bodies in magazine pages, looking at my flaws, and feeling defined by them…
WHAT A FUCKING WASTE OF TIME!
What a waste of precious moments that could have been spent laughing with friends, doing fun things, exploring, or learning new stuff.
I watch my six year-old daughter with awe, most days. Full of confidence and joy, she dances and twirls with abandon in front of any mirror she can lay her hands on, utterly oblivious to any idea of self-hate. Right now, she is pretending to be a circus cat, pouncing and purring, making cat faces in the window.
‘Watch me, Mummy!’ she cries, as she prowls across our coffee table, ‘I’m a star cat of this famous show! You know mum I actually might be a real cat. Look at my pointy teeth.’
I watch and I find myself glancing through the years. When will this bubble of innocence pop? How can I wrap up my strong, spirited daughter, somehow bottle that confidence she oozes and ensure she continues to dance and twirl with joy her whole life?
I want to think she will, but the stats say otherwise and it frightens the heck out of me.
My girlfriends and I saw the Embrace film last night, and let me tell you right now – we should all go and see it. Our children should see it, especially those of us involved in the raising of girls…which let’s face it, is all of us.
It was created by Taryn Brumfitt, who, in response to her own body struggles, particularly after the births of her three children, found herself at odds with her post-pregnancy, ageing body. When a torturous exercise and dieting regime left her with what society would deem ‘the perfect body’ and Taryn still felt unhappy, she decided to set out on a body image crusade.
Her first step was a picture posted on her Facebook page:
It went viral.
The Embrace film is her attempt to understand why so many of us are dissatisfied with our bodies and what we can do to change that, and in doing so, help the next generations of young women embrace the diversely beautiful bodies they have.
It’s not a new concept to any of us really. We all know that bodies come in different shapes and sizes. We see it everyday, on every street, but while humanity is painted with a beautifully diverse brush, the portrayal of beauty and the archetypes of perfection that pervade every facet of our lives are frighteningly narrow.
Having cancer taught me a great truth about beauty: the age-old adage of ‘it’s what inside that counts’. (Not that that’s anything new!) But, when it’s shoved down your throat, and you are forced to embrace a bald, boobless version of yourself as a young woman, suddenly you have to dig really, really deep.
The Embrace movie talks about the BIG 4: DEATH, DISEASE, DIVORCE and REDUNDNCY as being moments in life that bring clarity, enabling us to see life through a new lens, and gain perspective on what really matters.
It’s certainly been true for me.
These days, while I still struggle with my body, it is in a totally new way.
I no longer give a crap about the things that used to bother me before. If anything, having cancer has taught me that we are who we are regardless of the way we look on the outside. Kilos on or kilos off, hair or no hair, we do not change, and those who love us the most don’t see a speck of difference.
When I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and throughout the months of gruelling treatment, my body felt like an enemy. It had betrayed me in the most insidious way, covertly growing malignant tumours while I looked and felt well.
For a while, we weren’t on speaking terms. That trusty gut instinct I had relied on my whole life felt irreparably broken, and if there had been a ‘Body Swap Meet’ within a 500km radius of my home some time in the last couple of years, I probablymost likely 100%-without-a-second-thought would’ve done a trade in.
But, like many others before me, and others after, I stumbled my way through surgery, scans, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, more surgery, immunotherapy, more scans, more surgery, hormone therapy, yet more scans, and yet more surgery.
My body copped a beating, yet it battled on and came out strong. It is not out of the woods completely, but when I think of all it has been through, I can’t help but feel grateful.
I can honestly say, I love my body.
I love it for the strength it has in the face of adversity. I love it for the way it laughs and snorts too loudly with good friends, bear-hugs those who need it, tickles my giggling children, snuggles with my husband and rocks my baby niece to sleep. I love the love it feels for this crazy life we are all living, and the brain that gives voice to my thoughts.
It is scarred, yes. It is damaged, HELL YES. And it is a hell of a lot weaker than I would like it to be. It no longer bears a strong semblance to the body I grew so familiar to for 37 years. These new breasts are not the soft supple breasts that nourished my three children, yet their scars are a daily reminder of a strength I never knew I had.
As the months go by, and I walk my way a little further away from cancerland, I find myself just grateful to be well. I can scooter to school with my kids. I can feel the wind through my unruly chemo-hair, raise my eyebrows sky-high in indignation, and I can trampoline without my boobs moving an inch. I can walk longer, further, faster.
I guess that sometimes – be it after watching a good film like Embrace, or travelling a tough old road through illness or grief, or some other life-changing pain, it’s important to realise that…you are enough.
We are all enough. We are actually amazing.
Our bodies run and swim and dance and glide. We are strong and supple, soft and squishy, huggable and sexy. We are fun, fabulous, fan-fucking-tastic.
Embrace it. Embrace all of it.
PS. If you’re interested in going to see the movie Embrace, I strongly recommend it. Check out the screenings in your city here.
Not many people know this, but far beyond the reaches of the chemotherapy ward, even months and years after cancer patients leave their infusion chairs behind and take brave steps forward trying to find all the remnants of their former selves and stitch them all back together, the toxins from such heavy duty treatment continue to wreak havoc on bodies and minds.
There is the threat of painful oedema in limbs where lymph nodes have been removed, there is tight roping scar tissue that makes it hard to stretch. There is peripheral neuropathy that continues to numb our extremities and make simple buttons and jar lids as difficult to open as if we were ninety.
There is lung scarring left over from radiation, fatigue, dry skin, weak nails, dental problems and just a general distrust of our bodies.
But most frustrating for me, of all my long-term side effects of cancer, is Chemo brain.
The Anthracyclines that hopefully killed off all my cancerous cells, infortunately had similar effects on healthy cells as well. Chemo brain is a well-documented side effect of cancer treatments, and the drugs that were pumped through my veins to save my life are among the most likely to affect future brain function. While their toxicity was a necessary evil, not a day goes by where I don’t notice their impact; on my memory, on my mood, on my day-to-day brain function.
There are days where I feel like I’m losing my mind. I wrote about it recently as my application for university study. I had to write a piece detailing why I wanted to study Professional Writing. The following just flooded out of me, and while it felt like a strange application essay at the time, the words needed to be written down, so I did not fight them.
Something must have resonated with the course enrolment officers, because I am now a uni student once again. This time round, I couldn’t be more excited.
Here it is. I guess it explains that for some of us, writing isn’t a choice. It’s a need. I need to get my music out. It will not stay inside.
Yesterday I couldn’t remember the word ‘opinion’. There I was, mid-conversation with a colleague over lunch, and suddenly the word I was searching for, ‘opinion’, disappeared from my vernacular. Gone.
Now, I know everyone has moments like this, where words on the ‘tip of their tongue’ vanish the precise minute they are meant to appear. I’m sure right about now, you’re sitting there thinking, ‘no big deal’. The problem is, and I haven’t said this to anybody else yet…this forgetting…it’s been happening a lot lately and I’m terrified. I have always prided myself on my ability to articulate well. It’s one of my defining qualities, and I am starting to feel it slip away from me.
At 38 years of age, I am showing several, small but noticeable signs of early-onset dementia: forgetfulness, memory loss, even the ability to recognise people’s faces. At first it was pretty insignificant: a couple of missed appointments, hazy recollections of prominent life moments, torturous hours spent trying to remember the most ridiculously simple words. But lately it’s become far more obvious.
Most excruciating, are the multiple times I have met someone, and then subsequently ‘re-met’ them again after forgetting their face and name completely. When I reply to, “Hey, have you guys met?” with a “No,” but the other person says in a confused voice, “Yes we have,” my heart sinks. Then I cartwheel through the depths of my brain trying to stir up any small flicker of identification. Just a whisper of a memory that might serve correct. More often than not, I am left flailing in an awkward pause the size of China, clumsily feigning recall but retreating as hastily as I can. People must think I’m so rude!
Why all this excruciating back-story when you really just want to read my application to enrol in Professional Writing?
Well, so far, the writing section of my brain seems in tact. I write and I am free of the awkward pause, the lost word, the misplaced memory. Where the immediacy of speaking often leaves me anxious and clammed up, writing feels easier. In writing, there is no befuddlement, no frantic wading through the depths of my mind for missing puzzle pieces. Somehow, the chasms melt away at my keyboard and I am able to prise open my clamshell and the words still come.
Last year, I found myself writing through a cruel and unfair time. I wrote because I was searching for meaning and needing to purge my mind of grief and fear. I wrote because I had no choice but to.
People often refer to Breast Cancer as one of the ‘good cancers’. Surely the phrase ‘good cancer’ is a total oxymoron, but you’d be surprised how often it gets bandied around. I remember on one occasion last year in the chemo ward, while hooked up to my intravenous cocktail of poison, I overheard someone I could not see proclaim she wished she had Breast Cancer.
Say what? Had I actually just heard someone WISH for BREAST CANCER? Why on earth, would anyone want what I had? Had she seen people like me lately? I was hardly a picture of health at the time: incredibly weak, rake thin, bald and pale!
Now of course, with a teeny bit of perspective and a bit of space away from the trauma of my own treatment zone, I get it.
I have no idea what this woman’s diagnosis was, but ALL cancer diagnoses are pretty damn horrible.
It’s true that as far as cancers go, Breast Cancer’s overall survival rates are better than some others out there, and it has a much higher profile in our society thanks to its fucking ridiculous playful association with the colour pink. I think it obviously helps too, that boobs are constantly sexualised and therefore way more important to everyone that your average – you know – colon or something. Sorry Colons, but it’s just a fact of life that everyone loves boobs, and not many give two hoots about you guys. It’s just too hard to garner as much enthusiasm for boring bits that don’t bounce and stuff.
Breast Cancer awareness campaigns can do fucking ridiculous hilarious things like dress men up in tutus and put dogs in bras.
They can have cutesy slogans like:
and ‘Save The Titties’ and people everywhere will donate because – FUN BAGS, amirite?
Celebrities can post ‘no bra selfies’ or pose sexily on Instagram in their underwear under the guise of cancer awareness.
Total. Puke. Fest.
On the flip side it means that people quite happily talk about Breast Cancer, so on some level, I have to admit that the profile of Breast Cancer is bigger and better because of it. I just take issue with the message, and the ‘sexification’ of what is a pretty ugly disease.
You want to see what Breast Cancer really looks like? Check here. I’ll happily show anyone who wants to see my scar lines too.
In comparison to the carnival that is Breast Cancer, there are lots of other forgotten cancers out there that struggle to get the same level of community support, dollars for research and awareness required to bolster survival rates. It’s pretty hard for, say – your bowel – to garner the support and media coverage that a pair of breasts can, isn’t it? But here’s the thing…we need to stop sticking our fingers in our ears and closing ourselves off in little ‘bubbles of invincibility’ and start talking about all cancers, their signs and symptoms.
June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month, and today I’m taking a break from all things boob, in order to highlight the importance of being in tune with your bowel. Copping a monthly feel of your breasts is easy, but sometimes the signs that something is amiss in your digestive tract are less obvious. And leaving symptoms unchecked for too long can be devastating.
While the chances of contracting Bowel Cancer increase with age, many young people are afflicted with it too. The worst thing we can do is presume we are young, and therefore immune to diseases like cancer. I felt that way before Breast Cancer, and we all know how that went down!
So, let’s talk about poo…
No don’t go screwing your nose up like that! This is super important.
Bowel Cancer affects more and more Australians every year, both male and female, young and old.
We all need to be bowel-aware
Here are the IMPORTANT things to watch for:
a persistent change in bowel habit, such as looser, more diarrhoea-like bowel movements (i.e. going to the toilet more often, or trying to go – irregularity in someone whose bowel movements have previously been regular)
A change in appearance of bowel movements (e.g. narrower stools or mucus in stools)
Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
Frequent gas pains, cramps, or a feeling of fullness or bloating in the bowel or rectum
A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely after a bowel movement
Unexplained anaemia (a low blood count) causing tiredness, weakness or weight loss
Rectal or anal pain or a lump in the rectum or anus
Abdominal pain or swelling
Now, having these symptoms doesn’t guarantee you’ve got cancer, but It will never hurt to chat to your GP and query anything that feels different. Spread the word to those you love, be bowel savvy and remember that when discovered early, Bowel Cancer is very treatable.
This month, some friends of mine and I are raising funds to donate to Bowel Cancer Australia. We want to show those we love who have been affected by this insidious disease that we care and are committed to increasing the dialogue around Bowel Cancer, and raising money for research. If you know someone who has battled Bowel Cancer, perhaps you might like to help us. To donate some cash, you can click this link to go to our Everyday Hero page, which I spectacularly titled, Bowel Cancer is A Load of Shit
I am trying to think of some other ways to raise money for Bowel Cancer. My kids suggested baking biscuits to sell, so we will be doing this soon. If you would like to be involved, or if you would like to buy some biscuits, drop me a line.
No cancer is a good cancer, but there are many that need far more awareness and funding. We can all help!
After 10 months of hardcore blogging…silence. Not a sound from Cancer Cans for six long months!
Talk about leaving everyone hanging!
I’m not exactly sure why, after relying so heavily on my writing all year, that suddenly I fell off the blog train. I think perhaps I ran out of words.
Or maybe I was subconsciously trying to break away from the unbearably tight shackles of Cancerland that had held me in their grip for so long.
Perhaps my brain was worn out.
Maybe I just needed to break free for a while, and get busy living.
It’s most likely all of those things rolled into one.
What I didn’t mean to do, was keep you all guessing – even worrying – about how I was travelling. But to those of you who have sent tentative messages through the interwebs to see if I was still ok, if I was well, and (let’s face it) ALIVE…apologies, and thank you. I guess I assumed most of my blog followers knew me in real life too, probably follow me on Facey and see me out on the town sporting my big hair and new set of straggly eyebrows!
I actually haven’t written a thing about Cancer since my last post in October last year! Not a thing. I tried a bit, and the stuff just wouldn’t come. It was like somehow I’d lost my blogging mojo. I’d run out of words.
But, the other day I finished my last round of Herceptin/Perjeta – my last cycle of active systemic treatment in the chemo ward, and so it kinda feels like it’s time to update everyone again.
I know when I was first diagnosed, in December 2014, I read other breast cancer patients’ personal blogs voraciously. Night and day. I needed to know everything there ever was to know about what was happening to me, what I was in for, what others had experienced. Although it often terrified me, I needed to know. Knowing the possibilities, however scary, means you can’t be ever blindsided. Being blindsided by a Cancer diagnosis, especially when you’re young and feeling invincible, is the most horrific thing to experience. I had an unquenchable urge to equip myself with facts.
I think thats why I documented my experiences so zealously too. For myself obviously, but for others’ newly diagnosed as well. I feel that with shared experiences, however fraught, we gain a sense of connectedness and calm. Things aren’t so frightening when others’ truly understand your plight.
The problem with trawling Cancer blogs night and day is that so frequently they end abruptly. There is no closure, no ‘happily ever after’. All too often I would reach the last post of someone’s personal blog and be left wondering how they were doing now. Far worse were the times I’d reach the end to find an ‘in memorandum’ post from the blogger’s husband, thanking her followers for their love and support. It would stop me in my tracks and I would cry and cry for these women I barely knew, these beautiful, young women – mothers and sisters and daughters whose lives were cut short so cruelly by the disease I was battling too.
Yet I too have left everyone hanging! For all those readers who got to the final post last October and thought, “Well nice one, Cancer Cans…but what’s going on now?” This blog post is for you.
I made it through the other side. I got through the toughest, most physically and emotionally gruelling time of my life. You can too, whatever the struggle. One step forward, one hurdle at a time, each moment you are forced to dig deep and deal, you get further away from what is holding you back. You get a little stronger.
I went in to hospital yesterday for surgery to remove my arm port. I took the train on my own in the morning because Jay had to get the kids to school. As I was waiting to be admitted, I had a little laugh at how blasé I’ve become about all things medical. Who catches the train solo to arm surgery?! There’s no way I’d have done that before cancer!
The removal of my port is a big step for me. It was inserted into my arm at the beginning of treatment to lessen the trauma of chemo infusions on my peripheral veins. It signifies the end of invasive treatment, and start of rebuilding my health. Of course I immediately began to worry that perhaps the Cancer will return one day and I’ll need my port again, but thoughts like that are pretty morbid and unhelpful, so I do my best to ignore them!
Another big milestone that’s occurred for me is that I am back at work again. I am teaching two days a week and absolutely loving the heck out of it. I get to be just Kate again – actually 何老师 Hé Lǎoshī (my Mandarin teacher name) – and not ‘Kate with Cancer’. I get to forget about Cancer every time I walk into the classroom. I get to live completely and utterly in the moment with my students and see the wonderment in their eyes as they embark on the exciting journey of learning a new language. I get to be normal.
The end of treatment and the hail of new beginnings has brought a lot of joy. But alongside the joy, is a great deal of trepidation too. I am stepping out on my own now, away from the safety net of active treatment, and while I’m so glad to be free of hospital time, I’m scared about the possibility of metastasis down the road. It’s a tumultuous time for Cancer patients, the end of treatment: everyone passing on their hearty congratulations, the feelings of freedom, the sense of achievement, the bandying around of terms like ‘survivor’… I feel equal parts relief, joy and terror. I guess only time will gradually ease the turbulence, and perhaps the further away I get, the more I will relax.
Right now, I am just taking it day by day. I am relishing feeling better. I am trying to embrace my ridiculous afro in all its curly glory, and I am celebrating the here and now. If cancer has given me anything, it’s made me plan for now, rather than later. No more waiting, no more putting off stuff I want to do now, no more cruising through life in complacency.
I’m not sure where I’ll go from here on Cancer Cans. If the need arises, I will write. If not…you can catch me in another space!
Love to all. If my blog can teach anyone one thing, it’s that life can turn on a dime. Don’t put important things off for later. Don’t let people you love pass you by. Don’t waste days doing things you dislike.
I’ve been wanting to blog about Something For Kate for more than a week now, but the pressure of trying to accurately convey how much the gala has meant to me, and describe how incredible it was, has been playing on my mind. In fact, I’ve been nervously avoiding my laptop. I’m just not sure I can do it justice, guys!
When I was a kid at Primary School, I remember one year my parents planning a family holiday to Europe. As most of our Summers were spent down at Rye on the Mornington Peninsula, just the thought of going overseas was the most thrilling thing that had ever happened to me! Mum and Dad would tell us stories of all the different places we were going to visit, and I’d spend countless days daydreaming about ice-skating on canals in Holland, and having a real, white Christmas. Mum even began knitting us all special woollen socks, and we all got to pick out the colours we wanted. The anticipation of our holiday went on for months and was so exciting.
We never ended up going on that holiday. I’m not exactly sure why, but you know what? The pure anticipation of it was almost enough. I had lived the idea of it for so long that I almost felt like I’d had the holiday anyway. I’m not even sure whether I got the socks in the end …(let’s face it – knitting five pairs was probably a bit much for a busy mum) but my siblings and I got incredible joy out of imagining wearing them. Seriously.
My mind skipped back to this funny imagined holiday recently, as the date for the Something For Kate gala drew closer and I was drawn in to feelings of pre-emptive exhilaration.
For me, the true gift of the gala began long before I stepped into that glittering Peninsula Ballroom.
Just the anticipation of the Something For Kate gala put an extra spring in my step for months. Many, many times I had to pinch myself in sheer incredulity of it all. How incredible were these four school friends of mine? Despite the distance of time, and all the other things going on in their lives, they were putting such extraordinary effort and love into planning an event for me. It really boggled my mind!
I had been super excited at the original prospect of a small fundraiser with some fellow Ivanhoe Girls’ alumna, but as the weeks progressed, and the size of the luncheon grew to EPIC, I was floored time and time again by the amazing force rallying to support me.
Besides feeling utterly flabbergasted by their plans, the first great change in me was that Something For Kate got me painting again, a creative pursuit I love but had let slip since my December diagnosis. That in itself has been a huge gift. My mental health has vastly improved since, and I am no longer needing the anti-depressants I was prescribed earlier this year. It’s hard to put into words how indebted I feel to Kerry and Sally who requested I paint something for the gala, and when I doubted I could, said: “just bung a few colours on and call it ‘Hope’!” It has really changed me for the better.
Throughout the months of horrible treatment; the chemo, radiotherapy and then that delightful surprise week in hospital with Staph, I found Something For Kate like a beacon of hope to focus on; something lovely to offset all the awfulness in my life. The anticipation of this wonderful event really did help me battle through some of the darker times. I couldn’t wait to hang out with all my favourite people, soak up the happy feels and forget about cancer for the day.
Well, after months of anticipation, It didn’t disappoint! It was the most breathtaking, heart-warming example of community and kindness I have ever personally witnessed. As dreadful as it has been to have to go through the despair of a cancer diagnosis and the onslaught of treatment, boy has it been beautiful to be at the centre of so much love and support.If only everyone could feel as loved up as I do now! The world would be a better place!
It was such a feel-good day. I adored it all: Kate Cebrano rocking Chrissy Amphlett’s cheeky anthem, dancing up a storm with my daughter on the dance floor, hearing about the wonderful progress in cancer treatments from Prof. Sherene Loi, enjoying such a delicious meal, catching up with so many people I haven’t had a chance to see in ages and having my children see true kindness in action.
It was a day chock-a-block full of so many moments that I will store in my heart forever. I have been walking around in a blissful haze ever since, feeling completely loved-up and so lucky to have so many wonderful friends.
Although the post-gala blues are threatening to hit pretty hard, I continue to be astounded at the amount we were able to fundraise together in one afternoon. The gross proceeds were in excess of $63,000, which will make it possible to donate a very healthy sum to the National Breast Cancer Foundation! AMAZING, AMAZING, AMAZING!
To my beautiful SFK girls – Kerry, Nat, Bec and Sally: I’m awestruck by what you put together. What an incredible achievement! Thank you from the fullest part of my heart. You have turned a devastating year into something I can smile wholeheartedly about. I am so proud to count you as my friends. You have such big, beautiful hearts.
And to everyone who sponsored the event, donated prizes and auction items, and came along – thank you for making me grin so hard I had sore cheeks afterwards. It was the most incredible thing looking out into your amazing sea of faces, and you have helped make a real difference to the lives of those with Breast Cancer. The power of community is awesome.
We’ve never properly met, but I am constantly in awe of your eloquence and ability to describe the cancer journey in a way that mirrors my thoughts and feelings exactly. Although it was a shitty way to make a friend, I was thankful for your support as I negotiated my way through my own diagnosis in December, fraught with fear of the most intense kind.
I have read every single blog post of yours for information, for empathy, seeking out the familiar in an otherwise lonely place. I am buoyed by your wit and proud of your authentic writer’s voice. Thank you for keeping it so real.
Mostly though, I’m just incredibly happy that you guys have made it through so much adversity and can bask in the achievement that Kona represents for all of you.
While I know you struggle daily with the effects of cancer treatment, it must be a brilliant feeling to be standing atop those lava fields and reflecting on your inner strength. Soak it all up!
Well be cheering Ben on from back home!
Two and a half years ago I wrote a blog post titled “Licking Lava“. I had woken feeling like I had dragged my tongue over the inferno of an active Hawaiian lava field. I sat miserable on my couch. Mouth ulcers had erupted on my tongue, inside my cheeks and in my throat from lifesaving chemotherapy. Unable to eat and struggling to swallow, I daydreamed about our future, wondering if I would still be in the picture.
Today I stood on a lava field two days out from the 2015 Ironman World Championships. Mr Cool made it! Incredibly, we all made it! He is about to achieve his long term dream of competing in Kona. And he did it while working full time, while supporting two young kids and a wife who sometimes feels like half the wife and mother she was pre cancer. He did this with…
Way back in January, while recovering from my de-boobing surgery and trying to get my head around the months of cancer treatment that were lining up on my doorstep, I found myself making lots of lists.
Lists of potential side effects, lists of products I needed to buy, lists of things to avoid on chemo and lists of emergency supplies I needed by my bedside night and day. In amongst all that scary prep work, I vividly remember trying to push through the heavy folds of despair by seeking out little silver linings amongst what felt like piles and piles of awfulness. I optimistically set out to tally up a list of chemo ‘Pros’ to sit alongside all the ‘Cons’, in the hope it would make my head and heart feel a little lighter.
Aside from the obvious cancer-slaying properties of chemo, my PROS list was pretty short:
I won’t have to endure hot wax on my nether regions all year
I will save a small fortune on hair cuts
I will get to see what I look like bald and badass
It was clearly going to be all about the hair.
While I wasn’t all that keen on going bald, a small part of me had always had an inner desire to suddenly ‘do a Britney’ and shave my head. It’s not something I ever ended up pursuing, but I’ll admit to coming close a few times. In the end I would always chicken out. While it was a bold, brave move, it never really paid off for her, did it?
Anyway, finally I had my chance! Cancer had provided me with not only the opportunity, but the necessity to buzz cut.
Perhaps it’ll be liberating, I thought.
So shave it, I did, as soon as mange levels reached crisis point and I could no longer carry out a successful comb-over of all the bare patches of my scalp. I get it now, fellas…Losing my hair so suddenly made me feel for all you poor blokes who have to deal with the shock of premature baldness. It ain’t fun. The best advice I got, and continue to give out, is:
Take back follicular control. Embrace the bald.
I actually didn’t mind my initial buzz cut. It made me feel tough. I didn’t look sick, I just looked a little military. But very quickly, the fine crop of hair adorning my scalp vanished completely, winter descended, and suddenly having a head as shiny and smooth as a billiard ball was not only über unattractive, it was freezing.
For the better part of six months I was completely bald up top, and sporting a ‘whole-body Brazilian’ everywhere else too.
Who needs regular treatments at the beauty parlour when chemo can keep you looking silky smooth and fabulous for free? One little infusion date with some cytotoxic cocktails was all it took for my body hair to start sliding painlessly from their follicles. No need whatsoever for hot wax or zappy lasers!
But while a bit of neck-down alopecia may seem like something to celebrate, when it encompasses eyebrows, eyelashes and head hair too, and you find yourself looking like a pale, pre-pubescent alien, there isn’t all that much to rejoice in!
My kids were quite fascinated with my hair-loss too, and it was certainly the topic of some wacky conversations in our shower. It made me dig deep into the essence of who I was and reflect with them on what it is about each of us that really counts. I learnt a lot from their ability to embrace this new version of their mum so easily, and tackle questions from other children with a frankness that many adults couldn’t replicate.
These days, my head is back to having a pretty good coverage of thick, short fuzz which could possibly pass for an army issue buzz-cut of sorts, although I can tell by the weird glances I still get from other people’s kids, that I’m not quite there. Young children will be the true test for me. When they stop ogling, I know I’m starting to blend into the normal crowd again!
While head hair seems to grow slowly but surely, a new collection of chin hairs are going great guns. You know the type I’m talking about – the thick, dark, coarse ones that you’re positively sure weren’t around yesterday but have somehow sprouted two inches overnight, and are able to resist the death grip of a pair of tweezers with amazing tenacity?
I don’t know whether it’s because I have become so accustomed to the hair-free version of myself this year, or whether it’s the hormone suppressants I’ve just started taking and my new menopausal status, but I seem to be cultivating quite a collection these days.
I suppose after bemoaning my bald face so regularly over the last six months, writing odes to eyebrows and hoping for my lashes to grow back lickety-split, I should be embracing this new foray into facial hair with the humour and nonchalance it deserves.
After all, it is just hair!
Now, please excuse me while I go crop-dust my chin.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and things are about to get veryPINK.
There’ll be pink ribbons everywhere, with ambitious brands professing their dedication to increasing Breast Cancer awareness by ‘going pink’ for the month – whilst, of course, lining up their products for purchase.
Those of us touched by Breast Cancer will likewise be enticed to show our commitment to raising awareness by purchasing everything from pretty pink fishing rods and work boots, to pink-labelled apple sauce or loo paper.
Social media feeds will be laden with cryptic word games involving bra colours, calls to ‘go bra-less for Breast Cancer’ and pink lipstick selfies, in the guise of ‘raising everyone’s awareness’.
Breast Cancer will be everywhere we look, dressed up to be fluffy, pink, feminine — and sometimes just ridiculous…the very antithesis of what this ugly disease actually is.
I’m all for spreading awareness: I work pretty hard to get the word out about the importance of regular breast examinations and knowing the normal look and feel of your (or your loved one’s) breasts. It’s one of the reasons I write so passionately on this little blog of mine.
It’s Time to Rethink the Pink
The ‘pinkification’ of Breast Cancer began more than 35 years ago. In that time, it has certainly increased the profile of a disease that had previously been taboo.
In the last 35 years we have seen survival rates steadily rise, and more and more people able to talk openly about their experiences. So it has done a lot of good.
These days, reducing Breast Cancer to a pretty colour or a cryptic status update trivialises a disease that claims the lives of more than 3,000 Australians every year.
It lulls people into a false belief that they have ‘done something’, when in actual fact it does nothing to improve the outcome for the 15,000 people annually diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I’d even go so far as to say it practically normalises this insidious disease and minimises awareness of its devastation.
Making people more aware about serious diseases like cancer is great, but at times the real objectives are lost in the sea of pink, and the seriousness of Breast Cancer is diminished.
So, after 35 years of turning pink, I believe we have had enough ‘awareness raising’. I think we all know this devastating disease exists.
While survival rates have increased, what hasn’t changed is the overall incidence of Metastatic disease, the real Breast Cancer killer.
I’m always surprised at how little people know about Metastatic Cancer. You see, no one dies from a diagnosis of Early Stage Cancer. Cancer that stays contained within the tissue it begins in, is usually very treatable. It is when cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body that cancer becomes almost impossible to cure.
Many, many women get diagnosed every year with Early Stage Breast Cancer, which doctors will treat very successfully with surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiation where required, and prognosis is deemed very good. Even my diagnosis of Stage 3C, where the cancer had invaded local lymph nodes, is considered curable by my doctors.
What many of you don’t know is that around 30% of people diagnosed with Early Stage disease will go on to develop Metastatic Breast Cancer at a later date.
Metastatic Breast Cancer occurs when Breast Cancer cells leave the breast via blood vessels or the lymphatic system and grow tumours in other parts of the body. There is no cure for Metastatic Breast Cancer, also known as Stage IV Breast Cancer.
My doctors are throwing everything at my cancer in the hope it is enough to cure me for life. But once active treatment finishes, it will become a game of vigilance and hope. I will try to get on with my life, all the while having regular check-ups in the hope my cancer does not recur.
My plea to you this October, is to thoughtfully engage with raising Breast Cancer awareness. Try to pull back from social media games that implore you to post ridiculous phrases or status updates that do nothing to lift the profile of what Breast Cancer really looks like.
Instead, talk to family and friends about my experience. I’m the perfect example of someone who knew the risks and was pretty in-tune with my body, but got caught out anyway.
Don’t get sucked into October’s pink hype. Many brands give generously to Breast Cancer research, but some market cleverly to piggy-back on others’ goodwill. Not everything that’s pink has Breast Cancer awareness or fundraising for research as their main objective.
And most importantly, do a breast examination every single month, not just in October. Maybe bust out Christy Amphlett’s ‘I Touch Myself’ whilst doing so, just for kicks.
A week inside and I’m seriously starting to go a bit batty. If it weren’t for my lovely nurses, I think I’d probably be hatching an escape plan to get out of here using my IV pole as a scooter. Geez I wish we had IV poles like this one:
This little blog post is going to be all about giving three cheers to everyone who works in the medical profession! Hip, hip hooray! I’ve talked a lot about my ace doctors in past blog posts, so this one’s going to be about the other ace people who have been caring for me a lot this year…nurses.
Nurses – and I’m going to add the extra demarcation of Oncology Nurses – are extraordinary beings. They are cheery in the face of the Big C every day. They cop all manner of wacky bodily functions being thrown at them (literally), and they buzz around tirelessly making us sickies feel a little more normal. I have not encountered one nurse who hasn’t impressed me in the Oncology wards of the Epworth…and believe me, I reckon I’ve met them all this year.
During my spectacular days of chemo, they’d practically have to drag me like a tantrumming toddler to the treatment chair, sit holding my hand as I sobbed and sniffled and snotted all over the place in absolute misery, then run like Usain Bolt across the linoleum to frisbee me a sick bag at juuust the right moment, and reassure me with the most wise and experienced words, that despite feeling like death, I would make it through this week, and every infusion to come.
They got me through.
Then through rads, the nurses and radiation staff made every attempt to keep me smiling, even when I turned into Lobster Boob and my skin started to shrivel and fall away, they dressed my wounds and said, “Look how far you’ve come.”
And this week I just feel like they’re on my team. And I really have witnessed them care for the old, the young, the grumpy, the mad, and the spectacularly incontinent with patience and a smile. Kudos to you, nurses of 4ES!
When I first arrived, as my last blog post explained, I spent a few days in a shared room. I’ve since been moved to a private room (YAY) in what can only be described as Operation Stealth.
After surgery on Saturday I was actually feeling quite good on Sunday, but the infection spiked again on Monday and I was febrile, vomiting and utterly miserable all day. I couldn’t eat, drink or sleep. There was a concern that the antibiotics I’d been given weren’t the right ones for my kind of staph. In the end, it started to ease again by Tuesday, but my beautiful nurses organised for me to move out of the communal nursing home I was in and down the hall a bit to what feels like The Epworth Penthouse. It was very secretive. None of the oldies was allowed to know, as then everyone would be on their Zimmer frames trying to beat me to it.
While the grumpy one was busy calling her daughter Lorraine to complain about the food, another was belching loudly behind a curtain and the third was adjusting her Poise pad, they whisked me out of there in a flash!
Peace at last! The room I’m in now feels like the one they reserve for VIPs (ha). It’s huge, has a sofa and an ensuite – even a desk and a big fat TV perfect for watching The Bachelor at night. Rose ceremonies have never had this level of intensity before! It was nail-biting! Last night, as I clutched my knees to my Heparin-bruised, queasy stomach, I felt the DRAAMAA like I’ve never felt it before!
Why oh why did it have to be TLBCG Heather?! WAAAHHH!
(Click here if you have NO IDEA what I’m on about. Rosie Waterland does the best Bachie recaps ever)
So, whilst hospital is totally not my favourite place to be, if I have to be here all week, I’m bloody rapt to be in the Penthouse with the lovely nurses of 4ES. Even if they do ask me way too many questions about my bowels being open or not, and come in multiple times a night to check my temperature and blood pressure…I think I’ll survive.
Plan is, I escape on Sunday. As it stands now, the IV antibiotics have ceased, I only have one more drain tube left to be pulled out, and I start oral antibiotics this afternoon. I might even get to have a shower tonight, peeps, what a novelty that will be!
Stinky Kate x
P.S. Have you all go your tickets to the Gala? It’s only a month away! I’m really thinking I might try and do a duet of ‘Bedroom Eyes’ with Kate Cebrano. Think she’d be up for it?