Let’s Re-think the Pink

Let’s Re-think the Pink

october pink

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and things are about to get very PINK.

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.shoesmandmskfc

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.

Metastatic Cancer

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.

Kate x

Hospital Lyfe

Hospital Lyfe

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:

trike IV

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)

Anyhoo…

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!

Laterz,

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?

When It Rains, It Pours

When It Rains, It Pours

It never just rains in Cancerland. It pours.

And this week it has done just that for me. Poured, that is. Again.

Chemo and radiation finally had great big ticks next to their names. After nine months, they were finally done.

And then last Wednesday I spent most of the day hooked up to an IV having my wonder drugs, Herceptin and Perjeta infused into me. As I stepped out of the Epworth Day Ward as the late afternoon sun dipped behind the rooftops, I thought to myself ‘Freedom at last. Three weeks of no hospital! Let’s get back to life!’

On Friday I treated myself to a Gunnas’ Writing Masterclass with the feisty and passionate Catherine Deveny. It was my little present to myself; a pat on the back for getting through the gruelling events of the last nine months.

She didn’t disappoint. She was hilarious, inspiring, brutally honest and full of great tips I will definitely take on board as I push myself further away from Cancer Cans and attempt writing beyond the borders of Cancerland. I left ready to ‘Fail while daring greatly’, and take up her challenge to write for an hour a day, four days a week, for four weeks – the Gunnas’ Challenge.

‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’ – Theodore Roosevelt

As I arrived at my sister’s place that afternoon, buoyed by a day of indulgent food and lots of writing, I noticed my boob was hurting a bit. Nothing crazy, just a weird kind of ache. Now, let me tell you that neither of my boobs, with their hard round tissue expanders in situ, ever feel all that comfortable. They’re always getting in the way, and can sometimes feel a bit sore if I sleep on them strangely or perhaps lift something too heavy. So the fact that one of them was a little achy didn’t flash immediate warning signs to me.

But, as the hours dragged on, my boob got more and more sore. It got to the point where I had to lie down on our couch and couldn’t move without wincing. Something was wrong. The weirdest thing about it all was that the sore boob was actually my ‘good boob’, not the boob currently slathered in burn gel and wrapped in glad wrap. Not the ‘cancerous can’ that tried to kill me, but its innocent twin that got lopped off prophylactically in December so that I could still look somewhat symmetrical. What was going on?

Jay rang my surgeon who suggested it was some torn scar tissue. He advised pain relief until I felt better.

That night, while my brain went foggy under a haze of Endone, my boob continued to worsen. The pain was excruciating – far worse than even childbirth. I couldn’t stand without feeling faint, I developed a fever and began vomiting.

The next morning we rang an ambulance. My surgeon wanted me to get to hospital but I couldn’t walk myself to our bathroom without falling over.

Once at hospital, and the pain and nausea medication had started working, we discovered via a needle aspiration that I had a staph infection, most likely due to the bad boob’s broken skin post-radiotherapy letting in unwanted germs. Apparently these bugs like hiding behind foreign objects, and so they’d taken up residence behind the tissue expander and were having a good old party, making me sick.

It meant surgery that day…They would need to open me up, flush out my chest, sterilise my tissue expander and give me IV antibiotics for a week. I never expected that!

So here I am again. Back in hospital for the week, hooked up to IV, with drains of gross-looking fluid dripping out of me. I woke up this morning to find myself completely nude, from the waist up, sporting what looked like a giant geriatric nappy. I wasn’t happy. No one really should ever see themselves clothed in a nappy at the age of 38, surgery or no surgery. After calling for the nurse for some answers, she giggled and told me it actually wasn’t a nappy (although it sure as hell looked like one), but a special heat sheet to keep me warm.

I’m currently sharing a room with two other cancer patients, both in their eighties, who are farting, belching and talking loudly because their hearing aids aren’t in. They’re already comparing cancers, prognoses, and are completely suspicious of all the doctors and nurses.

It’s going to be a loooong week.

One Burnt Boob

One Burnt Boob

“WOOHOO! You’re finished!” my radiologist whooped this morning, bounding in from behind the thick, radiation-proof concrete doors to untape my chest, and lower the bench I lay on.

She is a bubbly young woman, and has really made the last seven weeks of daily radiation sessions more bearable with her friendly conversation. As I sat up, and reached for my hospital gown, she continued chatting happily about how good it must feel to be finished.

“Think of all the free time you’ll have now!” she gleamed.

I nodded, and smiled.

“Yes, it’s great.”

A minute later I found myself sitting in my small change-room cubicle, staring at my burnt, blistered chest, shaking with silent tears. (God I’ve cried A LOT this year!)

Were they happy tears? I didn’t know. Probably in part, although it feels premature to celebrate, when once again I am left nursing the damage of more brutal cancer treatment; the whole right side of my chest and armpit are red raw, and weeping.

A couple of weeks ago my oncologist joked that my skin looked ‘medium rare’, but today the nurses just grimaced as they dressed it with burn gel and cling-film.

filet burnt

I wonder if it’ll at least fade to a nice, albeit lopsided ‘tan’?

* * * * *

It does feel good to be finished radiotherapy. It is, after all, another treatment phase I can tick off my list.

arvind no celebrate

But tomorrow I start ten years of hormone therapy that will put me into permanent menopause at the tender age of 38, and next week I’m back in hospital for more appointments with my oncologists, plus more tri-weekly infusions of Herceptin and Perjeta…so forgive me for not popping celebratory streamers.

ARGH…I KNOW, I KNOW…

facepalm

SELF PITY ALERT!

I’m just so sick of it all. Actually I think I’m just exhausted. Tired of what feels never-ending to me. It’s nearly September…I’ve been in treatment now for nine months. Just think of all the stuff you’ve done in the last nine months!

I can’t help but think about all the things I’ve missed out on this year. My ‘year of big things’ that never came to fruition is barely even perceptible now, let alone my normal old life. It’s been swallowed up by a black hole of hospital visits, treatment schedules and side effects. Precious time lost forever.

small-violin 2

It’s difficult to convey exactly how I feel without making everyone feel like busting out the violins, but it’s kind of like I’m living a half-life. I’m living, but my mind has lost the trusty autopilot it’s had for 37 years, so navigating each day feels awkward and foreign. Things that were once normal, now no longer are. In fact, there is almost nothing about this life that feels ‘normal’ to me anymore.

There has been a huge shift in the way my mind works, the way I think things through, and go about my day. Once Cancer enters your life, ‘normal’ is altered forever. The normal old Kate that would have once gone about her normal old day freely, now overthinks everything.

There’s the added pressure to enjoy everything more, because I have cancer. There’s the pressure of making the most of every situation, because I have cancer. There’s the stress of not sweating the small things, focusing on what’s important, being mindful, present and grateful for every day. And there’s the sick idiot in pessimistic region of my brain saying, “This might be your last chance.”

It’s totally exhausting. I need someone to come along and pull the plug on my overthinking brain! Switch that normal autopilot back on so I can chillax a little, and just be normal old me.

Scientific Fact or Intuitive Crap?

Scientific Fact or Intuitive Crap?

quack_cartoon

I’ve always held the view that alternative therapies are valid treatment options to use alongside, or at times in place of, conventional modalities. In today’s fast-paced, high-pressure society, there are many times when the answer to a simple health issue can be found in slowing down, taking time out, eating better and exercising more. Not always, but often.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been an active patron of alternative therapists through the years. I have a pretty healthy respect for modern medicine and its fastidious process of evidence-based, peer-reviewed research to substantiate treatment claims. I’m not going to turn away from science unnecessarily.

That’s not to say I’ve never engaged in anything but standard medical care. I have seen the odd Naturopath, had acupuncture at various times, a Kinesiology ‘balance’ with a practicing friend, and used herbal remedies occasionally to combat illness.

However, while I’m willing to give most things a go, I approach everything with a questioning mind, and put a lot of effort into researching the validity of different healing practices. If there’s no proper evidence-based scientific research to back up its declarations, I steer clear. I follow the premise that when things sound too good to be true, they generally are – Caveat Emptor.

Until my Breast Cancer diagnosis, I’d never really had any reason to examine the claims of so many therapies in detail, but having Cancer fills you with uncertainty and conventional treatments prescribed by teams of Oncologists, like chemo and radiotherapy, are scary and brutal. There are no promises that they will succeed either, and besides quoting the latest survival stats, no right-minded medical specialist can give you the survival guarantee you so desperately seek.

It’s a tough road to travel. And all the while, everywhere you look, there are shiny proclamations of ‘natural’, easy alternatives. Ones that don’t make your hair fall out or have a whole host of scary side-effects. Amazing treatment protocols with fancy sounding names, incredible cures unearthed in the depths of the Amazon, wellness regimes and dietary crazes spruiked by smiling celebrities, and conspiracy theories that tempt, confuse, and ultimately mislead.

balmy oils

There are people everywhere proclaiming to have cured terminal disease with nothing but food, or juice, or frigging snake oil and bicarbonate soda, willing to sell their secrets or include you in their ‘wellness crusade’ for a fee. There are apps and cookbooks to buy, health retreats to go on and supplements to take. There are plasma amplifiers, electro-magnetic devices, supplement strategies and spiritual remedies. There is B.S. everywhere.

We Cancer patients are easy prey I guess. Desperate to be well, searching for hope, and struggling daily to push away the fear of metastases and a plethora of unanswerable questions like, ‘Why me?’, ‘What went wrong?’ and ‘What will happen to me?’ It’s easy to capitalise on despair.

6a00d83542d51e69e20133f1c3174f970b

It makes my blood boil.

Selling false hope and unsubstantiated quackery to vulnerable people is not only morally reprehensible, it’s downright dangerous.

Because I am very comfortable with my decision to follow the advice of my surgeon and oncologists and pursue conventional treatments for my cancer, I don’t actively search for alternative therapies or seek out the opinions of practitioners outside my team. I feel like I’m in sound, capable hands. It hasn’t, however, stopped me from wondering about the reason for my cancer and wracking my brain futilely.

Yesterday I stumbled across an article professing to extrapolate on the reasons Breast Cancer occurs, or as the author put it, ‘the reasons we create the Dis-harmony of Breast Cancer’. While there were no proclamations of cure, there was an insane amount of garbage spewed forth by someone professing to be a ‘medical intuitive’, who describes herself as a ‘walking, talking MRI’ and charges exorbitant fees ($185 per half hour) to supposedly ‘use their self-described intuitive abilities to find the cause of a physical or emotional condition’.

Apparently, I ‘created’ my cancer because I don’t LOVE myself enough, don’t view myself as a ‘pure, sensual woman’ was NEGLECTED as a child (by a male figure, because my cancer is in the RIGHT boob), am TOO NEEDY with my partner and I’m RESENTFUL of others.

YUP.

Breast Cancer = Needy and Resentful. My cancer is my fault…or maybe my dad’s…or my bro’s.

rage gif 2

There was more. A lot more, but I found myself reading through a clenched jaw and gritted teeth.

Way to go, lady! What a service you are doing to the cancer community by spruiking your clairvoyant crap! Let’s make cancer patients feel even worse about their plight! Let’s concoct a whole host of wacky reasons for Cancer under the guise of helping and healing.

Take your freaking nipple chakras and internal vibrations and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine. There’s my little bit of intuition for you!

Ugh.

 

For those who would like to read this drivel in full, go here. Feel free to voice your own response on her Facebook page here, although don’t be surprised if your comments are deleted. Apparently any kind of alternate view to hers is unacceptable.

Holy Shit You Look Amazing!

Holy Shit You Look Amazing!

A few months ago, there was not one measly little hair on my scalp. Not one. The chemo drugs had killed off every single hair follicle, and with them, the hairs they contained. I was completely hairless! Everywhere.

Which makes THIS picture pretty fucking fabulous!

 

Hair 2

 

It’s so good it deserves a close up…

hair 1

After everything it has been through this year, I almost find it hard to believe my body is able to recover at all, let alone start doing so this quickly. But ever so slowly, I am starting to see and feel the healing process at work. It is wonderful! Here I sit, a mere six weeks since my last chemo infusion, with a fine fuzz adorning my head. Yes, it might be greyish white and still quite sparse, but I don’t care! It is HAIR!

Hooray for hair!

I want all of you to stop what you’re doing right this minute, find the nearest mirror, and instead of bemoaning your regrowth, your rain-induced frizz or those few sneaky grey hairs, announce loudly, ”HOLY SHIT YOU LOOK AMAZING!”

For optimal levels of self-love, I recommend repeating that process on a daily basis.

I’ve taken it a step further, on the recommendation of funny-girl Zoe Foster Blake, and have popped a sign with that very phrase on it in the middle of my bathroom mirror. No matter how gross I feel, It makes me smile every time I see it!

Holy Shit 1

Life’s too precious to waste feeling crap about yourself. I knew all this before, but now that I’ve been pushed to the absolute brink of self-acceptance and have had to dig really (REALLY) deep to love the face that’s staring back at me in the mirror and the body I no longer really recognise as my own…it’s something I try to actively engage with every single morning.

What’s the point in wasting time on ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’! Believe me, I have said more than my fair share of both in my life, and I’ve spent a lot of 2015 pondering where I went wrong, what on earth I did to bring on Breast Cancer, and ‘WHY THE HELL ME’!

Well…the only meaningful answer I’ve been able to come up with, in all my hours of wallowing in self-pity and questioning the unfairness of a cancer diagnosis is –

WHY THE HELL NOT ME?

I have met so many truly fab women this year, all travelling a similarly tumultuous road to recovery after a diagnosis of cancer. And I can tell you, amongst all the fear and despair, they still amaze me with their optimism and good humour, their ability to shove cancer to the back of their minds and get on with living.

It’s made me realise that the human spirit is a powerful force. We all have a lot in reserve to draw on when things are testing.

I’m off to look in the mirror again!

Kate x

An Exquisite Surprise

An Exquisite Surprise

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

A few years ago, as a full-time stay-at-home mum of three, I felt myself hit a bit of a snag. In the depths of my psyche somewhere, was a small, but very persistent nagging feeling…a sense of inadequacy. While I relished the chance I had to be at home with my kids, I felt myself floundering a little; sort of failing to thrive.

I became keenly aware of the fact that while I spent every day teaching my kids new things, giving them new experiences and encouraging them to explore and try out new stuff, I had stopped doing so myself.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had learnt a new skill, or emboldened myself to step out of my comfort zone, so that year I made it a goal of mine to do both, and within weeks I had started a creative writing class and signed up for an eight-week painting course.

Straight away, I felt inspired and energised! The injection of creative pursuits into each week was like a burst of freshness into my life. I instantly felt happier, more fulfilled and stimulated in a way that I had not experienced in so long.

While the writing course finished up after a term, my foray into painting continued. I loved learning new skills, began experimenting with various techniques and found that painting was a good way to escape life’s routine and surrender to pure creativity. Under the tutelage of local Fitzroy artist, Adriane Strampp, and alongside other fun, creative, like-minded people I began to love painting.

This year, painting has fallen by the wayside and I am missing it desperately. I have dabbled a little on my own at home, but it’s the sense of community and painting alongside others that I have really missed.

Today, as I arrived home from hospital, a parcel was waiting for me on my doorstep. Now, I don’t know about you, but my heart skips a beat when I get anything in the mail that doesn’t resemble an electricity bill, let alone a package! It was enough to make me grin from ear to ear and instantly make my day infinitely better.

Inside was the most exquisite gift, something that bought tears of joy to my eyes as soon as I opened it:

A book titled ‘Paintings For Kate’. A collection of works painted for me by the thoughtful and insanely talented people from my painting class.

PFB

The first page, reads:

‘The paintings in this book have been painted for you Kate, by the students of Painting for Beginners to express their care, support and friendship, knowing that Cape Liptrap holds a special place in your heart, and in the hope that this book will transport you there when you need a break. It has been a pleasure for us to work on this project, keeping you close in our minds and hearts, and in anticipation of your return. This book comes with much love and best wishes from all at Painting for Beginners, wishing you a speedy recovery.”

Beyond that are pages and pages of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen. Not only beautiful because they are painted by incredibly dedicated, talented people, but so beautiful to me because of what they portray and what they represent. I am continually left astounded by the love and support thrust in my direction this year and to all my painting friends – let me tell you, I will treasure this beautiful book for the rest of my days. My family will adore flicking through its pages time and time again. Already, my children are delighting in your paintings of their favourite places!

What a wonderful gift you have given us! Thank you all, so, so much. I can’t wait to come back to paint with you all soon!

Kate x

For those who would like to look at the stunning paintings and the clever artists behind them, click on the link below:

PaintingsforKate