Thursday, 17 March 2016

Closing in on 5 years cancer free!

Three cheers for the subject line! 

I'm so incredibly happy (actually make that ecstatic!) that I am alive and well and getting ready to celebrate being 5 years cancer free. Ok, it's not until June but I'm getting in early! Of course a celebration like this can't just be a family BBQ in the backyard.  This calls for something big, SO .......... New York City here we come!

You could say this trip has been 5 years in the making. It has always been a dream of mine to visit New York and with my 40th birthday in July and only a few weeks after my 5 year cancer anniversary we thought this was the perfect time and place to celebrate these special milestones. 

As you can see, I haven't updated my blog for some time. It was only after being in contact with some newly diagnosed women (who reached out to me after reading my blog) and encouraged me to write a new entry to update everyone on how I am travelling now, several years down the track.  A follow up 'where are they now' type piece!

I'm really not sure of the best way to recap the past couple of years but I'll give it a try! 

My reconstructive surgery, and the minor corrective surgery following, went well and I am over the moon with the overall result. To think that breasts can be reconstructed using your back muscle, tissue expanders and implants still astounds me! I can't speak highly enough of my incredible plastic surgeon, Tony Connell, and his wonderful staff - he is amazing!! I would also like to thank and congratulate whoever it was who came up with the idea of a lat dorsi breast reconstruction :) 

I've also acquired a couple of new tattoos! Unfortunately my nipples couldn't be saved, as they posed to much of a cancer risk, so these were removed during my mastectomy and subsequent prophylactic mastectomy. During the corrective surgery, I had new nipples created and tattoos were the final step to create the areola. Again, amazing result!

As most of you know from my previous blog entries, I am a patient involved in a worldwide D-care clinical trial. This trial is studying the effect of Denosumab (osteoporosis drug) to see if it can prevent disease recurrence in the bone or in any other part of the body. It is targeted at women with early stage breast cancer who are at high risk of disease recurrence. It finishes up later this year and I am hopeful the results will have a positive outcome and will help many people in the future. Whilst I am grateful to have been offered a spot on this trial, I certainly won't miss the injections in my stomach every 12 weeks!

In July last year I attended another BCNA summit in Melbourne. The theme of this summit was 'Starting the Conversation'. A conversation about how we can develop stronger community networks and innovative programs to support a broad range of women through their breast cancer journey. Unfortunately I was a little under the weather (with a cold) when I travelled over to Melbourne and went downhill very quickly. Alarm bells sounded when I started coughing up blood so returned home (on my birthday) and took myself straight to the hospital. They were a little concerned, taking into account my history, and performed scans on the spot.  Thankfully it turned out that I had acute bronchitis and nothing more serious.  What a relief!  Needless to say, my birthday last year was a write-off so I plan on making up for it this year ;)

We have experienced some wonderful holidays over the past couple of years. I suppose one positive of having faced cancer is that it motivates you to take these trips and not delay. "Live for today as tomorrow may never come". We have been to Hamilton Island Whitsundays, the 2015 AFL Grand Final to watch the West Coast Eagles, back to Bali a couple of times with some good friends and visited my sister and her family up in Karratha. One of the big highlights for us was when Ryan and I recently had the opportunity to visit Amsterdam, Paris and London! Ryan was attending a conference in Amsterdam and we thought it was an opportunity we just couldn't pass up! I also met a very special friend in Paris.  My pen friend Sasa, who lives in Greece, surprised me by flying to Paris so we could meet for the very first time!  We have been writing for over 27 years and she said she simply could not miss the opportunity for us to meet given we would be in Europe and we may never get the chance again.  I am also, so very grateful to both of our parents who had offered to take care of our girls back in Perth whilst we enjoyed a very quick trip away.

Something I really enjoy and continue to do today, is provide peer support. This can be over the phone or in person, to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. I feel so lucky (as crazy as that sounds) to be able to give them some insight and support to help with their own breast cancer journey. 

I still remember how I felt when I was first diagnosed. It is extremely daunting and overwhelming, all at the same time. Sometimes, I even found it very difficult to speak with my own family and friends because I felt that they couldn't quite relate. I am still very much involved with Breast Cancer Care WA and the young women's support group and I have made many wonderful friendships over the past few years. It saddens me that we are still meeting newly diagnosed ladies, at every support group catch-up, held on a monthly basis!

I also make myself available to speak about my journey at various special events. Over the past couple of years I have spoken at Lions Club breakfasts, Jog for Jugs (fun run) held at Scarborough Beach and the Purple Hearts Ball, held at Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre in 2015. 

I am still very fortunate to be working at Crown Perth and will be celebrating 9 years employment with them this June. They continue to be very supportive and flexible and I will be forever grateful.

I thought I would sign off this post with some recent photos.  My daughters both celebrated birthdays earlier this month and I am so happy I was here to share these special times with them. There was a period of time when I genuinely wondered whether or not I would get to see them grow up! My sister Lizzy and her family have also returned to Perth, after living in Karratha for 3 years, and I couldn't be happier!

As a girlfriend recently said, "bring on the festival of 40!" 

 Lizzy is home!!

Family photo taken up in Karratha when we visited Lizzy and her family 

Meeting this amazing breast cancer charity supporter, Shane Crawford 
(ex AFL footballer & BCNA Ambassador and Fundraiser)

Ryan and I at the MCG to see our beloved West Coast Eagles at the 2015 Grand Final 

Our family enjoying Elizabeth Quay, Perth 

Ryan and I celebrating Valentine's Day 2016 at this special place!

Monday, 6 January 2014

What a year!

Happy New Year to you all!  I hope the festive season has been kind to you and you've enjoyed lots of happy and fun times with family and friends.  I'm sure I'm not alone in finding that Christmas approaches with increasing speed each year.  It sure does provide an opportunity for reflection on the past 12 months and to start thinking about the next. I've also been thinking long and hard about my next blog entry. I can't believe it has been 10 months since my last update. My apologies for the delay!

As previously noted, I underwent bi-lateral breast reconstructive surgery in March last year.  It was a slow and steady recovery but I was just relieved to have this operation behind me. Tissue expanders were implanted under my muscle during the procedure and inflated every couple of weeks using injections of saline. It was an uncomfortable procedure (not so much the injections) but rather the tightness where the chest wall was being stretched - as per the below diagram. The feeling is best described as a really bad headache but on your chest.  Painkillers were helpful!

I had this done on both sides simultaneously!

In mid July it was time for the expanders to be removed and the permanent implants to be their replacement.  This was a definite 'walk in the park' compared to all of my other surgeries and I was only in hospital overnight!  Unfortunately it still involved 2 drains (uugghh!) but they were removed before I headed home which was a relief.  I am extremely happy with the result although will be having some minor corrective surgery in early February.

In addition to my surgeries last year, I was also very busy travelling, fundraising, working, volunteering and being a mum and wife! In June, I flew to Karratha and surprised my sister Lizzy for her birthday.  Lizzy and her family relocated up north in early 2013 and I really miss them. It was a fantastic few days spent with them all.

In mid June, Ryan and I hosted the inaugural Bubbles and Boobs Afternoon High Tea with my good friends, Lee and Damo from Chica Catering and Katey and Wayne from The Beach Shack.  It was an amazing afternoon and I am ecstatic to report that we raised over $14,000 for Breast Cancer Care WA!!  A fabulous effort by everyone involved and an afternoon I will treasure for a long time.

Em speaking at the Bubbles and Boobs Afternoon High Tea

In August, I was very fortunate to be chosen to represent WA at the BCNA (Breast Cancer Network Australia) National Summit in Sydney. The Summit focused on support groups and I was there on behalf of the young women's support group here in Perth (The Young and the Breastless!).  I was privileged to listen to some wonderful speakers; Prof Kerryn Phelps, Raelene Boyle and Sally Obermeder and met many other wonderful survivors from around the country.  It was a great few days! Following this I flew to Melbourne to spend the weekend with some friends.  Although it was a fleeting visit I managed to fit lots in with a fun night spent in the live audience at 'Before the Game' AFL TV show (and meeting Dave Hughes and Fitzy in the Green Room afterwards - thanks Jayne and Jay!) and I also got a spot of shopping in after a yummy breakfast with my friend Kristy.

Bali was on the agenda for September and it couldn't have come at a better time.  The previous months were extremely busy so I was really looking forward to spending some down time chilling by the pool, dining at the various restaurants around Seminyak and of course doing some more shopping! Some lovely friends joined us (thanks for being my shopping buddy Lou!) and we had a fantastic time with them - it might become an annual thing!

Pre diner drink at KuDeTa

Another highlight of 2013 was being part of the crowd to welcome former AFL player Shane Crawford into Perth after completing the 'Tour de Crawf - ride to the other side' venture. Shane pledged to raise $1 million for BCNA by riding his bike from Melbourne to Perth in just 22 days (he smashed this figure by raising over $1.3 million!) It was a fantastic experience and whilst I wasn't able to meet Shane personally on the night, I received the below message from him just a few weeks later, courtesy of my friends, Jayne and Jay!!

Closer to home some wonderful friends have achieved some amazing feats to raise money to find a cure!  My lovely friend Jane walked from Albany to Perth (a staggering 450km!) and raised close to $50,000 for Cure Cancer Australia - fantastic effort! Another couple of friends, Nicola and Deb walked from Mandurah to Perth and raised money for Breast Cancer Care WA. Well done!

As far as treatment is concerned, I am still very closely monitored by my medical team at The Mount Hospital.  I continue to have my 12 weekly check ups with my surgeons and oncologist with my big scans done every 12 months (usually around my birthday in July).  I am still part of the D-Care trial which involves having the Denosumab/placebo drug injected in my stomach at the 12 weekly appointments.

I also continue to provide peer support to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients (especially younger ones) and am very involved in my young women's support group. I don't cry very often any more as I am too busy enjoying my hectic life but I must admit I did find myself fighting back the tears when I was watching the cricket yesterday. The SCG turned pink in support of the McGrath Foundation and it was a stark reminder of the many people and families that are affected by this disease. Jane McGrath was only 42 when she passed away (after being diagnosed at the age of 31).

All in all, 2013 was a fantastic year for me and my family and I hope 2014 is just as good!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Next chapter in this crazy journey!

This time last year I was celebrating my daughter's 3rd and 6th birthdays.
This time last year I removed my head scarf for the first time following treatment.
This time last year I was getting ready to spend Easter in Kalbarri with my family.
This time last year I was petrified the cancer would one day return and take my life.

I can't believe how much can happen in a year...

This year my scans came back showing no sign of cancer.
This year Ryan and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary.
This year I can get my hair into a teeny weeny pony tail.
This year my body is strong but my will to survive is stronger.

Wow, it has been quite some time since I wrote my last blog post. Just goes to show that time flies when you're having fun!  Life sure has been good and I am so grateful to be feeling happy and healthy again.  Since my last entry, I have enjoyed a few fantastic holidays (Bali with our families, Sydney to attend the BCNA national conference and Singapore with my sister).  We also had a fantastic Christmas with our families, a relaxing school holiday break in January, attended a beautiful friend's wedding in February, an awesome engagement party in March and have attended a few gala balls along the way.

Attending the BCNA (Breast Cancer Network Australia) National Conference, Sydney

Lizzy and I enjoying the Transformer Ride at Universal Studios, Singapore

Ryan and I relaxing by the pool at Crown Perth

I suppose the main reason for this new blog entry is to keep you updated with the next step in this crazy journey!

Just over 20 months ago, when I received my diagnosis, I was given the option of an immediate breast reconstruction following my mastectomy.  At that time, I was not in a position to make such a big decision.  I was still in shock and really just wanted the cancer to be removed from my body. The last thing on my mind was a breast reconstruction!  Crikey, I was still getting my head around terms such as Malignant Breast Carcinoma, ER/PR positive, HER2 negative, etc, etc.

Not long after commencing Chemotherapy I started to think about reconstructive surgery but I still felt I wasn't strong enough to deal with the op or recovery, especially whilst going through invasive treatment.  In fact it has been just over 20 months since my diagnosis and only now do I feel as though I am in a position both physically and emotionally to deal with this next phase.

Fast forward to now and I actually have (tiny) cleavage!! Alrighty, I am jumping the gun here so I had better rewind the tape a little to keep you in the loop.  Towards the end of last year, I decided that it was time I start investigating my options in relation to breast reconstructive surgery.  I still classify myself as young (despite what my kids may think - haha!) and I certainly miss wearing 'normal' bathers and bras, not to mention some of my favourite clothes.

I was aware that the options were reasonably limited due to having 5 weeks of radiation following chemo but it is something I really wanted to investigate.  I had originally wanted just implants (as it would be a much quicker and easier procedure) but was advised this was not possible due to having a previous radical mastectomy on my right side.  I had lost nearly 5cm of skin on this side and it was very tight from being so burnt from radiation.  My only option was to have a bilateral (double) lat dorsi breast reconstruction - using the skin, fat and muscle from my back to re-create new breasts (this operation takes 6 to 7 hours).  

This was certainly not your standard, everyday 'boob job'.  In addition to using my back muscles, I also have tissue expanders inserted on each side.  Once I have fully recovered from surgery, these expanders will be slowly injected with saline to stretch the chest skin and after a period of time (approx 3 - 4 months), they will be exchanged for permanent implants.

There was only one plastic surgeon that I wanted to meet and that was Tony Connell.  Tony is very well respected, is an absolute gentleman and his work is outstanding!  I was thrilled when my breast surgeon, Peter Willsher advised that he works closely with Tony as I would be needing both of their expertise with this next stage.  I decided quite some time ago that I was going to have a skin sparing mastectomy on my left breast (performed by Peter Willsher) at the time of reconstruction and then have Tony come in and perform the bilateral lat dorsi reconstruction component.  Both surgeons walked me through the procedure and whilst it was daunting, it was also very exciting!  It was kind of closure in a way to finishing this journey and putting it behind me.

I was admitted to The Mount Hospital on the evening of 12th March (Baylee's 4th birthday) and my little family came with me.  They stayed for a short while and then it wasn't long before Tony came in to 'mark' me up.  By the time he was finished I was covered in blue texta!  I slept quite well that night (thanks to the sleeping tablet they gave me) which was good as I was woken at 5.50am the following morning by the night nurse.  I was asked to have a shower using the special antiseptic wash and to put the gown on - so attractive!  Surprisingly, I was feeling good and only got a little teary when Ryan and the girls called just after 7.00am.  They wheeled me into pre-op around 7.20am and thankfully covered me in some beautiful warm blankets as it was freezing!  I was feeling really relaxed when Peter Willsher came by to see me and still remember the exact moment I started to drift off to sleep....

I don't remember returning to my room but I vaguely recall Ryan walking in (he later told me he arrived around 2.45pm) and squeezed my hand.  I was drifting in and out of sleep and don't really remember much for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening.  I was confined to my hospital bed for the next few days mainly due to the drip, 6 drains (uuggh!), oxygen mask and catheter.  By far the worst bit for me were the numerous 'Heparin' injections in the stomach (my poor tummy was so bruised from all of the needles) and the catheter and drains were just horrible!  I had two drains running from each side of my chest, my side and two drains from my back.  To say they were uncomfortable is an understatement.  It sounds funny but they felt like pets as they were always by my side, I had to take them with me if I ever left the bed and the tubes were like long leads!). You can see 3 of the drains on the floor in the below photo (the other 3 are on the other side of the bed!).

Three hours after surgery (still very sleepy)

It was a slow and steady recovery in hospital with small milestones achieved every couple of days.  On day three I had two drains removed, on day four the catheter was removed (after I pleaded with the nurses to ring Tony to seek his approval), on day six,  two more drains were removed and on day nine the last remaining drains were removed and I was allowed to go home - hallelujah!!  The only real set back I had in hospital was on days 6 & 7 when I had a terrible reaction to the drug Endone.  It was horrible!  When they took me off Fentanyl (which I could administer myself via the drip), I was put onto Endone which is a strong oral pain killer.  I woke up the first morning vomiting but I put that down to sitting up and getting out of bed too quickly and feeling dizzy and unwell.  I also experienced terrible headaches despite taking Panadol every 4-6 hours.  When I woke up vomiting and with a pounding headache the following day, Tony walked in and immediately called the nurses to cease the use of Endone.  I was to now start taking Tramadol instead and thankfully I didn't have a reaction to this!

The 9 days spent in hospital were long but I was very fortunate to have my family and some lovely friends come by to visit me and keep me company.  The highlight of my 9 day stay was the moment my sister arrived at the hospital to surprise me (Lizzy recently moved to Karratha).  I couldn't believe it!!!!  We had spoken every day in the lead up to my op and she messaged me on the Friday morning to see how I was and to say she would call me that afternoon.  It was only a few hours later when I heard a knock on my door and Lizzy poked her head in.  I honestly couldn't believe it and just burst into tears. It was the most fantastic surprise! We spent hours chatting, with no kids to interrupt us.  It was so nice to spend time with her and more importantly she could do my hair for me!  Ryan also did an amazing job taking care of our girls whilst I was in hospital and both sets of parents were on hand to help again, which was greatly appreciated.

Lizzy surprising me in hospital (Day 3)

The past couple of weeks at home have been nice but also a little frustrating.  There are still so many things I can't do just yet, like open the blinds in our bedrooms, unscrew the cap off some medications, hang the washing out, etc. In fact for the first couple of weeks, Tony advised that I shouldn't be lifting anything heavier than a loaf of bread.  Sounds easy enough in theory but I have found it so difficult in reality.  When you're a Mum, you have to perform some superwoman stunts sometimes!  It's even sore to cough, sneeze and laugh at the moment.  On many occasions we have had to remind the girls about hugging me gently and not jumping on my back when playing, etc.  Thankfully I was given the all clear to start driving after Easter - phew, some independence back! I start physiotherapy again in a few weeks time which will help with recovery.

I meet with Tony again this coming Friday where he will start injecting the saline fluid into the tissue expanders.  I have heard this can be quite painful but I am just hoping I am one of the lucky ones.  I have pain killers on hand to help should I need them! Thankfully I will only need them to be injected around 3 to 4 times.  

I continue to receive lots of wonderful support from all of my colleagues at Crown (both Perth and Melbourne) and am so grateful they have given me 6 - 8 weeks off work to have this surgery performed. In fact, my Director sent me a lovely message in hospital and summed it up perfectly... 'the last chapter in the book is coming to a close and soon you'll be able to return it to the library for good - it wasn't a bestseller anyway'!  I am so fortunate to work with some amazing friends and I can honestly say I love what I do :)

I can't finish off this new blog entry without mentioning the fantastic Bubbles and Boobs Afternoon High Tea fundraising event I am hosting in June with my awesome friends Lee & Damian from Chica Catering. Both Lee & Damian came to me earlier in the year saying they would love to be involved with a fundraiser (based on a bigger scale to the Ladies who Lunch event my parents held late last year).  We decided it would be an Afternoon High Tea and Lee was instrumental in securing The Sorrento Beach Shack (Hillarys Boat Harbour) as the host venue.  The event will be held on Tuesday 11th June 2013 between 2.00pm - 5.00pm and tickets are $40.00 per person.  Ticket price includes a deluxe afternoon tea (courtesy of Chica Catering), glass of champagne on arrival, gift bag and entry into the door prize.  We have already secured some amazing silent auction items, namely overnight accommodation at various Perth hotels with a couple of fantastic vouchers coming from InterContinental Sydney and Crown Metropol Melbourne!!  It is definitely going to be an amazing afternoon and I hope to see lots of family and friends there.  I will be saying a few words about my journey and my lovely hubby will be the MC on the day.  100% of the proceeds will be donated to Breast Cancer Care WA.

Now that I have had the chance to sit back and review the past couple of years, I am extremely happy with the decisions I have made.  Of course I wish my life hadn't taken this detour but I am definitely much stronger for it :)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Second chance

I'm stuck for words (a first for me!) as to how I should start this blog post.  This whole journey has sparked so many emotions, too many to list and this past week has been no exception.  In fact it has probably been one of the toughest, since receiving my diagnosis.  Much earlier in the year (and in line with the D-Care trial I am involved with), I was notified that my CT scan and Bone scan would take place on Monday 20th August.  Initially this seemed like a long time away so I didn't ponder the idea too much and just got on with enjoying life.

As the months turned into weeks and the weeks into days, I started to become more and more anxious.  The idea of having scans, triggers many emotions for me.  My last scans were performed a few days after receiving my breast cancer diagnosis (14 months ago) and I just have so many negative associations with this time.  Just the idea of walking back into the same rooms with the same noises, same smells, same doctors triggers so many difficult emotions - it really is hard to describe.   

Thankfully by the time the actual 'scan' day arrived I was able to keep my emotions in check.  I felt like I was on autopilot!  I was there to do a job and was trying to remain as positive and upbeat as possible.  Ryan spent the day with me and we enjoyed a nice lunch in the city in between scans.  I was very relieved when I arrived home that evening and was quietly hoping Wednesday would bring me the results I had been hoping for.  Unfortunately due to all of the radioactive fluid that was injected into my system for the scans, I was not able to kiss my girls, cuddle them or let them get too close to me that evening which made me sad, especially after such a big day.

The following day (Tuesday) was to be another emotional day for myself and Ryan.  Earlier the previous week, Ryan's beloved Nan passed away at the age of 89.  She was a really wonderful woman and treated me as one of her own grandchildren.  Her funeral was held yesterday and was a beautiful celebration of her amazing life.  She was a very much loved Nan and we will all miss her so much.  Not long after my diagnosis last year she gave me a beautiful little bluebird ornament that she said would bring me good luck.  It is always taken with me (in my handbag) and I will treasure it even more so now.  

This brings me back to today!  My appointment with my Oncologist was at 2.30pm and it honestly couldn't have come any quicker - I was so eager to find out the results.  She greeted us with a big smile so I assumed the news must be good.  My bone scan came back with 'no obvious aggressive bony lesions' and my CT scan showed 'no evidence of metastatic disease'.  In simple terms, this means no spread of cancer to other parts of the body.  What  a relief!!!!!!!!!!!  You honestly couldn't wipe the smile off my face.  It was the exact response I had been hoping for.  Of course there is always that sickening feeling of recurrence but I will just try to keep going and remain as positive as ever.  My Oncologist (whilst very happy with these results), reminded us that she won't say that I am 'cancer free' until I am 10 years post diagnosis with my age being a huge factor.  There is always that chance it may return down the track but I plan on proving that I will live a very happy and healthy life until I am at least 89 - following in Nan's footsteps!

Wow - this past week really has been rather crazy.  Last Friday I received a call from Genetics WA to advise that after 6 months, my gene test results had been finalised.  My result came back as 'Inconclusive' to the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.  To tell you the truth I still don't know how I feel about this.  To give you some background the outcome is only ever positive or inconclusive (never negative).  The reason for this is that whilst I may not have the faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, I may very well have another faulty gene that has not yet been recognised, hence being inconclusive.  Whilst I am relieved I don't have either of these faulty genes, I am also a little disappointed.  I know that seems ridiculous but I suppose for me, if I had been 'positive' to one of the genes it would have been the answer as to why I was diagnosed with breast cancer and more importantly why I was diagnosed at such young age.    Now I am left with the feeling of 'why me' - not in the sense of 'poor me' but more in relation to 'what did I do differently' or 'was it something I didn't do', etc.  There will forever be a question mark.  On the positive, I am thankful that my daughters will most likely not have this gene either.

Over the past few months I have been slowly trying to clean up my act.  It is a definite work in progress but we are getting there slowly but surely.  I have been trying to eliminate all (or at least most) of the chemicals in my life - everything from products in the shower (shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc) to facial products (moisturisers, make up, toothpaste) and then onto such things as dishwashing liquid, window cleaner, etc.  The chemicals in our lives are never-ending.... it's frightening!

I continue to attend my wonderful support group and will be travelling to Sydney in October (with my pink sister, Rachel) to attend the BCNA National Conference.  Whilst it will only be a brief visit (a couple of days for the conference), I am thrilled to be able to attend and listen to some fantastic guest speakers.  The gala dinner also sounds amazing - right on Sydney Harbour!!

Ironically just days before my scans I attended an informative seminar on 'Fear of Recurrence' at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco.  I found it very helpful and picked up quite a few techniques to deal with negative thoughts and feelings.  For me, the most common thought I have, is associated with the risk of the cancer returning.  Most of the time I can deal with these feelings but I can't deny that at times the feelings can be overwhelming.  It is at these times that I see cancer as deadly, if not now, then it will happen later. 

Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for all that you have done and continue to do for me and my family.  I am so very thankful for the love and support we receive - we really do have he most amazing support crew and we love you all very much.  I know that Nan would be having a glass of champagne for me right now!

My girls are tucked in their beds fast asleep tonight and I am so thankful they are the age they are.  They have been so resilient throughout this journey and I hope they never have to endure what I have been through.  I had to laugh this afternoon when I gave Jaz a big hug and told her I had some exciting news; that there was no more cancer in Mum's body.  I then burst into tears (out of sheer relief I think!) and she responded with 'does that mean they gave your boobie back?'  I thought this was very sweet :)  The poor thing must have been so confused though as she went on to ask why I was crying if I had such exciting news.

I feel like tonight is the start of my 'new life'... my 2nd chance so to speak.  First on the agenda is planning another girls trip with my sis - I am thinking Singapore this time!!


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Breast Cancer - one year on....

This week marks a very big anniversary in my life - one year on from my breast cancer diagnosis.  I still remember the phone conversation I had with my doctor exactly one year ago, like it was yesterday.  The first thing she asked was if anyone was home with me and I knew then that the news wasn't going to be good.  In reflection the past 12 months has been the most challenging of my life - physically, emotionally and mentally.  In another sense, it has also been the most rewarding.  My family and friends have always been important to me but I have come to appreciate that they really are the be all and end all in life - nothing seems worthwhile without them.  I have also made some special friends through this journey that I never would have had the chance to meet otherwise and I am so grateful for this.

Isn't this so strange; I woke up yesterday morning with my stomach churning - exactly the feeling I was experiencing this time last year when I was eagerly awaiting my test results.  I also just happened to look up at the clock at 3.20pm and recall this was the time, exactly 12 months ago where I was trying to call Ryan and my family to let them know the news. It was quite strange for me to be doing this as it is the same thing I (and probably all other mothers out there) do on my girls birthdays. Look at the clock and think, been in labour for 1, 3, 5 hours now. Then obviously at the exact time one of my girls was born. Was odd to be doing the same thing but thinking of the day I was told I had breast cancer.

I see it fitting that I update everyone on my 1 year anniversary.  My last blog entry was posted in January 2012 when I had completed my final radiation appointment, this marking the end of my treatment, hopefully forever.  Thankfully it didn't take too long to recover from the radiation but it was extremely important I kept covered up from the sun during the summer months.  This may sound like a reasonably easy thing to do, but we love the beach and I found this very difficult and frustrating at times!  The skin on my chest and under my arm is looking really good now although the 'tan' I have from the radiation is still very obvious.  

Since finishing my treatment, I have been keeping myself busy both with work and socially.  I tried to work as much as I could during my treatment which was a really nice distraction and kept things as normal as possible.  However I decided earlier this year to reduce my workload from 3 days a week to 2 days a week and I will continue to do this until Baylee is full time at school.  I love what I do and am so grateful for my wonderful (and flexible) bosses and work friends - they are amazing!

The past few months has seen me research the ways of improving my immune system.  This may seem trivial to most of you but there must have been a time in my life, a trigger, where the cells in my body became cancerous and my immune system was not able to fight them off.  Many believe diet and nutrition play a huge part, along with getting adequate sleep each night, regular exercise and minimising stress. I have also been looking at all the beauty products I use, from shampoo and conditioner to toothpaste and moisturisers, and have switched nearly all of them to organic brands. Green tea has also become my new favourite drink (it has so many wonderful qualities) which is a far cry from 12 months ago when I used to enjoy a DC on the rocks (diet coke!) every now and then. I haven't touched one since receiving my diagnosis!

Unfortunately, despite my attempts to rebuild my immune system I have still picked up a number of colds and sinus infections.  Only 4 weeks ago I came down with a sinus infection which needed antibiotics to clear up (I was really trying to avoid taking antibiotics so was a little disappointed when I was prescribed them).  It was around this time that I started to experience some pain in my chest, in particular my ribs.  I just put the discomfort down to all of the coughing I was doing in conjunction with the sinus infection.  When this worsened to the point where I was wincing in pain each time I coughed, I raced straight off to the doctor.  I am sure they think I am a bloody hypochondriac but unfortunately this is now reality for me.  Anything that is not quite right needs to be checked without hesitation.  My doctor could easily locate the inflammation (7th rib to be exact!) and I was advised to continue with my antibiotics and to start taking anti-inflammatries to reduce the pain and swelling.  Should it not subside or clear up within 2 - 3 days, I was advised to contact my Oncologist to bring my scans forward.  Must admit, this frightened me but thankfully the pain disappeared and I haven't experienced any discomfort since - phew!

On the topic of scans, I am booked in to have my CT scan and Bone scan on 20th August 2012.  Whilst this is still a good couple of months away, I can't help but feel anxious about it.  It is going to be a long day and will no doubt be very draining.  Unfortunately the worse thing will be the agonising wait before I receive the results - 2 full days!

I met with my Oncologist, Arlene Chan a couple of months ago and we spoke about statistics of recurrence, among other things.  She advised that at this point in my life there is a 33% chance the cancer will return (with the odds improving each year that goes by) and she went on to say that she won't say I am cancer free for at least 10 years.  I really wish she had dropped one of the 3's and just said 3% chance!  Needless to say, it all makes it very real again.  I just have to keep thinking that there is a 66% chance it won't return and please pray and hope that this is the case. 

Well my hair is doing weird and wonderful things.  Weird because I am having to learn how to style short hair (a first!), as well as deal with a wave that has decided to grow (another first!), but wonderful because I have hair again!  My hairdresser and I experimented with a darker colour a few months ago but I really disliked it so we recently coloured it back to my usual blonde which I much prefer!

The next major step in my journey (apart from the big scans in August) is my reconstructive surgery.  As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I have decided to have my left breast removed and a double reconstruction performed.  The main reason for this is a precautionary measure to eliminate the cancer ever returning in my left breast (the odds are far greater now that I have had breast cancer in my right).  I met with a fantastic plastic surgeon, Tony Connell, who specialises in breast reconstructive surgery and I couldn't have been happier with our initial consultation.  He really gave me hope and what I mean by that is the hope to look and feel normal again. I don't want to wear a prothesis for the rest of my life! I wish I could wear beautiful bras and wear young and modern bathers again.  The reconstructive procedure is quite gruelling and is known as latissimus dorsi breast reconstruction.  In a nutshell they will move part of my back muscle and rotate it around to my chest wall (on both sides).  Once the muscle is stitched in place, Tony will insert tissue expanders which will gradually be inflated over a 3 - 4 month period (to 'stretch' the skin).  Following this, the expanders will be removed and permanent implants placed under the muscle.  I am looking at having this done next February.

I am also very mindful that in the next few weeks I could be receiving the results from the gene testing I had done earlier in the year.  I am very anxious about what the result will be but it won't affect my decision in relation to having my other breast removed.  Should the result be positive to BRAC1 or BRCA2, I will seriously consider having a hysterectomy performed as having this gene increases my chance of ovarian cancer too - bloody great!

I continue to attend my support group meetings and really enjoy seeing the girls every month.  They are all so lovely and it gives us a good opportunity to chat about all things that concern, worry and affect us and we sometimes have guest speakers come along.  It is run through Breast Cancer Care WA and they always have a councillor on hand for us should we need them.  Whilst on the topic of Breast Cancer Care WA, this coming Friday 22nd June is Purple Bra Day and it would be wonderful if you could all donate whatever you can to this wonderful cause.  Breast Cancer Care WA is a  charity that provides personalised emotional, practical and financial support and care to people affected by breast cancer.  BCCWA receives no government funding, soley relying on the generosity of the WA community in order to provide its range of services at no charge.  

Earlier in the year, my car acquired a nice new set of pink number plates!  After much deliberation I decided to purchase the plates with the full cost being donated to National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) and I chose the numbers 611 to represent the month and year of my diagnosis.  Needless to say, it is very easy to spot my car in the car park now!

I also would like to thank all of my wonderful friends who sent cards and messages, marking the first anniversary of my diagnosis.  You have all played a part in helping me to  remain positive and giving me a reason to love life and to keep smiling.  

In finishing, I would like to share some photos from our recent trip to Bali.  We had a wonderful time with my parents, my sister Lizzy and her family, Ryan's parents and brother.  This holiday was booked after my 2nd chemo treatment so it was a trip I had been looking forward to for a very long time.  We had an amazing time and it lived up to all expectations!

 Ryan and I with Liz, Steve and Kyle at Ku De Ta (Seminyak, Bali)

Ryan and I enjoying a drink at Potato Head (Seminyak, Bali) 

My little family in the entry foyer of our beautiful hotel (InterContinental, Jimbaran Bay)

Our families enjoying Pre Dinner Drinks at Ku De Ta

Thursday, 26 January 2012

New Beginnings

Everybody wants happiness.  Nobody wants pain.
But you can't have a rainbow, without a little rain.

I did it!!!  After 2 bouts of surgery, 6 rounds of chemo and 25 session of radiation, I did it!!  I am ecstatic to say that I finished all of my treatment on Thursday 12th January 2012 - another date I don't think I will ever forget.  It nearly didn't happen though.  On Monday 9th January I arrived early for my radiation appointment as I wanted to see the nurses prior to the treatment.  My skin was so badly burnt (even more so than the last photo saved on my blog) and I was very concerned about it.  The nurse on duty was lovely but was also very worried about my burns and asked me to go home and return later in the morning - once the doctor had arrived.  I arrived home to Ryan and just burst into tears.  I just couldn't believe  there maybe a chance I would have to stop the treatment when I was only 4 sessions away from the finish line.  Ryan returned with me later that morning and I saw the doctor, who after assessing the burns, was happy for me to continue as long as I was very careful over the next few days.  If it had been any longer than 4 days they definitely would have made me stop and return at a later date.  It was crucial I gave the area regular salt water soaks and used the special prescribed creams to help the area heal but more importantly, to avoid the onset of infection.  I also had to visit the nurses before and after each session for them to dress the burns.  

I can definitely say that I was one of the unlucky ones who burnt quite badly throughout this process.  I found it interesting to hear from the nurses that it is impossible for them to pick exactly who will burn and who won't.  The radiographers were saying that they may have a dark skinned lady burn quite badly one day and the next day a very fair lady who doesn't burn at all! 

I really can't tell you how I felt walking out for the last time - there were so many mixed emotions..... sore, relief, happiness, sadness, etc.  Ryan asked me how I would like to celebrate the end of my treatment and all I really wanted to do was to go down to the beach and enjoy some Moet and this is exactly what we did!  Our wonderful families joined us and it was perfect.

We continued the celebrations by heading down to Busselton for a little camping holiday a couple of days after my last radiation treatment.  We really enjoy camping and we had a fantastic time!  Some lovely friends joined us and Ryan's parents came down for a night also.    The weather was amazing, in fact the first couple of days were really hot so I had to be super careful my burns weren't exposed to the sun in any way.

We arrived home from camping just in time to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary!  My lovely sister Lizzy came over and looked after our girls whilst we enjoyed an amazing 6 course degustation menu at Fraser's in Kings Park.  It was absolutely fantastic and I highly recommend it!  It was a lovely way to celebrate a year that was definitely one of our hardest and one we will never forget.  I can't thank Ryan enough for absolutely everything he does for me and our girls - he is wonderful!

On Thursday 19th January, I had my 'follow up' consultation with my surgeon, Dr Willsher.  We spoke about my Chemo treatment and radiation and he checked my mastectomy scar and burns.  We then spoke about reconstructive surgery and my decision to have my other breast removed at the time of this surgery.  I really want to try and take the element of risk  away and my surgeon is happy with my decision and supports me all the way (especially due to my age).  I hope to have this done in late July / early August 2012.  I want to give my body a really good rest from all of my treatment before I head back into hospital for more surgery.  It is quite a major operation and I will be in hospital for at least 10 days and will take approx 6 weeks to recover - something I am really not looking forward to.  

Now that all of my treatment is finished, the question I am asked on a regular basis is 'where to from here'?  Unfortunately I won't know if all of my treatment has worked until June 2012.  Exactly 12 months after my diagnosis and 6 months after my treatment, I will need to go and have all of my scans done again.  No doubt this is going to be a tough day and I just hope I am drinking a glass of champagne at the end of it!

Once again I am extremely grateful for everyone's wonderful support and I must thank Hayles & Neil, Lizzy & Stevie and Trace & Darren for the lovely flowers and for Dee & Heath for the beautiful gift box I received on celebrating the end of my treatment. I feel very special - thank you!  

It is a strange and sometimes frightening feeling not having any current treatment.  I am sure some people may think that because I am out of the stages of having treatment, I am fine.  I'm not sure how I feel about this as I'm sure I will still have some sad days now and then.  My support group often speaks about feelings especially when treatment is over.  Treatment is kind of like a safety net - surely nothing can happen to us when on treatment?!

I really want to close this post with a status a friend recently wrote on Facebook (thanks Alsy!) - it perfectly sums up how I feel.

I am a very lucky girl that can quite proudly say if you measure my wealth by how many amazing friendships I have, then I would be a billionaire ten times over!

Ryan and I toasting the end of my 
treatment and new beginnings

Ryan and I celebrating 9 very happy years

Ryan and I at Tami's 30th Birthday 
(wish I had some eyelashes!)

My inspiration - my gorgeous little family at 
Jaz's surf life saving (Scarboro SLS nippers!)

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Burnt to a crisp

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with your family and friends and I hope 2012 brings you lots of love, fun and happiness but more importantly I hope it brings you all excellent health!

I was very happy to see 2011 come to an end - in fact, it couldn't come quick enough.  I never in my wildest dreams thought it would turn out the way it did and it certainly did turn my life upside down and inside out!  

Unfortunately my treatment didn't finish in 2011 which is a shame.  It will finish on Thursday 12th January 2012 at 8.15am!  My treatment card was finalised today (showing my very last radiation time) and noted underneath was 'finished - well done!'  Unfortunately though, radiation hasn't been a walk in the park like I thought it might have been (compared to Chemo anyway).  The first few weeks were fine and I thought I might breeze through the treatment but I am doing it tough now.  The burns are horrendous and with 21 sessions complete, part of my skin is like charcoal.  My poor burnt skin is now peeling back to show raw pink skin and it makes me sick to think that tomorrow they will have to perform the 22nd radiation treatment on my raw pink skin.  To say this is going to hurt is going to be an understatement.  I have been doing everything as instructed, following all of the do's and don'ts, so I have just been one of the unlucky ones.  The pain has also been affecting my sleep as I can't roll over on my right side - it is too painful.  I just can't wait for it to all be over.  Bring on Thursday!!!!  Although I am burnt, sore and tired, I will miss my radiographers.  They are all so lovely and made me as comfortable as possible throughout my treatment, however I really hope I never have to see them again - in a medical environment anyway!  WARNING - I have attached a photo of my burns below.

Some good news to come out of my radiation treatment is that I haven't developed Lymphodema which was a big worry for me as I had quite a few problems with my arm during Chemo.  In fact, it seems that radiation has helped with the cording and at the moment you can't see (and I can't feel) any cording in my arm.  It feels great and I haven't had to wear my pressure glove every day.  I will still be having a check up with my Physio just after radiation is finished, but I am feeling good. 

Just prior to Christmas, Ryan commenced 5 weeks of annual leave.  It has been so fantastic having him home with us especially over the Christmas and New Year break.  He primarily took the time off so he could help with the girls whilst I have radiation each day but we have made sure we have been spending lots of quality time together down at the beach, going to the movies, catching up with friends and we have a camping holiday booked for next weekend down in Busselton which we are really looking forward to!

It has now been close to 4 weeks since I started taking Tamoxifen (the drug I need to take every day for the next 5 years) and it seems I have picked up a couple of side effects.  These being; a cough, dizziness and light headedness - lucky me!  Thankfully they aren't affecting my day to day activities but I will need to bring these up with my Surgeon and Oncologist in the coming weeks.

I am very happy to broadcast that my hair has started to grow back - hallelujah!  It would be close to 0.5cm long now, although very thin and whispy, so I will be wearing my scarves and hats for quite some time yet.  I keep telling Ryan the best way to stimulate the hair follicles is with regular head massages but he isn't buying it!  How ironic is this though ...... the day my hair started to grow back, my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out :(  Can you believe it!  I honestly thought I was going to be lucky and not lose them especially as it has been nearly 2 months since my last Chemo session.  Needless to say, not feeling very attractive at the moment!

Well, I best sign off for now and put the bottle of Moet in the fridge to chill for Thursday!

 Christmas Day - 2011

Jasmine and Baylee - 
opening presents on Christmas morning 2011 

Some of my very painful burns - 
after 21 radiotherapy treatments