Thursday, 15 December 2011

All I want for Christmas

I can hardly believe it will be six months tomorrow since receiving my diagnosis.  Surreal would be the best way to describe the events that have taken place since receiving that dreaded phone call back on 16th June 2011.  It has also been a huge emotional rollercoaster ride for me and my family but I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel now.  Hallelujah!

I am absolutely thrilled that I made it through Chemo - especially considering I didn't think I would survive the first cycle!  My next phase of treatment is radiation therapy which is a localised form of treatment using high energy radiation to kill cancer cells.  I have to complete 25 sessions (5 days a week for 5 weeks) at the Perth Radiation Oncology clinic in Wembley.  All the radiographers are lovely and very friendly so it is nice to see a smiling face when I arrive, although I wish my appointments were the same time every day!  Unfortunately the waiting room often gets me thinking 'why me' with nearly all other patients in their 60's or 70's.  Of course I wish none of them were going through this either but I must admit they all stare when I arrive and are probably trying to guess my age as they wait for their name to be called.  There are many do's and dont's I have to follow during this treatment such as; no deodorant, no perfume, no sunscreen, no direct contact with the sun and I must moisturise the treated area (chest and upper arm where lymph nodes were removed) daily with lots of sorbolene cream.  So far I have had 8 treatments with another 17 to go (but who's counting!) with Thursday 12th January 2012 marked as a day to celebrate - the end of all of my treatment!  All is going well with radiation although I have noticed the area has become a little red with a couple of very small blisters which is a worry as I was told I shouldn't see any burning (as such) until week 3.  In addition, I have been told that I will start to feel tired and fatigued around this time.  Fingers crossed the burning doesn't get any worse and I will be one of the lucky ones who breezes through radiation with minimal side effects - here's hoping!

Unfortunately I am still experiencing some pain and swelling in my arm from the two lots of surgery I had in June and July.  Thankfully I haven't developed Lymphodema although I have had a few scares in the past few weeks. It is mainly the cording that is giving me grief. Cording is a tight and sometimes painful band of tissue (like a cord - hence the name!) running down the arm towards the hand. It occurs as a result of lymph glands and channels being removed from the axilla region (under the arm). To assist with the swelling and potential onset of Lymphodema I now have to wear a pressure glove on my right hand every day until my treatment is finished. It is not the greatest look but I know it is important I continue to wear it.

We have been quite busy in the lead up to Christmas with lots of social events and I am very happy I have been feeling well to enjoy this time.  Last Saturday night we enjoyed a nice meal with a few friends at Zephyr in North Beach (it was delicious!), on Sunday we celebrated with my work friends at the Raffles (need I say more!) and on Monday I attended my support group lunch at The Boulevard Hotel in Floreat.... what a busy few days it was!  It was lovely to see everyone and to meet some new girls. We had a great time and I had the opportunity to present the Organic Home 'Think Pink for Emma' candle cheque to Cathie and Karina from Breast Cancer Care WA. We had a photo taken which I have included below.

Last week Ryan and I (and my Mum) attended Jasmine's Pre-Primary Christmas Concert. It was so fantastic to see all the kids dressed up. The last time Jaz had a concert, I was in hospital so I was very happy I was able to be there and support her. These events are so special and I was so proud seeing Jaz dancing and singing along with all of her friends.

I had my final Chemo follow up yesterday with my Oncologist and I must admit it was nice to get in my car afterwards and return home rather than head to the cocktail lounge for a few hours!  Arlene gave me my blood test results that I had done the day prior and she confirmed that I am now in menopause (a Chemo side effect) although this will most likely be temporary due to my age - only time will tell.  She also went on to say that my liver and kidneys are functioning well and that my white blood cell count is nearly normal which is great although she did mention that I am low in iron and need to watch this especially during radiation.  I will continue to see her every 3 months for the next 5 years which is both overwhelming and reassuring at the same time.  As my cancer is estrogen and progesterone positive I have now been prescribed the drug Tamoxifen which is a tablet that I will need to take every day for the next 5 years.  Tamoxifen is anti-estrogen therapy and works by blocking the hormone receptors so they can't signal cancer cells to grow and lets hope it does its job!

So back to the blog title - all I want for Christmas....

I know what you are all thinking and yes nothing would make me happier than starting to see my HAIR grow back!!! Well I have to report that if I look very closely I can see very fine baby hair starting to show although to everyone else I still look bald!  But more importantly, I wish someone could guarantee me that this cancer was just a one off 'out of the blue' illness that will never ever return. I would be happy to give up everything I own to receive this guarantee but sadly I know this is not possible :(  I will just need to remain positive and hope that someday soon a cure will be found.

I will end this post with a lovely email my friend Renee sent me at work - I really liked it and hope you do too :)

“Live life to the fullest, tell someone what they mean to you, speak out, dance in the pouring rain, hold someone’s hand, comfort a friend, fall asleep watching the sun come up, stay up late, be a flirt, and smile until your face hurts. Don’t be afraid to take chances or fall in love and most of all, live in the moment because every second you spend angry or upset is a second of happiness you can never get back”

Julie and Allison from Organic Home presenting the cheques from the 
'Think Pink for Emma' candle promotion

Em presenting the big cheque to Cathie Smith from Breast Cancer Care WA
at the Christmas Luncheon 

Our Jaz at her Christmas concert

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Au revoir Chemo....... forever!

What lies behind us and what lies before us are just tiny matters compared 
to what lies within us

What a momentous few weeks it has been!  I am over the moon to report that I completed my very last Chemotherapy treatment on Wednesday 16th November at The Mount Hospital.  Chemotherapy was by far the worst experience I have had to endure in my life, so I  am sure you can imagine the relief of reaching this milestone.  Unfortunately, similar to my last round of Chemo I am taking longer to recover from the treatment (which I have been told is normal due to the accumulative effect it has on the body) with a few side effects still hanging around a week later.  Hopefully these will go prior to starting Radiation therapy in a couple of weeks time, but in the meantime, it is time to celebrate!

A few weeks prior to my last Chemo session I shed a few tears to Ryan about my appearance.  I was feeling a bit down and out - having one breast is one thing, putting on a few kgs is another, but having no hair takes the cake!  How can anyone find me attractive when I struggle with the way I look and feel.  Of course he said all the right things and made me feel a whole lot better.  Little did I know that in just a matter of days he was about to surprise me with a wonderful day out with my work girlfriends.  He had been planning (for a couple of months!) a shopping spree in the city which involved booking a personal stylist in Myer for a few hours and lunch with the girls afterwards.  He gave me $1,000 spending money and told me not to bring home any change! I still don't know how he coerced me into the city on a Saturday morning (when we should have been at Challenge Stadium for the girls swimming lessons!) to pull off the surprise.  I was completely blown away.... in fact when I first saw all the girls waiting at the cafe, I thought they had all gone out for morning tea and I wasn't invited - awkward!! ha ha.  We all had a great time and it was just what I needed!  

My second big surprise came just over a week later.  I was up in the Chemo ward with Ryan and Dad and we were chatting away.  My Mum, Lizzy and my little niece Jess arrived not long afterwards which was a nice surprise as I thought Lizzy was working that day.  They brought balloons, cakes, muffins and biscuits and we shared them with the other patients, to celebrate my last chemo treatment.  We were having a nice time when all of a sudden it got a whole lot better....... in walked the one and only MARK LECRAS (AFL player for West Coast Eagles)!!!!!!!!!!!  For those that don't already know, I would have to be Mark's biggest fan - not only is he extremely good looking, he is a great player and, as I got to find out in person, a really nice guy.  What is there not to like!  I didn't click at first and thought oh wow that is so nice of him to visit the Chemo ward (apparently a few of them make surprise visits throughout the year) but when I saw Liz motioning to him to come over, I realised he was here to see ME!!!!!!  He gave me a signed West Coast Eagles jumper ("Dear Emma, Best Wishes! Mark LeCras"), stayed and chatted for about 45 minutes and had numerous photos with us.  It was the most fantastic surprise and I have to make special mention of my friends Vicki and Darren Cobby who kindly arranged this for me all the way from Broome.  I can't thank you both enough!!  

I also have to mention of a special friend at this time who has come into my life through this crazy journey.  My friend Jenny who was diagnosed with breast cancer whilst 23 weeks pregnant, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Tatum Lee last week (one month early) - what an amazing and inspiring woman!  She has a wonderful husband and 2 gorgeous boys and little Tatum is one very special little girl like her Mummy.  Jenny's story is very similar to mine and whilst it makes me sad we are both having to face the same challenges I am so happy she has come into my life - a definite positive to come out of this experience.

I am still deeply touched by the kindness of family, friends, even strangers!  Yesterday was another example - a beautiful friend in Melbourne sent over a gift boxed bottle of rose Moet to celebrate my end of Chemo treatment.  It was such a lovely surprise and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face all afternoon!  So very lucky to have such wonderful caring family and friends in my life.     

On another note, I have been blown away with the response I have received about my blog.  I have just clicked over 10,500 hits in a matter of months which is beyond my wildest expectations!  I initially wrote my blog to keep family and friends up to date with my treatment / progress and to express my feelings on paper (so to speak).  I now see it as an avenue to create awareness, give hope and offer advice to those who are also battling this disease or has someone close to them fighting it.  If I can help just one other person, then I have served the main purpose of this blog.  I want everyone to realise that cancer can leave us with physical scars and temporarily take our hair away but we should never allow it to take our spirit or positive energy as they have the power to overcome anything.  

Battling cancer is something that no individual would ever want to nor should experience, and although this has been the most physically, emotionally & mentally challenging time of my life, I am so very grateful for everyone's love and support.   I still have the occasional cry, but mostly my days are good.  

So as I sign off from this blog I am reminded of a young lady sitting next to me in the Chemo ward last week with her sister.  After enjoying one of the cupcakes my family handed around, she kindly asked 'is this your last session today?'  I said 'yes' and as a matter of courtesy I asked her how far into her treatment she was.  She proceeded to tell me that she had been battling cancer for 6 years and unfortunately it was now throughout her entire body so this (Chemo) is something she just does each week to buy more time.  She is only 39 years of age.  

'Lets appreciate LIFE.  Lets show more heart and compassion to one another because 
there is always someone, somewhere, fighting a harder battle and there is no price 
on simple human kindness'.

Being surprised by my work girlfriends!

Ha ha - trying on the many gorgeous dresses with my beautiful friends Renee and Brooke
(a big thanks also to Ton, Lorn, Hayles and Nic for joining me on the day)

My very last Chemo - Round 6!

Last Chemo - Em and Mark LeCras

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

So my sister has breast cancer. Written by: Lizzy Brunt

Let’s start at the beginning – June 16th 2011.  At 12.30pm I received a message from a close friend to say she had given birth to a gorgeous little girl called Mia. For 3 hours I was ecstatic for her. Then at 3.30pm I got a call from my sister with the worst news I’ve ever heard. I felt like someone had taken the floor out from under me. I tried to remain calm (albeit while crying!) but as soon as I hung up from Em I sobbed. I don’t remember ever crying so hard in my entire life. Unfortunately my little man witnessed all of this and came over to me and said “Settle Gretel, everything is going to be okay” and gave me a huge hug. I managed to keep it together for about 1 minute – enough to call my husband Steve, and tell him to get the hell home! I remember pacing around my games room  I felt like I was on drugs.... couldn’t sit, couldn’t stand, couldn’t comprehend what was happening. I rang a close friend whose family had been touched by cancer recently and she was shocked when I managed to tell her the news. Thankfully she gave me some great advice and I managed to keep it together for a bit.  I remember when Steve got home we took the kids for a walk to the park and I met a woman who had a rather cute looking pug. I still remember talking to her like nothing had happened – it was like I had never received the phone call. I think I just went into shut–down mode, some might call it self-preservation!  It was a welcome break from the constant horrifying thoughts going through my head so I’m glad we got out of the house that afternoon.
I remember thinking of Mum and Dad. I rang them not long after Em’s phone call and they sounded shell shocked – as expected really. No-one wants to hear that their child has cancer – whether that child is 5, 15, 35 or 55. We’ve always been a close family – not having any other family in Perth has kind of made us that way. Thankfully Mum and Dad are retired and have been a massive help to Em, Ry and the kids while they deal with it all. We are truly blessed to have such wonderful parents!
I’ve been working in hospitals for 10 years so I knew a little bit about cancer and treatment options so I immediately wanted to know EVERYTHING about breast cancer!! Unfortunately Em didn’t know too much at this stage and I know that the not knowing was extremely difficult for her and Ry. It was probably one of the longest weekends of my life.  I remember sitting at our computer all weekend researching various treatments but it really was fruitless as we just didn’t know anything at that stage.
Having read a ton of medical records in the past, I knew that the standard treatment for a lot of breast cancer is a mastectomy and chemotherapy. So when Em rang me on the Monday to tell me the news I was quietly relieved. I didn’t want her surgeon doing a half-assed job of it – I wanted the whole hog done!! Obviously Em was devastated by this though and I kept trying to focus her on the end result – no pain, no gain. Yep,  2011 was going to be the year from hell so let’s just get it over and done with quickly!!
Since the diagnosis the support Em and my family have received has blown us away. From the Organic Candles fundraiser (thanks Julie!), to the big head shave (thanks Ry’s mates!), to Relay for Life (thanks Nicki!). And then there’s the ‘quiet support army’ – the people who have stopped me at work or sent me cards wishing Emma all the best, my old boss (who had never met Em) sending her a little pressie from Tasmania,  to my kids swimming teacher who said she will pray for Emma. Small little gestures that mean so much and really lift our spirits. Then of course there is the Pre-Primary mum’s at Jasmine’s school along with Em and Ry's close friends who have ensured that Em and family are well fed – because let’s face it, Ryan can’t cook (sorry Ry!).
On the 14th September I went to Em’s Chemo session with her. I was really looking forward to it to be honest. I wanted to see what happened, meet her Doctors etc... however, I also didn’t prepare myself very well. I found myself fighting back the tears at her Oncologist appointment. It felt like someone had given me a cold hard slap of reality – my sister has CANCER! She was talking to her Dr about her chemo and the side affects and she was smiling and joking all the way through it – how does she do this I thought!? However, her positive attitude kept me going and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting next to her for 3 hours and talking – uninterrupted!!! No kids screaming or fighting, no ‘I’m hungry’, no pooey nappies to deal with – three long hours of just us..... it was awesome!!! I hope the next time we get to do that it is over a very long lunch and wine is involved.
Em has shown remarkable strength through all of this – who else can call the Chemo Unit the ‘cocktail lounge’. Who else could wear a head scarf and still look stunning. Who else could be half way through chemo but manage to get all dressed up to attend two Gala Balls. Who else could be mistaken for a model for the cancer council!!
A friend of mine told me recently that watching someone close to you  have cancer is like sand in a glass of water. Some days the sand settles on the bottom and you can see through the water clearly, other days the sand is stirred up and the water is murky. I still have murky days – the days when I just can’t get past the fact that my sister has cancer. It seems totally unfair. Then there are days I’m totally focused on Em living a long and healthy life – and the water is clear again.
So, the past few months have been a whirl-wind... my diary is loaded with not only things for my family but also all of Em’s chemo dates, Dr’s appointments etc.... I am looking forward to a rather quiet 2012.... except of course June 16th when I’ll be celebrating 2 milestone’s... little Mia’s 1st birthday and the big one – Emma one year  on..... CANCER SURVIVOR!!!

Em and I at dinner (girls holiday)- Lygon Street, Carlton
Melbourne - December 2010 

Em and I out celebrating Em's 35th Birthday - 16th July 2011
(4 weeks after Em's diagnosis)

Em and I after we shaved our heads (15 days after Em's first Chemo)
18th August 2011

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Hey Cancer.... you messed with the wrong girl!

As I sit here on the couch tonight I think about the milestone I have just achieved.  Exactly 84 days ago I commenced my very first Chemotherapy treatment.  I recall the days following my first session and I thought there was no way in the world I was going to get through another 5 treatments.  In fact, there was a time I thought the Chemo itself might kill me.  So as you can imagine I am quietly (albeit feeling a little nauseas) celebrating my 5th round of Chemotherapy treatment.  It is hard to describe exactly the emotion I am feeling - actually if you can recall the closing scene in Flashdance when she is dancing to 'What a Feeling'.... this would be pretty close!  I remember very clearly when it was 1 treatment down and 5 to go and now I am 5 treatments down and 1 to go!!!!

With only 1 treatment remaining my Dad is already planning a party to be held up in the Chemo suite on my last day - I hope The Mount is ready for it! ha ha  So nice of them to be feeling the way I am also... bring on the celebrations!  I saw a t-shirt just recently which read 'My wife's/daughter's/sister's/friend's battle is my battle' (there are a few variations so I listed them all) and I couldn't agree more.  Everyone has been there for me every step of the way and to this day I still think about ways of trying to repay everyone for their unconditional support.

My lovely Mum joined me for today's Chemo session and it was nice just chatting.  Of course, Dad couldn't keep away so he popped in and Ryan also had a break from work and popped in to see me.  I am so lucky to have so much love and support.  It makes me very sad when I see the other patients arriving by themselves to have their treatment and I just hope that it was their decision to come on their own.  

As much as I wish I wasn't going through this for my family's sake I am so grateful we have our little girls as they keep me very busy and distracted which definitely takes my mind off things.  In fact I have to share a funny story that happened last week!  I was playing hairdressers with Jasmine and Baylee and we were taking it turns putting plaits and clips in their hair.  After they had had a few turns I said what about Mummy's hair and I took my scarf off.  Jasmine laughed and said 'but you don't have any hair Mummy - silly billy'! but Baylee's eyes widened and she said 'oh no, where has your hair gone Mummy!!' (even through she sees me bald every day) and I replied 'I don't know what happened to it - where has it gone' and she says 'Daddy took it away' (Ryan was the one who shaved my head) and I said 'where did he put it' and she says 'In the bin - I will go and get it'!!!  I couldn't help but have a good laugh :)

I have been very fortunate to be involved in a couple of special morning teas held this month to raise much needed funds for Breast Cancer Research.  A couple of weeks ago my lovely Burswood colleagues held a morning tea and Jaz and I went along to see everyone and to enjoy the yummy food :)  We had a great time and lots of money was raised.  We had a nice group photo taken which might be printed in the Burswood staff magazine - and I have attached this below!

Ryan and I also held a 'pink' morning tea last week with our families and a couple of friends.  It was a lovely morning and we raised $520 in just over an hour.  Great effort by all!  I have also attached below a couple of pics.

Speaking of events, Ryan and I were very fortunate to be invited to the Lexus Ball which raises funds for Telethon.  We had a fantastic evening and got to rub shoulders with some of the stars attending Telethon!!  It was so nice to get frocked up, enjoy a beautiful meal, have a glass of bubbly and a dance :)  

I would also like to make special mention of my sister's friend Nicki Turner who recently took part in the Relay for Life event which raises money for cancer research.  She decided to 'walk for me' and I am so very honoured by this touching gesture.  She raised $320 on the day!  Thank you so much Nicki :)

I am currently reading Dr Ian Gawler's book called 'You Can Conquer Cancer'.  I am finding it very interesting and wanted to share a paragraph with you that I often think about:
'It is known that throughout the lifetime of every healthy person, cancerous cells develop in their body.  This is a medically accepted fact.  It also is accepted that the body normally recognises these abnormal cells as a potential threat to its health and acts quickly to isolate and destroy them.  It does so before any physical symptoms become apparent.  However, in cancer patients, this does not happen and the growths continue unopposed.  The body offers no resistance and symptoms of cancer are the result.'

It still saddens me to think that I am fighting breast cancer.  As naive as this may sound I still think of it as an older woman's disease - which I know sounds ridiculous!  I am trying to remain very positive but it is hard sometimes - so many thoughts running through your head (and sometimes they aren't positive) but I just have to keep reminding myself that yes this really sucks but there is nothing I can do about it and I just need to keep moving forward and focus on finishing all of my treatment.   I often think - why did this have to happen? and not just happen to me but to anyone?  Gosh, life can be unfair sometimes.  I just hope the money that we all raise will be put to good use and the cause and subsequent cure will be found very soon.  :(  I mostly have good days now but I can't deny that some days I just put on a brave face and try and be as bubbly as possible so no-one picks up on my sadness.

Chemo - Round 4 
Wed 5th October 2011

Lexus (Telethon Ball)
Sat 15th October 2011

Burswood Team
Pink Ribbon Morning Tea

Mum, Liz, Me and Dad
Pink Ribbon Morning Tea

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A couple of bumps in the road

Firstly, I have to start this post by reminding you all that October is International Breast Cancer Awareness month!  It would be wonderful if you could all show your support it in some way :)

This past week has been a tough one.  I woke up last Friday morning with a really sore upper right arm (the side of my recent surgery) and noticed it was swollen and very red.  This really worried me (like most aches and pains I get these days) as I thought it was the start of Lymphodema - a chronic, debilitating condition in which excess fluid collects in tissues and causes swelling and numerous other side effects.  Unfortunately I am at greater risk of this condition as I had to have the lymph nodes removed under my arm when it was found that the cancer had spread from my breast.  Once Lymphodema sets in, it is something you are stuck with for life and therefore needs to be monitored and managed to minimise side effects.  As I'm sure you can imagine, I raced off to the Physio who took my measurements and after viewing the redness and swelling advised it was Cellulitis - a skin infection caused by bacteria.  We were a little baffled as to how I picked this up but I went straight off to my GP who prescribed some strong antibiotics to clear it up immediately.  I was told to keep an eye on it and if it hadn't started to improve within 24 hours I may be admitted to hospital to have antibiotics administered intravenously. Of course I followed my GP's instructions closely; lots of rest, no heavy lifting, elevate the arm if possible, etc. and thankfully it started to clear up.  My biggest concern was that my next round of Chemo was so close (5 days away) and I was worried my Oncologist wouldn't let me proceed with round 4 due to my low white blood cell count.  Battling an infection is tough enough when you're healthy, so you can imagine how tough it is when you're on Chemo.  The good news is that although my white blood cell count was a little lower than normal, I was still able to proceed with Chemo - what a relief!  Gosh, I never thought I would be excited about having Chemo but this week I was.  I am getting so close to the end that I didn't want anything to stop me from having treatment.  Wednesday 16th November is the magic date for me (very last Chemo session) and it can't come quick enough!!

Tonight I am lying on the couch feeling sore and sorry for myself after another gruelling round at the cocktail lounge (aka Chemo ward).  My Dad joined me again this time and we had a great time keeping the lovely nurses entertained.  We were well fed and have managed to reduce the treatment time down to 2.5 hours - hallelujah!  With 4 cycles down and only 2 more to go, I have to admit I am really going to miss the nurses in the ward.  They are all so lovely and I really enjoy my time with them - I think it might be a little sad saying goodbye to them when I finish my treatment in November.  In saying this though, I hope I NEVER EVER have to see them again - well not in a hospital environment anyway!

I have had some other things on my mind of late, namely gene testing and breast reconstruction.  Again, a few more things I never thought I would ever have to consider at the tender age of 35 years young.  I have been tossing up about the gene testing for quite some time and still haven't made up my mind about whether to proceed or not.  I have read and been advised that less than 5% of all breast cancer cases are inherited by a genetic gene fault so it is likely that I don't have the gene. However, I have to admit that I am curious, especially after receiving my diagnosis so young.  I also think about the future for Jasmine and Baylee, especially if I have the BRCA gene.  But regardless, if I have the gene or not, they are still going to have to be vigilant about having yearly mammograms and ultrasounds from the age of 18 - something I wish they didn't have to have done at such an early age.  My fingers and toes are tightly crossed that a cure will be found well before they reach this age.

It is at this time that I now start to think about breast reconstructive surgery.  Gosh I thought there was lots to think about with the gene testing - wow, I was wrong!!!  I don't even know where to start with the surgery.  There are so many options that I need to weigh up.  One of my first jobs is to find a reputable surgeon who specialises in reconstructive surgery.  Let me get something very clear here - this ain't no 'boob job' contrary to many people mentioning how lucky I am to be getting some new boobs :-/  There is so much to consider with one of the main ones being whether to have my other breast removed to reduce the risk of the cancer returning in this area. I would then have expanders inserted under the skin to stretch the chest wall (first surgery) for a period of time, then to decide whether to use skin and muscle from my back to form new breasts or to have implants (second surgery). Then there's the lengthy hospital stays for these procedures, risks of infection and of course recovery time afterwards to think about.  Thankfully I don't have to make these decisions now as I still have to get through 5 weeks of radiation December but it is something that is weighing on my mind.

After attending my first support group last month, I was surprised to hear that quite a few of the ladies suffered some form of loneliness or depression after their treatment was over.  I initially found this really strange - I thought they would be celebrating!  They explained that the Chemo treatments and radiation appointments kept them focused on getting better and once they were finished and were given the all clear, they were kind-of expected to go back to 'normal'.  I think after something like this it is very hard to just go back to normal.  There is no doubt there will always be that unsettling feeling of what the future holds but again, I try not to think to much about this and pray that I will be here one day to celebrate my 100th birthday ;)  My good friend Mel actually put it perfectly in a little message to me not long ago - she said 'No Em, your life should not be expected to go back to normal, it should be bigger and better than ever' - and I think she is absolutely right.

I have to say one huge positive to come out of my diagnosis is not only the closeness with my family (which was already very tight knit to begin with) but the even stronger bonds I have now with some friends, and the new friendships I have made along the way.    

I thought I would sign off with a few quotes that a special friend sent to me recently - hope you enjoy :)

'Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie.  Don't save it for a special occasion.  Today is special'

'Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift'

'You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have'

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

3 down, 3 to go!

Thank you for all of the lovely comments we have received following the last blog update - written by my amazing husband.  The reaction we received from everyone was lovely and I personally think he did a fantastic job expressing his feelings and point of view. Oh, and he had me in tears from the second paragraph!

This week just gone I achieved a huge milestone - the half way mark of my chemotherapy treatment and what a relief!  I can ever so slightly see that light at the end of the tunnel now.  Unfortunately I have felt quite poorly the last few days with fatigue, aches and pains, headaches and some nausea so I have been resting where I can as I find the more physical activities I do, the more unwell I feel.  Once again our wonderful parents had the girls for us over the "chemo" weekend so I could rest - we are very very lucky.  My sister joined me for my last chemo session and it was really nice to share the experience with her.  We had a great time chatting together without the kids interrupting us!

Well it has been exactly 27 days since I shaved my head and I am really missing my hair (sorry, I know I must sound like a broken down record!)  To get me through this period of baldness, I keep having to remind myself about the pros of having no hair (can be ready to go out in 5 mins!, don't need to spend hours at the hairdressers, save money on hair products, save time on washing my hair, etc) but I wish so much I still had my hair.  Although the girls are used to my 'new' look, Jasmine still says every day that she wishes I had long hair again and at times she becomes quite upset about it.  When I am at home I don't wear my head scarves but as soon as I leave the house, I pop one on.  I already find that people tend to stare when I wear a scarf so I can imagine it would be 100 times worse if I went out with nothing on my head!  Not to mention, it can get bloody cold on top and I find I am freezing at night!  I am already dreaming of the day my hair starts to grow back..... it can't come quick enough! Thankfully, I haven't lost my eyebrows or eyelashes yet, however I have been advised that I will likely lose them towards the very end of my chemo treatment which honestly feels like rubbing salt into the wound if you ask me :(

A few days prior to my 3rd chemo session I was able to attend my first support group through Breast Cancer Care WA (The Young and the Breastless) and I found it very helpful.  I met some lovely ladies who have already travelled this same journey and they were able to answer my many questions regarding gene testing, reconstructive surgery, diets, radiation, etc.  I was the youngest there (most in their early 40's) and they had all finished their treatment but I am looking forward to returning next month to chat with my new friends.  I just found it very reassuring to speak with these ladies as they know how I am feeling and what I am going through.  Of course it is one group that I wish I never had to join.

In early September Ryan's company sponsored the Youth Focus Gala Ball (supporting youth suicide prevention) held at Burswood.  In return he was given a table for 10 guests to attend the evening.  He decided to ask friends to join us and we had a lovely time!  As I am sure you can imagine, I was very nervous about what I was going to wear (especially as the dress code was black tie) but I was able to find a suitable bra (!), ball gown and head scarf for the event - you will see the pic attached below.  In fact I was approached early in the evening by a woman mistakingly asking if I was the model at the photo shoot for the Leukaemia Foundation the previous day...... my scarf really is a give away!

Gosh it has been a busy few weeks!  I also attended the Look Good, Feel Better workshop at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco.  It is a program run through the Cancer Council of WA and helps women manage the appearance related side effects from chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  They showed us make up techniques and there was a brief opportunity to experiment with wigs and scarves, etc.  It was pretty fun and I was chosen as the make up model which was kind of nice (and I walked away with a bag full of beauty products!)  My lovely friend Mel came to support me and we enjoyed a nice lunch in the sun afterwards.

I had a sad night a couple of weeks ago - I think everything just hit me again!  To cheer me up, Ryan thought it would be nice if we started to plan a family holiday for when my treatment is all finished.  I think this was a great idea as it gives me something to look forward to and we are calling it our "cancer free holiday".  After much deliberation we have decided to travel back to one of our favourite holiday spots - Bali, in June next year and I am so excited!  We have experienced some wonderful holidays over there and what makes it more exciting and special is that my parents, my sister Lizzy and her family and Ryan's family are all going to come with us.  Bring on 2012!!!

Youth Focus Gala Ball 2011 - Pre Dinner Drinks
Burswood Entertainment Complex

Sunday, 11 September 2011

In sickness and in health. Written by: Ryan Taylor

Feelings! Men don't talk about their feelings! We drill holes in stuff, dig bloody big holes in the ground, fix broken down cars and have sheds full of power tools! Pffft, feelings.

When Em asked me to write an entry on her blog from a blokes perspective about having a wife battling breast cancer, I was a little apprehensive. Writing about it means I have to come clean with her about what I really think and how I really feel. Not sure I am comfortable doing that but we'll see how we go.

Why don't I start at the beginning. The 16th of June 2011 was a date that I will remember forever. I was at work and on my mobile when I could see Emma trying to ring through. At first I ignored it, thinking I would simply call her back when I finished this call but then I saw her try calling through again. It was then that I remembered she was getting her pathology results from the lump she had found a few days earlier. I suddenly had a very bad feeling this was not going to be good news. I cut the call short and phoned Emma back straight away. Just as I suspected, it was bad news. Malignant breast carcinoma! Em was understandably distraught and I did my best to console her over the phone before telling her I would leave work immediately and come straight home.

When we finally met with the surgeon for the first time, after what felt like the longest weekend of our lives, it all started to hit home. They'd actually found four separate lumps (turned out to be three after the surgery) and he advised that mastectomy was the only option available. I remember looking at Em when he said that word; mastectomy. I was surprised at how well she seemed to take it. I don't remember her tearing up at that point but rather asking several more questions. It was not until he advised her she'd need to undergo 4-5 months of chemo. That's when the tears started to flow. Something about that word; chemo. The Doctor handed Emma his tissue box, strategically placed on the corner of his desk and I remember thinking geez, he must go through a lot of those!

Suddenly, I'm a damn breast cancer expert! I'm using medical terminology, some of which I'd never heard of before. HER2 negative, ERPR positive, DCIS, BRCA2 gene, lumpectomy, mastectomy, mammogram, FNA, core biopsy, axillary clearance, chemotherapy, radiation, the list goes on. In addition, I'm being told not to drink the water out of our taps. Not to eat the meat in the supermarket. Or the fruit, or the vegies. We need to switch to a fully organic diet. Why didn't I know about this before this breast cancer news and why isn't everyone worrying about this stuff? 

So what do I tell my girls when they ask what's wrong with Mummy? Do they understand? Do they really know what their Mum is going through? What do I say to Jazzy when she says one of her little pre-school friends said she doesn't like her Mums hair? How do I help my wife, the woman I love, the mother of my children? I'm not a doctor! What the hell do I say when she tells me she had a dream about dying again last night? When she says she feels like a ticking time-bomb? When she cries, out of the blue, just sitting on the couch watching tv or doing the dishes? When she tells me she's petrified this cancer will come back, and she doesn't want to miss out on seeing our girls grow up? Watch them get married and have children of their own. To tell you the truth, I've been making it all up as I go. Absolutely winging it! I really don't know if the answers I have provided were right or wrong, but ultimately, I have just tried to keep as calm, realistic and positive as I possibly can.

So back to my feelings. Of course all blokes have them. But in this particular case, just how much should I share with you? Before writing this paragraph, I wrestled with my thoughts of what might come of it if I was to write about the reality of this disease potentially getting the better of Emma one day. Finally, I asked her what she would like me to do and she answered with a rather matter-of-fact kind of response, that all I'd be doing is being realistic and that I should write about it.

I have really only thought about the possibility of Em not beating this cancer once. We were in the surgeons office after her second round of surgery and he was giving us the 'stats'. Em was given only a 35% chance of surviving this cancer if she chose to do nothing further, after her two lots of surgery. For me, that was a significant moment. My thoughts immediately turned to my two little girls. What the hell am I going to do if Em is not around anymore? How will I raise them on my own? How will I work? Pay the bills? Teach them to be good, kind and considerate young girls? Talk to them about 'girlie' stuff when they become teenagers? STOP! That sort of thinking doesn't help anyone! I don't think like that anymore. It is all positive now and I love her so much that nothing I picture in my future doesn't include her in it!

As horrible as it sounds, I just keep thinking that we are still better off than many others out there in the world. Some people don't have the opportunity to 'cheat' death. When their number is up, they could be hit by a car tomorrow. I feel like we're actually very lucky to have been given an opportunity, by the powers that be, to fight this cancer. We know where we stand and what we have to do to beat it.

To those of you who know Emma well, you'll agree with me when I say that Em is one of the kindest, happiest, most caring and thoughtful people you're likely to ever meet in your lives. The world would most certainly NOT be a better place without her in it! She is always smiling and has an infectious, bubbly personality that I have always admired about her. I just wish I could protect her from this and make it all go away. That's what this all comes down to. As her husband, I feel the overwhelming need to 'protect' her and I struggle with the realisation that much of this fight is Emma's and Emma's alone.

We don't sweat the small stuff anymore. We enjoy spending family time together. Every now and then, when our girls are playing together or being extra-specially cute, Em and I often look at each other and, almost like we can read each others minds, we just have that overwhelming love that any parent has for their children. Those are the moments that I cherish most. They are family moments. Mum and Dad moments that I want to continue to have for many, many years to come. With Emma, by my side.

As Emma has mentioned several times already in her blogs, the support from our family and friends has been unbelievable. From our parents, Em's sister Liz and family (Liz shaved her head with Em - what an absolute bloody legend!), our close circle of friends, Emma's work colleagues and the Pre-Primary School Mums (and Dads) who have all played a part, in numerous ways, to help us deal with this situation. Not to mention the fundraising on her behalf by Organic Home with the "Think Pink for Emma" candles and also Birdy, Goona and Benny and their "Shave for Em" evening. People have just been amazing! How are we ever going to be able to repay them?

If I can offer any advice to those reading this right now, it would simply be to 'stop and smell the roses' people. Don't worry about what you don't have, enjoy what you do have.

Love you babe! 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Ring-a-ding-ding..... Round 2 done and dusted!

Well, it has been just over a week since Ryan shaved my head and I must say I am missing my hair :(  He initially gave me a # 1 cut (when it first started to fall out) however over the past few days I have noticed more and more bald patches - in fact there is hardly any hair left now.  My scarves have been getting a good work out lately which was nice for the first few days but now I wish I could just throw my hair up into a ponytail...... to do something as simple as this would make me so happy.  Poor Jasmine doesn't like my new 'do' and often says 'I wish you had long hair again Mummy'.  On the other hand Baylee says I have a beautiful head and loves to rub it!  My fingers and toes are crossed that I don't lose my eyelashes and eyebrows as well - I suppose time will tell.  One pleasure I am enjoying though is having the hot shower run over my head each morning ..... it is the most fantastic sensation!

Unfortunately I wasn't able to return to work between my 1st and 2nd Chemo treatments due to being so unwell (from side effects) followed by tonsillitis and a bad cold.  I miss all of my work friends and am really hoping I will be able to return for a few days over the next couple of weeks - I also think it will be a nice distraction for me.

There are times when I feel I can never escape the fact that I have breast cancer.  Obviously I can't run from it but everywhere I look something reminds me of what I am going through - whether it be all the drugs I have to take each day on the kitchen bench, the scarves I have in my bedroom, the many medical appointments in my diary or the hair I have lost in the bathroom.  Sometimes I wish I could just get up, walk away from it all and pretend it was all just a bad dream.

My 2nd Chemo treatment took place on Wed 24th August back at The Mount Hospital.  My lovely Dad came along to keep me company this time around (as Ryan had the flu) and we had a good time.  One of the ladies was undergoing her last Chemo treatment and to celebrate, her Mum and sister came in with scones, cupcakes, lollies for everyone - needless to say, Dad has put his hand up to accompany me to Chemo again - he was well fed!  I also got to meet a lovely new friend at Chemo (Jenny) who is unfortunately going through this battle / journey with me.  She is a gorgeous girl and we were able to have a good chat whilst having our treatment.  We are also in the same support group - The Young and the Breastless and I am looking forward to seeing her at the next meeting.  Would you believe, we have a mutual friend too - Perth is so small!

As I have said quite a number of times over the past couple of months we are continually blown away by everyone's love and support.  Last night was no exception!  Our wonderful friends Nath and Sacha invited a few of our friends to their place to 'Shave for Em' and to enjoy some yummy wood-fired pizzas.  A very big thank you to Nath, Benny, Goona and my hubby Ryan for joining me in my baldness and to Rockers for colouring her hair pink. You did a great job raising so much money for National Breast Cancer Foundation - can you believe they raised over $3,000!!!  It was a lovely night and although I was absolutely exhausted, at least the nausea was kept at bay with the stronger drugs I now have.  What a relief!  

Although I have been very tired and achy all day, it has been nice just relaxing and enjoying some fresh air and sunshine.  My parents had the girls overnight last night and Ryan's parents have the girls tonight.  So wonderful to have such fantastic support from our parents especially on the weekend following my treatments - it is hard going and not easy running around after them when I am feeling so exhausted. 

I hope you enjoy the below photos - including some from last night.

Just some of the many drugs I have to take whilst on Chemo

Our little Baylee wanting to be like Mummy

Brett and Ben (being shaved by Nath and Rockers)

Nath and Ryan (being shaved by Brett and Me!)

Group shot 1

Group Shot 2 (minus my scarf!)

Friday, 19 August 2011

Hair today, gone tomorrow :(

Since my last diary post I am happy to report that things have improved...  well kind of!  Unfortunately it took close to 9 days for me to start to feel better after my first Chemo treatment, which was a lot longer than I had expected.  I suppose it didn't help that I picked up tonsillitis from Baylee along the way - which has since progressed into a bad cold!  Seriously when it rains, it pours :( After seeing my Dr it was decided I needed to take a good dose of antibiotics in order to improve my health in time for my next Chemo treatment which is next Wed 24th Aug.

With the Chemo sickness behind me (for now!) I started to count down (or should I say, dread) the day when I would lose my hair.  It might sound vain but the thought of losing my hair really frightened me.  I have had long hair for as long as I can remember and I take a lot of pride in looking after it.  To some it may not seem like such a big deal, but to me it was.  In fact, the week leading up to day 17 (D Day, when I was told my hair would fall out) my dreams would always be about losing my hair!  Well I didn't have to wait long.  I had a shower late on Wed 17th Aug (day 14) and whilst washing my hair I could see it falling out :(  It had started and it was terrible!  I gently towel dried it after my shower and was very reluctant to brush it but knew it had to be done - I would just be kidding myself if I tried to hide it!  It was a very surreal moment and I called Ryan into the bathroom to show him what was happening - he couldn't believe the amount of hair that was sitting in our sink.  He often whinges about the odd strand (or 3) of hair I might leave in the bathroom sink but this was really going to shock him! It was all happening so quickly!  I had a good cry with him - losing my hair made everything seem real again :(  He suggested we shave it straight away but I wanted to wait.  The reason for this was that my beautiful sister Lizzy told me a couple of weeks earlier that she wanted to shave her head with me!!! Her way of showing her support for what I was dealing with. I honestly couldn't believe it and had a good cry when she told me - what an amazing thing to do! Anyway, we shaved our heads last night and had lots of laughs along the way. There were no tears (what a relief), I needed a good laugh.  I have posted some pics below of our 'before' and 'after' looks and I can honestly say I couldn't be prouder of my sister Lizzy.  She is so amazing and I love her very much :)  Such a special thing to do and I will be forever grateful for the sacrifice she has made to help and support me through my journey.  We also have some wonderful friends shaving their heads (and raising lots of money for charity) next Friday evening and I am really hoping I feel well enough to see it all happen in person!  I will post some pics of this night too on my next blog entry.  Again, I am blown away with everyone's support and generosity.

Lizzy also gave me a very special little book a couple of weeks ago called 'There's No Place Like Hope' and it is a wonderful read.  It has really helped me these past few weeks and I am often referring to it for various reasons.  I can relate to so much and I wanted to share a few things with you that stuck a chord with me - all relating to my hair (very relevant at this time):

'The fear of losing your hair, along with actually losing it, is truly worse than having it gone.  I would have never believed it, but it is true'

'The next person who carelessly says 'it's only hair' , ask them to share the experience of baldness with you!'

'Hair loss allows our illness to enter the room before our name.'

'When I lost my hair, my eyelashes and my eyebrows , I felt as if I was being erased'

Unfortunately my treatment won't be over when Chemo finishes.  I have to endure 5 weeks (5 times a week) of radiation therapy.  I met with my Radiographer during the week and she is lovely - phew :)  I was really hoping I wouldn't have to have this treatment but my medical team decided this was the best course of action.  I will definitely be taking their advice but it just means this will take me into 2012 - such a shame, I was hoping to start the new year a little differently!

We have also been receiving lots of delicious meals from our wonderful friends.  Thank you again for keeping us well fed and saving me the trouble of preparing and cooking a meal - we greatly appreciate all of your help!  Thankfully I haven't put on much weight since starting my Chemo.  My medical team advised that I should expect to put on a few kgs over the coming months.  I was quite shocked to hear this as I always thought you lost weight whilst on Chemo.  Apparently this isn't quite the case with the treatment I am on, primarily due to the steroid injection they give me to assist with nausea - it makes you very hungry!  

Well on that note I will sign off for now but at least I can be assured of no more bad hair days for a while ;)

BEFORE - Lizzy and I 

Me holding my pony tail - a little sad although quite liking my 'interim' do!

Stevie looking on as I show off my new 'do'!

Lizzy's turn - I got the honours of chopping off her pony tail!

Bye Bye Hair - Day 15 (Thursday 18th August 2011)

Lizzy and I showing off our new looks for the camera!

Getting used to wearing our scarves

Monday, 8 August 2011

"Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever"

Quote: Lance Armstrong.

I honestly don't think I could start this blog without describing Chemo.  We all hear things about this treatment and know of someone who has been through this terrible journey but I wanted to give some insight of my experience, thus far ... and let me say, it isn't pleasant :(

It has been exactly 5 days since I was injected with the three drugs that make up my particular Chemotherapy treatment.  The abbreviation is TAC and I will leave it at that - honestly there is no need to go into detail about the specific drugs themselves except to say you can't pronounce them and they are nasty.  

Ryan and I arrived at The Mount Hospital just after lunch last Wednesday.  My first appointment was with the Breast Cancer Clinic Trial Unit where they took my weight, blood pressure, pulse, etc.  I was offered a position on a new trial a few weeks ago and jumped at the chance.  In a nutshell, the worldwide study is trying to prove the link between seondary breast cancer and bone cancer.  In 85% of cases where there is a relapse of breast cancer, the cancer spreads to the bones.  The study I have joined requires me to take a Vitamin D & Calcium tablet every day (+ injection into stomach of trial drug directly after Chemo) as it is believed this will decrease the odds of the cancer going to the bones (God forbid it should ever come back).  The trial is a five year commitment but I feel it is very worthwhile and hope that a lot of good will come out of the findings.

My next appointment was with my oncologist, Prof Arlene Chan.  I was very happy to see her and she made me feel very at ease with the treatment I was about to undertake.  She answered my last minute questions and following this I made my way down to the Chemo day unit.  I was quite nervous but thankfully didn't have to wait long before we were ushered into a room full of leather recliner chairs.  There were approximately 15 chairs in the room but only 5 chairs were occupied.  Everyone seemed lovely and quite happy which surprised me.  In a way, I expected to walk in and want to burst into tears! The nurses were great and were very thorough describing the types of drugs they were injecting as well as describing the side effects each drug might give me in the coming days / weeks.  The whole procedure took over 3.5 hours as the drugs have to be administered via a saline solution - similar to diluting cordial with water I suppose.  We finished the session with an injection into my stomach which Ryan watched carefully as he had to do this the following day at home.  Thankfully I didn't have any immediate reactions (always a good start!) and was allowed to go home just after 6.00pm... what a day!!

I had a terrible sleep on Wednesday night, mostly due to Baylee being unwell.  Can you believe, she developed Tonsilitis!!  Just when I can't afford to get sick my little one becomes really unwell and is up several times a night - bugger :(  Thankfully Ryan took her off to see our Doctor the following morning for much needed antibiotics and I had a fairly good day.  Friday was also pretty good for most of the day and I was starting to think this was a breeze. Well, I spoke way to soon!!!

By Friday evening, I was starting to feel extremely nauseas and decided to go to bed early. Saturday morning arrived and I was feeling like death.  I honestly don't remember ever feeling so sick in all my life.  I couldn't move, in fact stayed in my pj's in bed past 11am (very unlike me!) and even when I got up Ryan had to help me to the bath as there was no way I could stand up in the shower.  I was so ill and felt so weak.  The thought of eating made me feel sick, yet the thought of not eating made me feel sick.  I was definitely feeling some of the numerous side effects of the chemo.  My teeth felt like they were going to fall out, my face was flushed and I was cold one minute and then burning up the next.  I felt incredibly tired and didn't know what to do.  Thankfully my beloved hair is still in tact although it is early days.  I have been told to expect to lose it come day 17/18 :(

Thankfully Jasmine had a sleep over at Nanna's house on Friday night and Mema and Pa's on Saturday so Ryan only had Baylee (who was still ill herself) and of course me to take care of.  He was amazing looking after me every step of the way and always making sure I was as comfortable as I could be.  Needless to say Saturday was a wipe out.  Unfortunately, Sunday was not much better.  In-fact, it was probably worse. I woke up at 3am feeling awful and ended up vomiting in the bathroom.  I couldn't sleep and the drugs didn't seem to be working too well.  Again spent most of Sunday either in bed or on the couch and remember having a cry to Ryan about how unfair this was and had a little "why me"moment.  It also dawned on me that unfortunately I will feel like this another 5 times before Christmas which I can honestly say I am dreading :(

Today was a definite improvement from the weekend although I have been battling nausea, tiredness,  aches / pains, chills and headaches for most of it.  I was supposed to meet with my support group today -  'The Young and the Breastless'!  Don't you just love the name :)  Unfortunately I didn't feel up to it and will instead go to the group meeting next month.

In the light of the terrible way I have been feeling these past couple of days, I can honestly say I couldn't have made it this far without my husband, my girls, my amazing Mum and Dad, Ryan's parents, Lizzy and her fam and all of my friends.  A highlight (amongst all the lows!) was the arrival of my Think Pink for Emma candles.  They are gorgeous and Ryan surprised me with the most beautiful milk bath surrounded by my Think Pink for Emma candles the night of my Chemo treatment and again the following night.  A special thanks must go to Ryan and my Mum & Dad; I haven't had to worry about a thing the past week.  Mum and I got to enjoy some yummy pumpkin soup today (thanks Lou!) and while Baylee was sleeping and I broke down and had a little cry with her.  At times it is just so hard to take everything in and I needed to let out some tears.

I must say, it is very hard to sit here and comprehend that in order to make myself better I have to put my body through this terrible treatment called Chemotherapy.  I just pray that the next few months absolutely fly by so I can enjoy the start of 2012 cancer free!

Chemo - Day One (Before)

Chemo - Day One (During)