Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Think Pink for Me!

I am continuously blown away and very overwhelmed by the loving support myself and my family have received since receiving my diagnosis.  This week has been no exception!  The beautiful home cooked meals are still being delivered by our wonderful friends, my ironing basket is always empty, beautiful little cards and thoughtful gifts are often found in our letterbox or on our doorstep, our girls are loving the many play dates with friends, I have been enjoying the company of some amazing friends and the list goes on and on.  I am forever grateful for all the support we have been receiving - I hope one day I can repay each and every one of you, but for now please accept my sincerest thank you for everything!

The title of this new post stirs lots of emotions for me.  Towards the end of last week I received an email that absolutely took my breath away.  It was from my special friend Alli, who wanted to do something to support me along my journey and to help raise awareness for breast cancer, and for cancer in general.  Alli's family has recently been touched by cancer with the loss of their much loved father.  It really saddens me to know that you can't meet anyone today that hasn't been affected by cancer in some way during their lives.  This brings me to Alli's lovely sister who owns Organic Home - a wonderful company that specialises in natural hand poured soy wax candles.  They are offering their customers a special 'Think Pink for Emma' candle range with 100% of the profits going to Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) and Breast Cancer Care WA (my chosen charities).  There will be three different sizes and three different scents available and they will be sold in beautiful glass jars called metros.  The candles will have a special custom made 'Think Pink for Emma' sticker with a breast cancer pink ribbon.  I still tear up and get very emotional when I think about this exceptionally touching gesture.  I am hoping all of my family and friends dig deep and help a very worthy cause such as BCNA and Breast Cancer Care WA and of course support a very special family business, Organic Home.  I honestly can't thank them enough!  For more information their website is www.organichome.com.au :)

With my first Chemo treatment now just 1 week away, I decided to surprise my little family by taking them away to Bunker Bay for the weekend.  It was just what the Doctor ordered (so to speak!) and we had a wonderful time.  I told Ryan and the girls about the plans last Friday evening and we left first thing the very next morning.  The last month has been hard on us all and I still feel terrible about ruining Ryan's birthday (my diagnosis took over!) so decided this weekend would be a belated birthday present and family holiday all in one.  We enjoyed our 2 bedroom villa, full buffet breakfasts (including smoked salmon - my fav!) each morning, lunching at Bootleg Brewery, enjoying the chocolate and Simmo's ice cream at the MR Chocolate Factory,  tasting a few wines and enjoying the company of some friends who were also down at the time :)

I have healed well from surgery although I am still a little tender and sore especially down my right arm.  My physio has advised that this soreness should improve with time although in some cases it doesn't ever go away.  It is a very difficult sensation to describe but feels like I have badly grazed my arm coupled with constant pins and needles.  I have been reading up and thankfully this is quite normal due to the nerves involved with my second lot of surgery.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) will be an exciting day for me and one I have been looking forward to for quite some time.  After having nearly 6 weeks break I will be returning to work!  I finished up very abruptly when I received my diagnosis and haven't been in a position to return (after all of my surgery, etc) until now.  I have been blown away by their unwavering support during the past couple of months and wonderful messages of encouragement (not to mention the signed Mark LeCras photo!)  I absolutely love what I do and am so very thankful they have given me the opportunity to return to work as and when I feel up to it whilst on Chemo.  My friends at work are very special to me and we are often laughing to the point I am crying!  Lots of good times :)

The last couple of weeks have been really nice and at times I often wonder if my diagnosis was just a bad dream.  Of course it all hits at bed time when I change into my pj's and see the huge scar across my chest - unfortunately this will be my reminder for quite some time :(

Monday, 18 July 2011

Never, Never, Never Give Up!

What an amazing few days!

Since receiving the goods news on Tuesday (no trace of cancer found in the extra lymph nodes they took 10 days ago), I have had time to reflect on the last 4 weeks.  As much as my diagnosis has rocked my world,  I do think that in some kind of way I have been lucky.  This may sound strange but I often think.... what if I hadn't scratched under my arm and onto the side of my breast that night, what if my Doctor had misdiagnosed me or sent me home telling me to keep an eye on the lump, what if I had to wait a matter of weeks or months before all the tests could be done and so on.  So much has happened since finding the lump to today and although it has been traumatic and unsettling at times, I feel that I have received the best possible care available.  For this I am forever grateful.  Time has been of the essence and my care team hasn't wasted any of it.

I have recently become a member of the BCNA group (Breast Care Network Australia) - a group I never thought I would be joining.  It has been a wonderful resource for me and I have been in contact with other woman of varying ages around the country who are going through exactly what I am going through.  It does upset me to see some beautiful girls as young as 24 having to also go through this too - life does seem so unfair sometimes :(  With this said,  I have learnt more about breast checks and can't stress enough the importance of these.  I am sad (and a little embarassed that I was so naive) not to have given myself a 'proper' breast examination before now (I always thought at my age I was too young to worry about it) so can I please ask all of you to perform a breast check -  I know you may not be able to do it right now but please make time either tonight or tomorrow to do it.  It is important this message is also passed on to all the special females in your life - I can't stress this enough.  Please let my diagnosis be a lesson learned as the earlier it is caught the better.  If I can help just one other, I will be very happy :)

Well, we are heading into my birthday week and like most years I am hoping my birthday lasts for more than one day! he he.  I am so happy that I am not in hospital and will be at home to enjoy it with my amazing family.  It does make me very nervous though that just 2 weeks after my 35th birthday I will be facing Chemotherapy.  The first treatment is making me very anxious as I have no idea how I will handle it both physically and mentally.  I am really hoping my body holds up well and I don't experience all of the horrible side effects, but unfortunately only time will tell.  I have tried to be as prepared as possible especially with the thought of losing my hair so I have ordered some beautiful scarves from the USA which were delivered this morning!  I am pleased to say they are just as gorgeous as the website and I think I might be ordering more soon - need to make sure I have a scarf to match every outfit :)  I have 'toyed' with the idea of a wig but I really don't think I can do it.  My main worry is that the wig will look just like ....a wig!  I think I am also worried about it being uncomfortable or moving / slipping if I am out - awkward!!  My first Chemo treatment is on 3rd August just after lunch and my oncologist has advised that it will be 17/18 days following this that my hair will start to fall out - aaaghhh!  She also advised that the longer my hair is, the more it is going to feel that my hair is being pulled out by the roots when it starts to fall out  - how awful!  I didn't realise this so have had a few inches chopped off already and will have it cut shorter again in a couple of weeks time.  Thankfully Ryan has the clippers on stand by (at home) for when the first lot of hair starts to fall out.  Gosh, I think that day will be very emotional for me :(

My diet is going well - I am embracing the organic lifestyle and am actually quite enjoying it!     In a strange kind of way I actually feel cleaner on the inside.  I am trying hard to cut out nearly all processed food from my diet and have also eliminated red meat and dairy products (for the moment).  In addition, we have been told about a fantastic retreat in the Yarra Valley run by the Gawler Foundation and we hope to visit there sometime in the next 6 - 9 months, depending on how I feel whilst on Chemo.  They run a 10 day cancer retreat and we have received raving reviews from friends and feel this will be very beneficial with my recovery.

Quite some time ago I decided to celebrate my 35th birthday (nearly everyone celebrates their 30th & 40th but there was no way I was going to have a 10 year gap between parties!).  I had the invites printed and would you believe they arrived in our letterbox the day I received my diagnosis :(  I cried and cried... this is not how it was meant to be.  I immediately put them aside thinking the party wouldn't happen and even contemplated at one point about throwing them in the bin! but Ryan convinced me to go ahead.  I just kept thinking there is nothing to celebrate :(  Ryan knew how excited I was about celebrating my birthday this year (obviously before the diagnosis) and felt that I needed something to look forward to.  I changed my mind and decided to go ahead (with very little notice) and I am so thankful I did.  We had a cocktail reception in (A)lure at Burswood and I had the time of my life.  It was so wonderful to see so many of my amazing friends to help me celebrate.  Of course there were a few tears during the night but for the most part I was on a 'high'.  It was so overwhelming at times.  I received so many unbelievable gifts (completely unexpected as I told everyone 'no gifts'!) and I will treasure them all.  We made sure the camera got a good work out and I have posted a couple of random pics below.  This was definitely one birthday I will never forget!  My naughty husband had arranged a cake for the evening (a big thanks to Mel for her help with this! x) and had an inspirational poster printed which had me in tears! It reads across the top 'Never, Never, Never Give Up', the speech made famous by Winston Churchill.  Underneath this were little inspirational quotes randomly printed and all of our friends have left me warm and fuzzy messages to help me get through the next 6 months.  It was a wonderful idea and I still get goose bumps when I read them and have to have the tissue box close by!  It was definitely one night I will never ever forget and am so glad I went ahead with :)  xx

Me and my amazing husband Ryan x

I said no cake!! he he

My wonderful 'school' mums and dads x

My special Burswood friends x
Our amazing group of friends x 
My inspirational poster x

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Some good news... for a change!

I had a good feeling when I woke up this morning.  Today was the day I would be receiving the pathology results from my 2nd lot of surgery held last Wednesday.  Our Jaz had a sleep over at Mema and Pa's (my parents house) last night so we enjoyed some quality time with Baylee over breakfast before she went off to daycare.  Ryan worked from home today so around mid morning I persuaded him to take me to Choc Block to enjoy a yummy hot chocolate :)  We had a good chat but I got a little teary when we stopped to ponder what news we would be receiving later today.  Needless to say the conversation quickly changed to take my mind off  things.

My first appointment was at 1.15pm with Dr Willsher (my surgeon) and he would be giving me the results from my surgery.  I was extremely nervous as last time we were in his office he told me the devastating news that cancer was found in my lymph nodes and I would need more surgery.  I was just praying that history wouldn't repeat itself and he would give me something to smile about today.  We didn't have to wait long in reception before he called my name.  We sat down in his room and a smile came across his face - this had to be a good sign!  He went onto to say that he had some good news and that there was no trace of cancer found in the 9 lymph nodes he took last week.  What a relief!!!!  I could have jumped over the desk and hugged him I was just so happy :)  He then checked to see how I was recovering physically and went on to say that I was healing very well.  He said I was a very good healer and I hope he means that in more ways than one.

My next appointment was with Prof Arlene Chan (Oncologist) and by the time we finally got to see her (she was running 45 minutes late), I had a splitting headache.  It was all becoming extremely overwhelming again but at least I had received some good news today - I kept trying to be as positive as I could.  Prof Chan was absolutely lovely and in a strange kind of way I was getting a little excited about starting Chemo!  A little bizarre I know but it means that I am onto the next stage of treatment.  As they stay, 1 step forward.... (the second lot of surgery was my steps back).  I was given a huge amount of information (which added to my headache!) but she was very honest and open about the treatment I would be about to undertake.  She definitely didn't paint a pretty picture though and spoke of things such as nausea, fatigue, hair loss, mouth ulcers, menopause, constipation and Chemo brain.  I think it was about this time my 'excitement' turned into fear :(  How could I be putting my body through this - it is hard to comprehend that you have to make your body really unwell before it starts to get better again?!?  I suppose in a way the Chemo is my 'insurance policy'.  I have to be absolutely sure that there are no microscopic cells anywhere in my body and in order to eradicate any little traces I need to do the Chemo.  She advised that my first treatment would take place on Wednesday 3rd August which gives me a 3 week break to ensure that I have properly healed from my two lots of surgery.  I will be having 6 sessions of Chemo (over 18 weeks).  It is going to be hard going and I know I will have some bad days where I am not good but I have to make the most of the good days.

I left The Mount Hospital after another 3 hour stint of specialist appointments and it started to dawn on me that The Mount is going to be my 'home away from home' for at least the next 6 months.  Certainly not something I ever thought I would be facing only 4 weeks ago...

Jaz has still been asking me lots of questions and has often asked to look at my scar.  I think she is very intrigued by all that is going on.  To help answer some of her questions we found a great book called Safina and the Hat Tree and it arrived late last week.  It is a fantastic little book that helps young children understand cancer and how the medicine can make your hair fall out, etc.  We have tried to be as open and honest with her (Baylee is too young to understand yet) as we don't want her to feel frightened by anything.

Since receiving my diagnosis all of 26 days ago we have been very proactive with our research.  I was told by my surgeon that if I was to walk out of his practice there and then and not have any further treatment there was a 65% chance I would die from this cancer.  He went on to say that if we add the additional treatment being chemo, radiation and Tamoxifen (this is a hormone based drug I will have to take for the next 5 years) my chances of this cancer taking my life is reduced to 25%.  In addition to the conventional medicine we have read about the other types of medicine available - complementary and lifestyle.  Complementary being traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, etc and Lifestyle being diet and exercise.  I have been trying some meditation of late (always thought this was something the monks did!) but I have been really enjoying sitting and relaxing with some nice soothing music playing :)  We have also been looking at organic foods with the idea of eliminating some of the processed food in our diet.  It is not until you stop and assess exactly what you are eating that you realise that some of it is soooo bad!  I have also been told to cut down on all sugar and salt in my diet which sounds easy enough (I very rarely add this to my food) but again when I was checking some of the labels on such things as pasta sauce, etc it is not as easy as you think.  Anyway lets just say it is a work in progress :)

We, as a family have decided that we will do anything and everything to ensure I beat this awful disease and for it to never ever return.  I will do this for my husband and my girls and for the rest of my family and my wonderful friends who have been supporting me through this journey.

To end another big day, I am quietly celebrating the news of my pathology results with a couple of little chocolates tonight with my green tea :)

My Inspiration.....

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Day of Surgery (2nd surgery)

The night prior to surgery I experienced De Ja Vu - didn't sleep well, up early and couldn't eat breakfast (which was good as I wasn't allowed to anyway!).  We were told to arrive at the hospital a little earlier than last time (7.30am) and experienced a far better check-in than the previous visit.  I was taken up to my room where Ryan and I watched a couple of episodes of The Hills on the iPad and it wasn't long before they came to take me up to theatre.  Once again, Ryan came with me and I remember crying even prior to being wheeled into the pre-op room.  The enormity of the situation all became too much and I couldn't believe I was having to go through all of this AGAIN!

Before long I had to say goodbye to Ryan and was moved to theatre.  I don't recall falling asleep this time but remember waking at 12.50pm.  The reason I remember the time so well was because our Jaz was performing in her school concert at 1.15pm and I was going to miss it :(  Unfortunately Ryan also missed it as he said he wanted to be with me when I woke up.  Thankfully Ryan's wonderful Stepdad and Ryan's Nanna went to support Jaz for us.

I was finally taken back to my room where Ryan was waiting for me.  Lizzy arrived a short time later and following this I decided I need to visit the bathroom.  They both helped me sit up and get to and from the toilet however on my return I felt incredibly faint and asked them to call the nurse.  I got to the bed in time and just sat on the edge - my head was spinning.  I also became very hot and asked them to open the door to my balcony (it was probably only 15 degrees but I just needed to cool down and quickly!).  I lost all colour and was in a lot of pain.  The nurses gave me a shot of pethidine and after a short time I started to feel a little better.  My dinner arrived around 5pm and although I was starving the thought of eating made me feel really unwell.  I hadn't eaten for 24 hours however it crossed my mind that if I try and eat something it might make me feel better.  Well this backfired and after taking a bite of my bread roll I thought I was going to be sick.  The nurses were great and gave me another injection to counteract the nausea.  I wasn't able to eat anything further but at least the drugs started to work.

I couldn't believe how sore I was this time around.  I really thought I would have been more sore after my 1st lot of surgery but this wasn't the case.  I was worried about this and explained my concerns to my surgeon who wasn't surprised and went on to say that they extended my previous incision further under my arm, had removed some tissue along with the lymph nodes and more nerves were involved. 

I woke up the next morning and was able to eat my breakfast - I needed some energy!  Not long after this Ryan arrived and I had quite a few visitors.  One of them was my boss and he brought in a framed photo of my favourite Eagles player - Mark LeCras who had written a personalised message just for me!!  I couldn't believe it and nothing was going to wipe the smile off my face.  It honestly made my day :)  Apart from feeling sore I was very upbeat and was looking forward to getting a good rest before returning home on Friday.

Friday arrived and I was given the all clear to go home.  Was very excited, albeit still very sore.  The drain was removed which was a huge relief and Ryan took me home.  There were some amazing gifts and flowers waiting for me which lifted my spirits and after washing my hair (with 1 hand!) we headed out to the shops - was so nice to have some normality back in my life.

I had some big kisses and cuddles with my girls when they arrived home from school & daycare.  It was wonderful to be home and I was feeling pretty good.

On Saturday morning the stark truth of what I was facing came to an abrupt return when Jaz saw me in the bathroom getting ready to have a shower.  I was worried about her seeing my scar as I didn't want it to frighten her but knew that she would see it as some stage.  I remember becoming extremely emotional when I saw her face drop and ask 'oh mummy, what happened' and 'what has the doctor done to you'.  She knew that I was sick but she didn't really know the extent of my surgery until that moment.  I had to explain that in order to make me better I would have this big scar.  As much as it was a very hard moment, I was kind of relieved that she had now seen it.

I am starting to feel a little better (pain wise) although had a few teary moments today.  I know that I am going to have some good days and bad days coming up but for now I am trying to enjoy the good ones :)