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