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