Thursday, 17 March 2016

Closing in on 5 years cancer free!

Three cheers for the subject line! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Lizzy is home!!

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

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

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

Our family enjoying Elizabeth Quay, Perth 

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