Happy New Year! I hope you have all had a restful and enjoyable break. We have had quite a bit of wind and rain but I have managed to spring clean my house and do a bit of writing.
Have a great 2014!
Seven Years on from Breast Cancer
On Wednesday, my 46th birthday, it will be my seven year anniversary of the first breast cancer diagnosis.
What can I say? There is so much but how can I express it.
At 8.30am on 8 January 2007, I went to my biopsy follow up appointment with friend Jane. I felt symbolically that as it was my birthday, I was sure that this appointment would just be a formality. It is funny how much our lives are governed by illogical beliefs and superstitions, even though we think we are being logical.
When Dr Mouat the breast Surgeon said that there was not good news and that it was breast cancer, it was too big to deal with. I just said ‘okay’ a lot. I was unschooled in the world of cancer and not much of it made sense. I did not know the difference between radiation and chemotherapy; I didn’t know what grades or stages where. I was a blissful novice that rapidly entered the roller coast rumble tumble of that parallel universe, being ill in the medical system.
On that day, I decided on the type of surgery booked for one week later. I had numerous follow up diagnostic tests e.g. x-rays and somehow managed to stay sane plus tell my partner Shaz and my family and friends. Shaz was understandably grief stricken and came home from work.
I told my Mum that I needed to have surgery to remove the tumour. I didn’t use the words breast cancer.
I also had to talk to my manager Sandra and arranged sick leave to have the surgery and recover. At that time, Dr Mouat said I would need six weeks of radiation treatment, three weeks after the surgery.
I also talked to my GP Susanna who said that the cancer was “imminently treatable”.
All the while, I was in shock and thought there had been a mistake. This was ‘me’. I was young, well 39 that day, I was a vegetarian, didn’t drink or smoke, hardly ate sugar, exercised and did meditation. I wasn’t the right type to get cancer. These thoughts unfortunately continued for many months and did not help one iota.
I did a lot of research into how breast cancer was created and why I would have got it. I am now at peace with the fact that genetic mutations occur due to environmental and emotional stressors. There are a lot of crap websites out there and claims that people can cure cancer with one single drink or whatever. It is very confusing for anyone and I chose to be informed by evidence based science.
I also reflected on my friend Tracy who had died of breast cancer. She chose to go the natural route and I felt instinctively that if she couldn’t treat her breast cancer with natural therapies, why would I be able to?
Being ill is busy. There are so many appointments to prepare for treatments and surgery. All the while, my head was just spinning.
I had help with an EFT therapist, Jasmina, who helped me move past any negative associations with the word cancer, prepare for my surgeries and treatment (I had a hospital and surgery phobia from childhood) and made me realise that I could be open to healing.
As we progressed through diagnostic tests, I was told that I had a high grade tumour which was stage 2 (it had not spread to my body but was aggressive and present in the lymph nodes under my arm). Treatment recommended was six months of chemo, a year of Herceptin, five years of hormone therapy (on top of the surgery and radiation). To make things worse, the Herceptin came at the cost of $70,000. I didn’t have those funds in reserve and that was a huge stressor.
I came around to feeling that I could do this and I could survive. After the first chemo, the experience was so bad that I decided to stop treatment. I had spent nearly 12 hours vomiting which no one seemed to be able to stop and then two days shaking uncontrollable. It was one of the worst experiences in my life.
My GP gave me some good advice and encouraged me to go forward with chemo without regret. I did soldier on as I lost my hair and somehow managed to work though most of the treatments (I had a mortgage to pay).
The year was horrendous and took a huge toll on me, my family, friends and colleagues and my partner. However, friends and family rallied and raised $55,000 towards my Herceptin treatment. I am eternally grateful.
As I turned 40 a year later, most of my friends were having parties. I had a dinner with my parents and some friends and did a hot air balloon ride. I had no hair and wore a beanie and was still in the midst of 18 months of cancer treatment.
As I neared my last treatment, my partner and I broke up. I had organised a trip to Italy as my post-treatment celebration. But as I flew, I just felt unwell and knew that I should just have stayed at home. I did have some lovely times though with my family in Wales.
I can’t pretend that any part of this was easy but I had lots of support through the Cancer Society, from my friends and family and a great medical team.
In 2009, I did a three week trip to Brazil and Argentina with friends and family. It turned out to be just the trick and gave me a boost. I felt that I got my life force back and life started to get easier.
In 2010, life was turning around. I did a trip to the United States, Wales and Portugal with my family. By the end of the year, I was working full time and started to get in to life once more. I applied for a posting in Papua New Guinea and was all set to move over for two years.
In early 2011, the annual mammogram and check-up revealed a small calcification which needed to be checked out. I had a biopsy just before I went on holiday and was told that I couldn’t have the results during the holiday. The Nurse said that she could email me to say that I had nothing to worry about or to make a follow up appointment. I received an email detailing the follow up appointment made for 9am, the day after I returned. During March, I was in Singapore, Wales and Ireland all the while knowing that I was going back to New Zealand most probably to be told that I had breast cancer again. I had a lot to think about.
On 24 April 2011, I was diagnosed with breast cancer again. This of course was shocking but nothing in comparison to breast cancer number one. I had learned so many lessons from the first diagnosis and had support and resources mobilised quite quickly. I also decided to write about my experiences to educate and support others and set up a website called Breast Cancer Nirvana. I had a mastectomy, breast reconstruction from tissue in my tummy, three months of chemo plus a year of Herceptin. I chose not to work during treatment that time and seemed to bounce back a lot faster. I also knew what to expect and could prepare myself better.
In September 2013, I went to France for a month as my end of treatment celebration. It was the best month of my life and really made me realise that life was good. I was brimming with inspiration and enjoyed every minute of it.
In January 2014, it is nearly 18 months since I finished cancer treatment. I am feeling quite fit and healthy; I still get tired but I am cancer free and going onwards and upwards. I still have annual check-ups and will go back into that process in March.
It is seven years since the first diagnosis and in that seven years, I have spent around three years having cancer treatment and much of the rest of the time, recovering from cancer treatment.
The most pivotal thing for me is that 2014 sees the balance of my life swing as the majority of my life in the last seven years has not been spent doing cancer treatment.
I have a different life now but I am actually happier than before the cancers. I have spent a lot of time thinking about life and doing healing work on my mind and body. I do appreciate that life is short and really aim to live my life on my terms. I work four days a week in international aid/policy work and one day a week writing and working on my website. I have great friends and lots of support. I lead a gentle and healthy life which I enjoy and endeavour to live life as if I only have a short time left. We only have one life to live.