In February last year, on what was an ordinary day, our worlds collapsed. With one phone call from my mum, everything changed. She had breast cancer. At that stage, this was all we knew. I have two older brothers, and this shook them to their core, just as it did my dad and I. For mum, it had not sunk in at that stage. No one could really say much in those first 48 hours. It was shock and disbelief. Was this really happening to our mum?
There were a million questions we had, and we wanted all the answers right then and there, as my mum also has Behcet’s, a rare but deadly blood disorder. We rushed home, as there was only one place we wanted to be–next to our mum. In her true to form way, she was mostly upset we were taking time from our lives to be there for her. She was upset she was taking us away from our day to day lives. What she needed to know was that she is our life. We would be nowhere else but with her.
Her diagnosis was not good. It was stage 4 breast cancer. It did not feel like a pea, as we are told to feel for. It felt much larger than that and was just all of a sudden there. It developed within only 12 months, as her mammograms are always up to date, as unfortunately, her sister, my Aunty Kathy, has also fought this horrible disease, but with the same grace and dignity as my mum. My beautiful, kind and happy Aunty also won the battle against this thing called breast cancer.
Shock cannot describe hearing that word–CANCER. Sitting beside mum in the oncologist’s office, everything went into slow motion. I cannot imagine the fear she felt, but she didn’t show it. She faced this news with her normal strength and grace, but we had fear, like none we had known before. We wanted this cancer out of her.
I kept saying, “Why her? Why her? She has had enough to suffer through.” My mum turned to me and said, “Why not me? So many others have had to get over this pink mountain,” as she started to refer to it.
The day of surgery came, and it was for my dad, my brothers, our partners, and I, a terrifying blur. This was our mum, our best friend, and for the first time throughout this, I saw her fear when she was looking at my brothers, my dad and I, getting ready to go into theatre. This was really happening!
Her Behcet’s meant she could have bled to death during surgery. Her blood always has to be thin in order to keep it from clotting. The surgeons needed her blood to thicken to operate, but too thick would mean that clots were a very real and life-threatening possibility, so there was double the fear we could lose her, not only to this aggressive cancer but during surgery to a clot and the many other factors associated with Behcet’s. We came close to losing her some years back to Behcet’s. It had caused an aortic aneurysm. Thankfully, she made it through a triple A, and now she was forcedarole to fight again to get through this.
“Why” was all I could say! I was so angry at everything. This just didn’t seem fair. It seemed so cruel. It was numbing, something I now know many supporters of loved ones going through cancer feel.
Those hours waiting at the hospital for her to come out from surgery were hell on earth, but soon she was with us in recovery, true to form, she was happy. I think she was happy to just be there with us, happy her grandchildren were there offering her a lollipop. My nephew reaching up from his pram to give Nanna his lollipop was the only time in that first visit to the hospital that she got teary. They were relief tears, I think.
The lumpectomy and removal of lymph nodes was just the beginning of beating this cancer. Next, she started 18 weeks of chemotherapy. This is where my heart broke in those months. My mum, this amazingly strong, positive, funny, graceful and beautiful woman was weak, sick, frail and just trying to get up each day. But she did get up each and every day. Sometimes it was just to take the countless medications that came with this process, sometimes it was just for 10 minutes, but she forced herself to get up, sometimes just to keep me company. That’s who my mum is. I worried I would be bored by the hours spent at home with her. But I was not bored, and I was not leaving her side. Despite having no strength or want to get up, her will and courage beat out the want to stay in bed. She got up and got dressed, which most days took all the energy she had.
The day came where her hair was falling in large chunks, so again, like the champion she is, she stated, “Let’s just get rid of it.” What a hard thing to face as a woman. I offered to shave my head too, but no!! She would not have a bar of that.
She faced that alone, allowing me to be playful whilst shaving it and giving her a mohawk. It only stayed for 5 minutes, much to mine and my brothers’ horror. We thought she looked great with a little mohawk. What mattered on that day was that she had her sense of humour, during what had to have been a horrible moment for any woman.
We were blessed to have a wonderful, caring, and supportive friend, Shelly, who owns Starkles on the Gold Coast. Shelly and her family help run the look good, feel good workshops. Having watched my mum go through this, I think this is an organisation that deserves amazing recognition. We got a beautiful wig and so many lovely scarves and fake fringes and learnt so many things to help make a woman feel like a woman when she is feeling her worst. Having those little things made a world of difference.
Chemo was a road tougher than anyone of us could of imagined. It put mum in intensive care on one occasion and in hospital on many other occasions. Not once did she complain, through kidney infections and through pain which made her white as a sheet, she was going to win this battle and fight it, even though she had no fight left. Chemo was taking all her fight from her and breaking her down a little more each round she endured. But every three weeks, she found a little more strength. She really only got two days every month of feeling okay. The rest was horrible, unbearable sickness, as most on this site know.
I cried every single night in the shower. I would not cry in front of her and told her I had sinus when she would question why I was puffy and red around the eyes. She kept giving me antibiotics, worrying more about us than herself. I would flush them down the toilet, having to tell my dad if the pipes blocked, it was my fault. How could I be selfish and cry when she was not.
I have always admired my parents. To say I admire them now is an injustice. They simply astound me. It’s the same for my brothers, as I could see their fear as they tried to remain the strong men they are for mum, but I could feel their heartbreak and see their fear. They wanted to fight it for her, but it cannot be done. They wanted to protect her, but all they could do was be there for her. They wanted to do more and take this battle on for her, we couldn’t. We had to watch her suffer through it.
But mum eventually got through those 18 weeks of chemo. How she did this and where her strength came from I will never know. It is strength and courage I had never witnessed, and to say I am proud of her is an understatement. I am so grateful for our lifelong family friends who made things a little easier just by being there for her. The ones who love you, I believe, are a huge part of beating this disease.
Next was radiation for weeks and weeks on end. Although it burnt her skin badly and left her exhausted and tired, she again didn’t complain. She didn’t complain that the radiation was a massive concern for the Behcet’s. All these cancer fighting treatments required to save her life were working against the treatments needed to keep her alive from Behcet’s. It was terrifying.
Today, mum has been finished with treatment for a little under a year. The wig is gone, and in its place is beautiful “fluffy” brown hair. In place of her sickness is happiness and the want to help other women through this, even though she is still healing herself. Us, her children, inclusive of our partners, we just look at her in awe as she has conquered a mountain so big and seemingly impossible with determination, grace and dignity and fought with all she had to stay alive for both herself and for us. My sister-in-law said it perfectly during those tough months: “This cancer will never be the same once mum gives it the punishing defeat it deserves.” And she did punish it, and she did defeat it!!
Never having been in a chemotherapy ward before, we were back then blissfully unaware of the amazing and tireless work the nurses, doctors and volunteers do for cancer patients. Without the amazing men and woman at the Port Macquarie cancer unit, we would not have our mum. Our world would have fallen to pieces. We will forever be in their debt.
Never give up if you are going through this horrid disease. Even on the days you feel you have nothing left to fight with, don’t give up. I could see it on the days mum wanted to give up. Who could blame her? But she had to push that negativity from her mind, and if you are a son or daughter watching a parent go through this, just hold their hand and let them know you will push or pull them over “the pink mountain.” When they think they have no more fight, remind them that there is a light on the other side of that mountain!!
To my beautiful mum, you have always been the kind of woman I hope to be. I always believed you could move mountains. Now I know for certain you can. I love you with all my heart. Thank you for being the fighter you are. You inspire me every day to be better, to do better, to live my life my way and to the fullest. You have shown me nothing is impossible. You are the bravest woman I know, and I am thankful every day you are my mum.
Here is my hero, looking amazing 4 weeks after her last chemo and a week before starting radiation.
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.
This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.