I was fortunate to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 45 – fortunate that it was detected very early though serendipitous circumstances. While doctors cleaned up a horrid appendix, they saw a cyst which I then had monitored, removed and biopsied. With a strong family history of female cancer, I had been preparing (and being prepared) for this challenge for a while.
My diagnosis was Stage 1 Grade 3 epithelial cancer in both ovaries. I underwent a pelvic clearance and six sessions of chemo. Eighteen months on, the cancer task was ‘complete’. Unfortunately, after two years, I discovered it had returned and spread. It was inoperable, but responded well to another round of chemotherapy. From then, I stayed on a monthly maintenance program of chemo, until the tumours returned again in late 2015. I underwent another five sessions of chemo (I wasn’t up to facing the sixth!), and responded well. In June 2016, I decided to stop chemotherapy, and give my body a break, and I have started on a regime of oral ‘PARB Inhibitors’.
So far, so good. I know that the tumors will return, but I am making the most of time that, five years ago, I didn’t think I would have. I will get to see my daughter graduate from high school, and may even see university graduations and weddings.
After my initial diagnosis, I was quite lost and confused. Then I found Beautiful You. I saw a small ad in a local paper, and decided to join a monthly meeting. Straight away, I found a safe and supportive refuge. Everyone had a different story, a personal journey, but there was something that bound us all. At Beautiful You I found I could share as much or as little as I wanted. There was little talk of medical things, but lots of talk about life.
I continued to attend Beautiful You gatherings for many years (until I left the Coast), and they continued to provide me the support I needed. I have made some lifelong friends through Beautiful You – the greatest support of all
My cancer provided me the opportunity to meet some wonderful women who I would not otherwise have met. I have been presented fantastic opportunities to use my existing talents to spread the message of vigilance and support. I am particularly passionate about helping to establish processes to ensure that all women with cancer, regardless of location and hospital, are provided appropriate and relevant information at crucial times (which isn’t when they are leaving hospital!).
You can’t choose your fate, but you can choose how you respond to it.
My name is Debbie and this is a bit about me and my breast cancer experience and also how Beautiful You has helped and supported me over the years.
In Nov 2005 , at age 43, I was right in the middle of my pre Christmas rush , as the owner operator of my own business .
Still , I decided to make the time to see my GP about a couple of suspicious breast lumps I’d been keeping an eye on .
Over a couple of months , I’d become increasingly convinced they needed investigation.
I’d discovered them during my monthly self examinations.
It was like a crazy whirlwind within a week I was diagnosed with invasive adenocarcinoma (breast cancer that has begun in the ducts and spread into the surrounding breast ) .
I was booked into surgery for a modified radical mastectomy and axilla lymph node resection .
Turned out there was actually 5 x different tumours in the breast and they were all thriving on my oestrogen (ER positive).
Over the next eighteen months I successfully juggled the running of a high demand , high stress business , and my medical treatment . I was also the sole provider for my family and a sole trader , responsible for paying a mortgage and keeping the roof over the families head. (My husband is on a disability pension)
I went on a clinical trial (nearly died from an allergic reaction) , went onto Tamoxifin which left me with side effects that made working even more difficult . I also had a second mastectomy and then finally a total hysterectomy .
Eventually , I felt that I shouldn’t keep giving 100% to my clients and also expect to deal with my own medical issues .
So , I closed the business in 2007, and my husband and I decided that we would move to the coast like we’d wanted to do for years. We bought our adult son and (future) daughter in law with us.
The only “down side” was, that I too ended up on a pension, due to the permanent side effects of cancer treatments. Still that’s OK – I’m still here.
I was looking for Breast Cancer support groups in the area when I heard about Beautiful You and contacted Deb Clayton and explained that I was looking for somewhere to make contact with other cancer patients who may be able to share their medical tips on various treatments and even breast reconstruction etc.
That was several years ago now .
Since then I have enjoyed the monthly support groups , various activities and been to informative talks with expert medical doctors , had soothing nurturing treatments when I needed distressing . I have also been spoilt with tickets to special events (that we couldn’t otherwise afford to attend) .
Last year 2015 – as I was preparing for my breast reconstruction surgery (after 10 x years ) I had a CT scan to help surgeons plan the details of the surgery .
Instead , I was told that they had discovered that the cancer was back and that this time it is terminal .
I can have treatments , to try and “buy me more time”.
I’ve been told I have a 25 % chance of getting to 5 x years and that the prognosis is “ bleak”.
The tumours are inoperable and I will be undergoing some fairly aggressive treatments .
Since November , Beautiful You has reached out to offer (even more) assistance and emotional support to me.
Debbie checks in to see how I’m doing with the treatments and if I need help with housework or other things that
will be difficult for me/us.
There have been unexpected surprises and even gifts that have been uplifting and there’s something special about knowing that people care and want to help .
It lifts my spirits and helps to spur me on when I’m tired or flat.
Beautiful you have organised and funded some lymphedema drainage massages for me.
Very important treatment to help out with the side effects of radiation burns and scarring , that I simply can’t afford on a pension.
There’s been everything from fresh fruit and vegies to a pass for me to be able to take my three year old grandson to
Underwater World in Mooloolaba. Creating happy memories for him is so important to me.
The work that Debbie and all those involved is wonderful and very much appreciated .
The many volunteers , the people who donate goods to the op-shops , the fund raisers and the businesses who support Beautiful You with donations and other assistance … really , it’s incredible.
I would like to thank them
My journey with my daughter
A month later we learned that Renée had an aggressive breast cancer and although we did not know it at the time, it was the start of the fight for her life. As her mother my life changed in an instant.
Greg and I had always planned to retire to the Sunshine Coast, to be close to my children and Grandchildren, to travel, to be spontaneous and enjoy the fruits of successful careers and a wonderful marriage.
After Renée’s diagnosis I did not consider the fact that she would not be a breast cancer survivor, I just wanted to be with her, to support and love her. Greg and I decided to expedite our plans and moved. Our move was difficult, but understood, by our other children still in Canberra.
Renée was the most courageous woman I have ever met, even in her darkest times she never complained. She was one of a kind with an unsurpassed loyalty and generosity of spirit; she was the ultimate organizer of causes to help others. She was gregarious, hilarious, vivacious, wicked, fiercely determined, and larger than life. Renée was loved by so many; she had the ability to have wonderful friendships with such a diverse range of people that were part of her enormous social network.
Renée was an astute businesswoman in partnership with her husband, but her most significant role in life was as a devoted mother to her children. Her children were her life there was never a moment when they were idle. Footy, dance, activities, planning holidays she always had a project.
If Renée had a project you ducked for cover. She was the CEO, the queen of delegation and she took no prisoners, she had us all run ragged, she had a way of pulling you in, and getting you to do things you would never dream off (case in point my visit to the adult shop).
Renée became an ambassador for the Beautiful You Charity and worked tirelessly supporting other woman with cancer and helping Deb with Beautiful You fund raising pursuits.
I was more than Renée’s mother I was her Executive Personal Assistant. When her daughter started school we made a special pact to sneak off and have coffee or lunch all by ourselves at least once a week. This plan was short-lived as a month later our world shattered once again when we leaned she had secondary lung metastases. In true Renée style we just adjusted the venue for to the chemotherapy clinic. She would bounce in once a week and the staff would say to us “here are the girls’ for their bonding session.”
She was amazing still playing football when she had advanced secondary lung cancer. I remember her Doctor asking her at a consultation about her breathlessness. She replied, “It was OK the first half but I had to come off after that”. He was truly gobsmacked. At another consultation after we had been on a family holiday in Bali, he asked her if she had lost weight. She got up turned around hit her back side and said. Look at the size of my butt are you SERIOUS.
However difficult the circumstances, this was a truly beautiful time we shared together and one that Renée valued. She left me a cherished letter telling me how much she loved our special times together but was pleased when for a short time we were able to swap chemotherapy for massages from Deb at Beautiful You.
We were to be delivered another devastating blow in November 2011 when Renée developed brain metastases and she became increasingly sick. As always Renée was determined to have an unequalled 6th birthday party for her daughter where a cast of 1000’s arrived at the house for dance party.
Our beautiful Renée also planned what was to be her last family Xmas. We were delivered the menu and delegation of tasks by email. For her to be surrounded by those who loved her fulfilled her wish for the complete family Xmas.
In February 2012 things were really deteriorating for Renée. She was becoming frail but her next primary focus was her son’s 8th birthday in March. Again she remained solidly determined and we celebrated another big bang event. What a great day she had.
Renée had never asked Doctor the question of time; she complied with everything he continued to throw at her to give us precious time. But the time had come; she needed to know and she asked. Knowing now that she only had months left, we cried, we loved each other and we spoke with gut wrenching honesty. BUT THEN!!!!
Within hours Renée was on a mission to achieve absolutely everything she needed to do. My daughter and I were a team; we were in a good place together, as heartbreaking as it was she needed me to be strong. She had an agenda and was ruthless in her determination. We ripped the house apart she wanted everything in order for her family. She had us cracking, and everyday her goals were ticked off.
For me, accepting and dealing with the fact that my beautiful daughter was dying was as you can imagine very difficult. I did cope, even though some days I did not think I could get through another day. As her mother, I had to also remind myself everyday that Renée was in her early 30’s, she did not think like a woman my age and would never have the opportunity to learn, grow, and to experience life stages that afford women maturity, confidence, knowledge, wisdom and hindsight. For us, maintaining Renee’s emotional health through this journey was the priority and she set the bar very high for us all.
How on earth Renée achieved her last goal to go on an Interstate family road was beyond me. She was frail and deteriorating every day. It was so important for her to say goodbye to the people she loved. When she returned from this special trip, it signified to Renée that she had ticked off her list and she could now refocus on dealing with the constant struggle to survive that her life had become.
Renée was surrounded by love in her final hours. She got to say goodbye to her precious children and a few special family members and friends. I was with my daughter for her first breath and her last. I am blessed to have had this time, not a thing undone, or a word unsaid.
It is very difficult to describe my life today. The reality is that life goes on, as it should. People move on, as they should. My private time alone and with my husband, are often fraught with emptiness, loss, and pain and longing for my daughter. There is not a moment that I do not think of her.
My daughter’s death has made me more aware of the beautiful things that surround me, and I am a better person for it. I am loved and supported by Greg and many wonderful friends, that seem to be able to say and do the little things that help you get up and do it all again.
Renée’s legacy is for Deb and the Beautiful You Charity achieving the dream of opening a retreat for women with cancer and their families.
At Renée’s service I finished with these words.
My daughter made me PROUD, my daughter was AWESOME, my daughter LIVED STRONG.
My daughter WAS A MEGASTAR
LISTEN TO YOUR GUT.
I was told I didn’t have cancer three times. Because I was too young, because I had no family history, because my ultrasound wasn’t suspicious. It was only after almost six weeks from my initial appointment that I insisted upon a biopsy because I KNEW deep down, the lump in my breast wasn’t a ‘breast mouse’ which is what they kept telling me it was.
Sure enough, after I had two different biopsies they diagnosed me with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, the aggresive kind. The ‘oh shit’ kind. A week after my diagnosis, I had my boob chopped off and they confirmed it was stage two, grade three and it had spread to 3 of my lymph nodes. You know the rest…chemo, radiation, hormone drugs, menopause….a whirlwind of emotions and drugs.
The shit show is over now, apart from the hot flushes, and I am all clear. I’m one boob down and a completely different girl to who I was 6 months ago but I’m happy and healthy and doing the whole ‘living life to the fullest’ thing and I’m so damn grateful I could burst. I have a new love for life, I am happier than I’ve been in years and I love the hell out of the people around me.
But I want something good to come from this, I want to help people, like people helped me when I needed it and I want to spread the word about the importance of early detection but also the importance of trusting your gut. My story could have been a hell of a lot different If I had listened to my GP, If I had not insisted on that biopsy, even when they told me it could do more harm than good. The type of cancer I had was so aggressive and so fast growing, it would have for sure spread throughout my body by now. But because I didn’t fit the profile, I didn’t say answer ‘yes’ to family history and because of my age, they told me I was fine. If anyone can take something from this…like booking that mammogram, checking their boobs right now or following up any concerns that they have with their Doctor, or just realising the importance of how quickly everything can change and how every single day we get on this earth is a blessing, then I’ll be happy.
Thank you to the amazing Helga Dalla, Photo Journalist and Alicia Cowie from Henna Folk for inviting me to be part of this project. Thank you also to Mandy from The Flower Pod for the stunning flower crowns you made us for the day. It was both fun and heartwarming to spend the day with such beautiful, talented, creative women.
I was actually blown away by the talent of these women.
This is something I never imagined doing but like I said, I’m living life to the fullest, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and hopefully sprinkling a little bit of inspiration to those I meet along the way.
Love Hayley xo
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