In May 2015, my husband David and I welcomed our much wanted first baby Violet. In August 2015, eleven weeks after Violet’s birth I was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer (or as we call it in Australia, bowel cancer). At the point of diagnosis, more than two thirds of my liver was covered in secondary tumours.
My diagnosis came about due to excruciating pain in my right shoulder which sent me to the doctor who referred me on for an ultrasound. The ultrasound found liver lesions that were too extensive to count- these turned out to be secondary tumours. And so began the hunt for the primary. Due to my age (34), doctors initially thought my primary must be breast or melanoma, but tumour markers indicated that it was a GI cancer, and after an endoscopy and a colonoscopy a primary was found in my bowel.
Within two days of diagnosis, our little family had relocated to Melbourne for me to have treatment at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and to have the help of my Mum. Peter Mac, as it is affectionately known, is Australia’s only public specialist cancer hospital and the site of its largest cancer research centre. In short it is amazing, and I am thankful every day for the care provided by Peter Mac’s staff. I should also note that thanks to Australia’s health care system my treatment comes at no cost to us. I also saw a wonderful natural healer who helped me adjust my diet and my general approach to self-care.
Thankfully I seem to be responding well to treatment. At diagnosis I specifically asked not to be given a timeframe – I knew that being given an estimate of my remaining time would haunt me. Looking back, this was the best decision I could have made. I have had nine rounds of FOLFOX 6 plus Avastin resulting in my tumour markers dropping from more than 1600 to under 100. My liver tumours have also shown significant shrinkage and I am hopeful that a liver resection may now be an option for me.
My life has changed dramatically since diagnosis, but it certainly hasn’t been all bad. Paulo Coelho writes of us standing with “one foot in a fairytale and the other in the abyss”. A cancer diagnosis throws both the fairytale and the abyss into sharp relief. I very much miss my easy assumptions that life was largely kind and that I was in control – in some ways the loss of this has been the hardest thing to cope with. However, in some ways both David and I are happier now – the cancer has definitely clarified our values and our hopes and we take great joy in Violet. I’ve always been a very driven and anxious person – strangely I’m a lot calmer than pre-diagnosis and I have a stronger sense of who I am. Cancer has also done some amazing things for our relationships with friends and family. It makes it very clear who is here for you and who is not. Sometimes this is surprising but for the most part we’ve been very blessed with friends and family. I am convinced that the love and prayers directed at us are helping. I’ve also connected with some other younger people with cancer through social media which has been very important to me. Social media in general has made this whole experience a lot easier.
I don’t really know what the next months hold – definitely lots more chemotherapy, hopefully some surgery and maybe SIRT. Sometime I dare to hope that I can be completely cured – that SIRT treatment or surgery will be my miracle. But more often I simply hope that the doctors can continue to pat down my metastases as they pop up – sort of like a game of hungry hippos but with chemotherapy drugs and ugly tumours.Return to Faces of Blue