I gave up on my childhood friend Melissa Baker back in October 2014. I had driven a few hundred kilometres to see her face to face after some worrying online conversations.
Mel was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma exactly six months after my breast cancer diagnosis back in 2013 and began writing the blog I Got The Good Cancer. We referred to ourselves in jest as Kylie Minogue and Deltra Goodrem, Australian popstars that shared our cancers. We joked that there was something toxic in the school playground we shared all those years ago.
When I arrived at her home and walked up the stairs to her front door, I glimpsed her through the window. Her skeletal frame took my breath away. With the spark gone from her eyes and plagued with respiratory infection after infection, Mel had no immune system and no further treatment options offered to her. I honestly started to grieve for her demise.
This 39 year old, brilliant forensic pathologist and single mum to two beautiful kids had so, so much left to contribute.
I cried all the way to her house and all the way home from that visit. By the time I reached my city, my eyes were so swollen I could hardly see the road ahead.
When Mel’s treatment team gave up on her she sacked them and moved to another Melbourne hospital. Her new hematologist was at the forefront of a melanoma drug trial to treat lymphoma and Mel ensured she was the first Australian on that trial.
Not content with this last attempt to save herself, she has worked tirelessly to advocate for other lymphoma patients who are in the same dire position she was. She helped recruit and connect patients to the trial who had been offered no hope, and has given them much more time with their families. She no doubt will one day be credited with being the integral link that alongside the drug and doctors, saved their lives.
Two years on, Mel is in remission, and as she approaches the last eight months of the trial. she doesn’t know what the future holds beyond it. The drug is so new no one is able to yet talk of it as curative.
Mel is unbeleiveably relentless in her quest to raise enough money to fund the first specialist lymphoma nurse for Australia’s fifth most common cancer in which 5000 new Australians will be diagnosed with the next 12 months. By comparison, The McGrath Foundation for breast cancer currently has 110 nurses nationally supporting patients and their families.
I’d like to sincerely apologise to my friend for prematurely losing hope. The lesson here is there is ALWAYS hope.
Love and hope always Mel,
Mel will host a fundraising event dubbed “Not Your Average Trivia Night” at Frankston RSL’s Simpson Room on Friday, November 11, from 7pm. The event includes live music, three course meal, raffles, silent auctions and more. Tickets are $75.
For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read all about Mel’s courageous story in print here.
Life has been rolling along recently with loads of travel, with celebrations and lots of love. I was shortlisted for the Mamamia Writers Comp, which was some lovely validation for the writing of this blog. I also received an “Australian of The Year” nomination. Which despite making me laugh for weeks also left me secretly chuffed.
I seem to be relishing life at the moment.
As I approach the three year mark since I found my grade three lump in my left breast, the colour is FINALLY returning to my life, despite living with the ongoing side effects (hairloss, menopause, brittle painful bones, digestive issues, lung scarring, medication side effects, continued weight gain) from treatment for early breast cancer, I’m finally emerging from the sinkhole. This despite not even being finished with surgeries yet, as I’m still on a public waiting for reconstruction.
It’s taken some woop arsed counselling sessions, some anti-depressants, and the immersion of myself in the things I used to love to do when I was a teenager. I bought a ukulele in Hawaii and I’m enjoying learning some basic chords and having a sing along. Painting has been such a feature of the last few months. Commissions are coming in thick and fast so I’m finally ready to set up a business.
Here’s a grab of the stages of my latest painting.
I’m no longer thinking about if the cancer comes back. I’m no longer worried about death. I’ve reached the point of que sera sera … the future’s not ours to see, and all that. So thanks Doris Day and thanks cancer for reconnecting me with my creative side which I lost for 26 years.
Marina’s original photograph which she entered in the AIPPA can be accessed here.
Anyone who wants to follow me on Instagram can find me at lisamcdermidfineart.