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.
Two and a half years ago I wrote a blog post titled “Licking Lava“. I had woken feeling like I had dragged my tongue over the inferno of an active Hawaiian lava field. I sat miserable on my couch. Mouth ulcers had erupted on my tongue, inside my cheeks and in my throat from lifesaving chemotherapy. Unable to eat and struggling to swallow, I daydreamed about our future, wondering if I would still be in the picture.
Today I stood on a lava field two days out from the 2015 Ironman World Championships. Mr Cool made it! Incredibly, we all made it! He is about to achieve his long term dream of competing in Kona. And he did it while working full time, while supporting two young kids and a wife who sometimes feels like half the wife and mother she was pre cancer. He did this with both of his parents affected by their own diagnosis of cancer. Where he comes or places in the Ironman race is irrelevant.
The Big Island volcanoes of Hawaii are an appropriate analogy for our journey through breast cancer. A volcano spontaneously erupted back in January 2013 with such force it ejected enormous quantities of molten rock from the earth’s interior. Our clear blue skies suddenly filled with fetid and pungent ash. The sulphur dioxide, hazardous to breathe left us gasping, choking. Rocks rained down on our lives like bombs dropping from the sky and we scrambled and scurried to safety. We worried about our future, at first from day to day. Then the months and then the years ahead. The molten lava flowed and smothered our landscape, stripped of a life once known. The lava cooled rapidly in some places and slowly in others, bending and buckling, fracturing. It hardened into billowing pillows and in places it formed sinuous grey-black patterns. A jagged, dark and inhospitable moonscape. A place that is far removed from our life pre-eruption or pre-cancer.
Progress at rebuilding has been slow. I’m using the materials I now have. I am bald and very overweight. Which is part breast cancer drugs Tamoxifen and Zolodex, part anti-depressant, part early menopause, part inactivity. I continue to have bone pain, migraines, hot flushes, insomnia. I have recently developed foot, ankle, hand and wrist pain that feels like stress fractures. My bones are changing from the lowered levels of oestrogen.
Today, while scrambling on the lava I marvelled at such formidable forces; volcanoes, cancer and my families continued resilience. I marvelled at the passage of time and the joy of my continued place in it.
I received a pap smear reminder in the mail a few weeks back. It had been three years since my last smear. Regular pap smears every two years reduce the risk of cervical cancer so they say, especially if you are too old to have received the cervical cancer vaccine. Whatevs. I’ve always loathed that word ‘smear’. I don’t know why? It rhymes with many other excellent words; dear, beer, career, cheer…
What’s the point of having my cervix scraped to check for abnormal cells when I’ve already had cancer and all the trimming and trappings of treatment; amputated breasts, gouged out lymph nodes, chemo poison, radiation burn, ovaries shut down, the humiliation of permanent hairloss, and all of the ongoing health issues I have from Zolodex and Tamoxifen medications, blah, blah, blah. I’m alive. I’m lucky. Surely I couldn’t get a second primary cancer?
Could I even face the scrape? Can I be bothered anymore? Why am I so despondant?
Then began a distant chant. At first it was faint. It sounded was like it was coming from the new mosque that hasn’t yet been built in our town but is warmly anticipated. Or perhaps it was from some far off place further up the gully. “Face the scrape! Face the scrape! Face the scrape!”… the chanting got louder and louder.
Then one restless night at 3am this chanting woke me. To be honest, I actually wake every night at 3:00am. Not a moment before, not a second after. I’ve dubbed this hour MI hour, which stands for “menopausal insomnia” hour. This is the hour that menopausal women all over the world open their eyes, throw off the covers because they are hot and sweaty and curse the Gods and get as far away from their partner as they can.
Anyhow, in the dead of this particular night I turned on my iPhone and read this article. “More cancer patients are hearing the words: ‘you have cancer – again!‘” (NBCnews.com, Aug, 24th, 2015). This is the story of the very lovely Judith Bernstein of suburban Philadelphia. Judith who has eaten more shit sandwiches in her life than anyone I know. Judith has had eight different types of cancer over the last two decades, all treated successfully.
Get the fuck out! EIGHT DIFFERENT CANCERS!
At one point Judy thought she had cancer in her little finger. Which is totes normal for any one-time cancer survivor. But eight times?!?!? Judy, Judy, Judy. Bless you Judy!
The article went on to highlight another tantalizing tit bit… “Nearly 1 in 5 new cases (of cancer) in the U.S. now involve someone who has had the disease before.”
So armed with this knowledge and the seemingly endless “Face the scrape” chanting, the very next day I made my appointment and later faced my fear of the scrape head on.
My excellent womens health doctor had a bucket load of information to catch up on regarding my health. Cancer – check. Ovaries turned off – check. Medications – check. Mental health – check. She is always incredibly thorough and I hadn’t seen her since the lump in my breast was diagnosed as cancer in January 2013.
After our lengthy discussion, I went behind the curtain and removed the bottom half of my attire. I lay quietly on the bed with knees falling gently with feet remaining together. A white blanket gave me some modesty. Women the world over know the drill.
Turns out the scrape is now more like a semi-automatic gun which rotates and bangs tiny holes into your cervix. True. Then my WH doc said, “Oh I can see the walls of your vagina are thinning and dry from your early menopause.”
Excellent. No really, that’s great!
That my friends, was the day my vagina got old. T’was a perfect spring day in our town. I have marked it in my calendar. I might even add it to Facebook as a life event. And the Queen might send it a birthday card when it turns one hundred. Which might not be too far away. I’m also assuming that there will be no more movie roles offered to my vagina either now that it is deemed ‘old’. <Insert sad face>
Now I really can’t wait for the narrative from my first colonoscopy.
P.S last months bone scan was clear. Sorry, I forgot to come and tell you the good news. I’m still having some follow up tests.
It’s very late on Monday night here in Australia and I’m sitting on the couch watching crapola free to air TV. I’m still wearing the shirt I slept in last night. I can’t help myself, it’s comfortable and I’ve kinda given up caring about what I look like since so much about my appearance is now out of my control thanks to the after effects of successful (touch wood) cancer treatment.
Don’t judge. I have accessorised my shirt with soup from dinner, or was that last nights meal? Mr Cool assures me this is a family trait, after he has observed my brother and mother spill food on themselves many, many times. And yet he still married me.
So here I am, sitting on the couch looking splendid, and out of nowhere bang bang! News hits the Twitterverse. My blog has been crowned the “Badass Blog of the Year” by the rocking women empowerment site “The Indie Chicks” from New York.
In the early moments of learning this news, imagine George Costanza, jumping off the sofa, spilling his bowl of cereal everywhere, glasses falling off his face and fist pumping. That just about captures the events from my lounge room perfectly.
I have already received my esteemed “Badass Blog of the Year” badge. I’m so gonna photocopy it and pin it to everything, my blog, my fridge, my car windscreen. Hell, my kid can even take it for show and tell if he wants.
Thank you so much to The Indie Chicks. I’ve spent loads of my life being called a “Fatass”. I’m so, so thrilled and humbled that I can now add “Badass” to my CV as well. I’m just beaming with pride!
Thank you to all my incredible readers and friends who voted for me in spite of me spamming your newsfeeds. And thank you to my kick arse girlfriend Fi who nominated me without my consent. I’ll speak to you later young lady!
When I learned last week that Shittytittiebangbang was a finalist for “Blog of the Year” in The Indie Chicks’ Badass Blog Awards, I was humbled but a tad confused. A blog about me and my up and down foray through breast cancer. Totes Badass. Really!!?
Winning has been totally unexpected, but I’ll take it. I’ll take this award for all of my sisters around the world who have been dealt the shitty hand of this prick of a disease. There are far too many of us! Everyone knows the biggest “Badass” of all is cancer.
There are firsts for everything.
Late on Friday I met with my GP to receive the ultrasound results of the lovely lady lumps that have cropped up near my mastectomy incision scar from 22 months ago. The last time I had a lump looked at by a medical professional, it turned out to be what Scorchy from the blog “The Sarcastic Boob” refers to as the “Death Star” from Star Wars, an ominous moon-sized Imperial military battlestation armed with a planet-destroying super laser. Love you Scorchy!
For a week I’ve been battling my Dread Dragon, wondering if the lump was going to announce itself as some insidious grade three cancer cells clumping together again, waiting to strike like the Death Star. I have been shaky and ill at the mere thought of having to get a biopsy needle stuck into it.
So, while my kids happily played with a small box of toys in the corner of the GP’s office, I heard the words “scar tissue”. My lovely little lumps ARE NOT screaming CANCER on the ultrasound!
It’s the first time in my life I have actually done a fist pump in a doctors office. Well, three consecutive fist pumps after I was handed and read the report that said…
“There is a tiny equivocal 6 x 3mm oval broad lesion of the deep subcutaneous tissues that is poorly defined with some smooth indentation of the underlying pectoralis muscle. This is thought to represent scar tissue. No suspicious lesion is seen.”
So there it is! Just a lump of junk that I’ve got my eye on. I’m still on guard scanning the galaxy though, as the omnipresent threat of the breast cancer “Death Star” analogy is never, ever far from my thoughts.
As you were.