The Beacon

Before I can continue, I have to go back a little in time – right back to the start.

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, any type of cancer, you’re loaded up with brochures: What does your diagnosis mean? How to deal with Chemotherapy? How to deal with Hair Loss? How to explain to your children… your family… your friends… I think you get the idea. Most of the brochures I was given are sitting in a box, in the bottom of my cupboard, collecting dust. By the time the brochures made their way to me, I had already spent hours on the Internet researching; the information was old news. I’m not suggesting they stop printing these brochures, I’m 100% sure there are many people that find them helpful – not everyone is inclined to tap into the world-wide-web.

The main cancer organisations, like Cancer Council, produce the majority of brochures covering general treatment. Then you have cancer specific associations, such as Breast Cancer Network Australia, that provide its own support material. As you can see there is a lot of support out there, if you want it.

BCNA also produces a free national magazine, The Beacon. It’s a quarter-yearly magazine that covers a range of topics related to breast cancer. As I was reading the last publication I noticed a section to submit a story. I investigated further and saw the topic for the next addition was: Obstacles. Additional challenges faced through treatment. I instant knew I wanted to share a story – of course I would. I wanted to share how I found being young, fit and active a challenge. I’ve already written a blog about this – I’m 32 not 50 – so I decided I would send an edited version to meet the word limit requirements.

…then I received an email saying it was being considered.

…then accepted.

My words have been finally published! All three hundred and seventeen of them.

Here is the link: http://www.bcna.org.au/sites/default/files/thebeacon67_0.pdf

(page 10)

Up, Up and Away

Today I get to talk about a great love in my life. Travel. A love that was formed from an early age, roughly age eight. Mother, sister and I were travelling to New Zealand to visit family and the flight attendants let Sis and I hand out sweets to the passengers. I remember being so excited. I believe my career path was shaped from that moment. At age twenty-six I finally fulfilled my dream and started working as a flight attendant for Qantas. Prior to that I worked as a travel consultant. So you could say I have a fairly good understanding about travel, inside and out. And when I wasn’t jumping on a plane for work, I was making the most of my discounted travel benefits. It was a common occurrence for me to book a ticket, jump on a plane, and meet up with friends anywhere around the world. No stress; no planning, just go.

Last year I received an invitation to attend a friend’s wedding in Israel. Who wouldn’t want to miss two beautiful souls celebrate their union, plus Israel is one of my favourite places in the world. It was always going to be touch and go with the timing of treatment and finances. I didn’t think it would be possible considering I haven’t worked since last August, and now that I’m looking at having surgery done privately. Then I was blessed with a paid airfare over! I must have done a lot of good in a past life, the amount of generosity I’ve received since my diagnosis is mind-blowing. Timing was now also on my side as the earliest appointment I could get with my plastic surgeon is May. I um’ed and ah’ed. Should I go? Was I ready? I was convinced by a few people that I deserve a nice treat, considering everything I’ve been through.

Now, the Rochelle of before wouldn’t have thought twice about travelling to the other side of the world. Throw some things in a bag and off I’d go. Unfortunately, now, a bit more thought has to go into it. It’s moments like these when the reality of the ‘cancer’ sets in. The reality of how my life has changed. So what are the new concerns? Firstly, the medication I’m on can cause blood clots. I have to wear compression stockings to reduce my risk of clotting when flying. The dreaded DVT. Secondly, as I’ve had lymph nodes removed there is an added risk of developing Lymphedema (in simple terms, arm can swell), so a compression arm sleeve is recommended to reduce this risk, also. The past few weeks I’ve been telling friends and family (and this blog, actually) that I no longer need to wrap myself in bubble wrap, I’m not sick anymore. It seems I have to wrap myself in compression, instead. Sourcing these things last-minute has caused some (read: A LOT) of stress. It’s amazing how trying to find an arm sleeve can bring me to tears yet having chemotherapy for 3 months didn’t. Breathe…

The next reality check came when I jumped online to organize my travel insurance. From now on, and forever, I fit into the ‘pre-existing medical condition’ box. Box A – tick. Cancer – tick. I now have to pay a premium to be covered. Frustration sets in. Yes I had cancer. Yes I had treatment. I was fine about both (as fine as you can be about getting cancer)…but it’s these little things that will continue for the rest of my life that really bother me. I often say Cancer is a life-sentence – this is a clear example about why I feel that way. Don’t get me wrong – I know having to pay a premium for travel insurance isn’t the end of the world, I don’t take for granted that I am alive and well (and lucky enough to travel the world). That IS what’s important. But things used to be so simple…

With the support of some special people the nerves were calmed and all the little things were taken care of. The option of cancelling last-minute did cross my mind. But if I stop doing things I love because it’s too hard, Cancer wins. Cancer doesn’t deserve to win because of silly little things like wearing a compression sleeve or paying a bit extra for insurance. I just have to adapt. I have to think and plan ahead. Also, if the body coped with a triathlon, it will be fine on a flight – I just have to do the right thing and keep moving around (as everyone should do anyway!).

Today is the day of travel. Skins compression tights are on, arm-sleeves are packed in my carry on… along with my noise cancelling headphones and iPad. My new travel essentials. A nine-hour flight to Bangkok followed by an eleven-hour flight to Tel Aviv is ahead of me. My old tradition of sitting down to a glass of champagne pre-departure has been replaced by sparkling water. That’s what I call adapting (sigh). Time to go…

Side note: SURPRISE! I haven’t told many friends that I’m coming. I can’t wait to see all my favourite people in Tel Aviv!!

#nomakeupselfie

For someone who is dealing with breast cancer, it’s always a surreal feeling when initiatives such as this are circulating. I first experienced this last October during Breast Cancer Awareness month. I was newly diagnosed. I was coming to terms with how my life was changing, and all of a sudden breast cancer was everywhere. And I was no longer the one supporting the cause; I was the cause.

In the past twenty-four hours I feel like I’ve been both explaining and defending the #nomakeupselfie trend. Yesterday morning I woke up and my Facebook news feed was inundated with #nomakeupselfie posts. But they really didn’t make any sense. What were they for? So I did some research to understand what it was all about.

It’s actually unclear how the trend started. Barefaced photos started circulating both Facebook and Twitter with #breastcancerawareness #nomakeupselfie tags. The Cancer Research UK quickly jumped on the trend and asked people to donate a few quid. The trend then evolved. The idea, now, is for you to take a photo of yourself make up free, post it, nominate a friend to do the same AND donate to Cancer Research UK  (or another cancer organisation). For those in the UK, it’s easy – they have set up a way for you to donate! Text BEAT to 70099 to donate £3. Easy. Effective. One person also pledged to donate 50p for each like she receives to Cancer Research UK. Just another idea how you can make use of this trend.

In reality, those who are just posting photos with #breastcancerawareness #nomakeupselfie are not doing anything wrong. It started that way. Cancer Research UK saw an opportunity and jumped on it and has raised over one million pounds! Well done to them. But, I personally have no idea how posting a pic without make up raises awareness to breast cancer. And I mean that in the nicest possible way…

As you are aware, I am part of an online support network for young breast cancer patients. Well, the #nomakeupselfie has not gone down well with most members of this group. Why? Because they also can’t understand how this helps the cause. This group contains members who are newly diagnosed, survivors, and women who are terminal. As I lived in the UK,  have a lot of friend in the UK, and see a lot of news feeds from UK organisations I’ve felt the need to defend the trend. I’ve re-posted all the news reports coming from the UK websites, which has seemed to calm a few people down (yes calm…there were a few fiery comments circulating!).

As for breast cancer awareness, I personally think there are so many campaigns that help raise awareness. I sometimes feel sorry for people who are affected by a different type of cancer. We (BC) get a lot of attention…I guess boobs have always drawn more attention.

Some people have suggested the #nomakeupselfie was started because women going through treatment don’t wear make up. For most people this isn’t true. I wore more make up through chemo than usual! I spent more time filling in my eyebrows, using blush and bright lipstick etc. It helped detract from the bald head. It helped me feel better. And this is why a lot of women who are going through treatment are frustrated by this trend.

So what are we doing globally, outside the UK?

It’s still possible to donate to a cancer charity. In Australia we have so many! And all their pages have links to donate (I’ve posted a few below). It would be great if one of our organisations jumped on the trend and set up a facility to donate such as the UK. I might have to send this suggestion out to a few organisations today…

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a hater. I’ve seen posts from Australia, from the UK, from breast cancer patients, from friends and family who have been affected by breast cancer. I feel like the middleman in all of this. This blog is not intended to offend anyone who has posted a pic. It’s about explaining and defending the trend.

I personally won’t be taking a selfie. Not because I’m against it, I have other ways I donate and raise awareness. But that’s just me…

Australian Cancer Research Foundation http://www.acrf.com.au

National Breast Cancer Foundation http://www.nbcf.org.au

Cancer Council http://www.cancer.org.au

Cure Cancer http://www.cure.org.au

A drug called: Tamoxifen

For those not in the know, treatment doesn’t necessarily stop after surgery and chemo (and surgery again, or radiation or both). The medical world keeps laying down bricks and extending the path. What else do they want to do with my body? The answer: Hormone therapy. While I await details for surgery, my oncologist has given me the green light to start the next stage of treatment. A daily pill for the next ten years… no biggie *insert sarcasm*.

Let’s backtrack for a minute. I’ll put on my medical hat and try and explain things for you.

Certain types of cancers can be ‘hormone sensitive’. Initial testing of your cancer cells determines three things (apart from size and stage). The cancer is either positive or negative to: ER (oestrogen), PR (progesterone), and HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2). I was ER and PR positive, HER2 negative. I am, hormone sensitive. You may have heard the term ‘triple negative’. It is known to be a more aggressive type of cancer; hormone sensitive cancers are usually less aggressive. The patient would have tested negative to all three things (ER, PR, HER2). If I had a dollar for each time I was told I was lucky, it’s a good cancer to get. Even I’ve started saying it. It must be strange for others to hear, “I got the good type of cancer…”

Have I lost you yet?

Anyone who has hormone sensitive cancer (ER+ PR+) qualifies for hormone therapy. This is where tamoxifen comes into the picture. It’s a synthetic oestrogen, designed to stop the oestrogen your body produces from telling breast cancer cells to grow (so I’ve been told…). Hormone therapy has been used for over 30 years in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. There are promising reports that it can halve the chance of recurrence by up to 50%.

Here we are again, faced with the numbers game. I’ve spoken in the past about the fear of recurrence. It’s the reason I had my genes tested. The reason I struggled with my decision regarding radiation VS mastectomy. Taking tamoxifen seems like a logical option. Listen to the experts, do your research and trust to your intuition. I would like to say my intuition is telling me NOT to take the drug, but I think it’s fear.

Side effects VS benefits.

When I started on my quest to research the drug I was petrified reading about peoples’ experiences. Common side effects reported: hot flushes, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and moodiness, to name a few. Then there is the risk of developing endometrial cancer and increased risk of blood clots in the legs, lung, or brain…again, no biggie. I’ve always taken other peoples’ comments with a grain of salt but documented side effects are another thing. Everyone is different. Every ‘body’ is different. I continued to research but continued to feel uneasy about the drug. I’ve endured chemo. Isn’t that enough? Do I really want/need to endure TEN years of not feeling myself? That’s what it comes down to. Yes it may reduce the chance of recurrence, but will I be happy? Will I be living my life to it’s fullest or will I be bogged down by the drug?

I’ve sought information through friends and other cancer patients. Majority of people have taken it. One lady refused it and recently celebrated her 5th year cancer-free. I follow her blog – she’s the one who did 100 air squats in her hospital room post surgery. Champion. There was also an article I found of a lady who refused tamoxifen, follows an anti-cancer diet and is still cancer-free.

So what to do? There’s no harm in trying, right? You don’t know unless you try it, right? Okay. Sign me up…I’ll give it a go. I have to believe that being active and keeping a good diet will counteract the side effects.

Now I have an excuse if I’m feeling moody – blame the tamoxifen.

** Side note: I get to stop taking tamoxifen if and when I decide to have children. Let’s see how many children I can have in the next ten years to avoid taking the drug. Seems like a good solution…

 

 

Practicing Patience

Treatment is like a steam train. Departing station: Cancer. Final destination: Cancer-free. It splutters along, stopping at a variety of stops along the way: surgery, chemo, genetic testing, radiation and more surgery. The journey and order of stations is different for everyone. Unfortunately there is no express service available for this journey. I’ve experienced a few delays along the way, stopped at a few extra stops than first planned, and now it seems the final destination is a little further away, again. My genetic testing always threatened to slow the train. And it has.

This Friday I was booked to receive my results. Let me emphasise “was booked”… until they called to advise there was a delay examining my bloods. The driver’s put down his shovel and stopped loading the coal. We’ve come to a stop… again. Mid-station. The follow on affects of this delay are disastrous; I now have to forgo my plans of flying to Israel for my girlfriend wedding in April. Sigh. It was always going to be tight with all the previous delays, but it’s officially no longer an option. Deep breath’s; bigger picture. Time to muster up some patience.

My woes don’t stop there. This past weekend I was due to go to Melbourne for a post-chemo celebratory getaway. I patiently waited the recommended three weeks after my last round. I had an extra week up my sleeve while waiting for my genetic results, and deciding on the next stage of treatment. So, I planned a sneaky trip to catch up with lots of loved ones. Yet, just when I thought I would be getting back on the bike, into the gym, out for a run and a trip to Melbourne, the universe not so discreetly decided…not yet. I caught the horrid cold that’s circulating. Although, the blame may not lie with the universe, it may have been my own undoing.

Doctor: “… and you’ve been so good not being in large crowds.”

Me: “I know… I don’t know where I caught it.”

I chose not to tell her I’d been in the ‘Loose Yourself’ section at the Eminem concert days earlier. Shhh.

Ok. No more negatives. It’s ok to recognise the negatives. Acknowledge them, and then move on.

The positive I can get out of this is I have another week to recover from the cold and get in some physical activity. Movement with the body is medicine for the mind.

To all my friends that have a ‘Rochelle gets genetic results’ reminder in their phone for Friday, reset it to next Thursday.

That’s all folks…

Tune In…

For anyone who is planning a relaxing Saturday at home, tune in and watch “Shades of Pink”. It’s on this Saturday, 1st March, 3pm on Channel 10 (Australia). Melissa, a Qantas work friend was also diagnosed at young age. She was 28.

Melissa has always been available to me to answer questions and she shared her journey with me as soon as she heard I was diagnosed. Melissa did it a lot tougher than myself; her cancer was more aggressive and so was her treatment.

Melissa also took something positive out her diagnosis. With a love of races from a young age, and having made her own fascinators in the past, she enrolled in a Millinery course which she completed during treatment. She is now fully qualified. Check out her Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/MelissaHannMillinery

Watch as she bravely shares her story.

The Bucket List

Bucket list

noun

informal

1. -
A numbers of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.

The movie, The Bucket List, was on TV not long ago. As I watched I realised there was a flaw in the whole process of having a bucket list – Morgan Freeman’s character was writing his bucket list with only month’s left to live. Are we the same? Is it only when you know your time on earth is ending that you really sit down and think about all the things you would really love to do, places you would love to see or things you want to achieve (or overcome)? By then, it’s usually too late.

I started thinking (not because I feel my time is ending) why not put pen to paper earlier. Like, NOW! Having a bucket list is almost as crucial as setting life goals. If you don’t know where you want to go, how can you formulate a plan to get there?

Having worked for Qantas for seven years I’ve been extremely lucky and been blessed with a handful of amazing travel experiences; safari in South Africa, Bollywood in Mumbai, cycling along Venice Beach in LA… just to name a few. Having discounted travel meant ventures such as flying to Copenhagen for lunch a relatively normal thing to do. (It was to go to Noma – the number one restaurant in the world!) I will admit I sometimes took things for granted. After living the life of an earthling the past six months, I definitely have a fresh perspective on things.

Thinking of all the places I’ve travelled to, I sat down and thought: Would they have been on my bucket list, if I had one?

Now, I appreciate people may feel having a bucket list is pointless. I can hear your thoughts already. “I would never be able to afford any of these things I want to do, so why bother.” Usually a bucket lists consists of travel, like mine but why not dream a little? Why not create a vision to aspire towards? I’m only 32; I have MANY years ahead of me to work, save and possibly achieve some of these dreams. You can never predict what can happen in life; someone may surprise you with a gift that enables you to cross just one thing off… but if you don’t know what those things are, how will you know when the opportunity arises?

Your bucket list doesn’t have to include travel. Maybe you love the outdoors and you have always dreamt of riding a horse? Perhaps milking a cow? You may be laughing right now but I can guarantee people go through life dreaming about riding a horse but never do anything about it. Put it out to universe. Talk about it with people.

Something on your list could be for the sense of achievement. I have a fear of heights – yes I know I work in the sky, it’s different. For me, skydiving is on the list not because I think it will be amazing and fun, I want to be able to say, “I hate heights but I jumped out of a plane!” Maybe you have a fear of snakes and holding a snake would be an achievement for you. Write it down, save for a trip to the Zoo! The options are endless. Be selfish, it’s all about you.

Writing a list is also a great way of appreciating the things you have done. Life is always going to test you; there will always be rough patches. When faced with a rough patch, it’s all too common to forget the good times. Why not make a list of everything you have done, cross them off then continue with your bucket list.

So, here is mine: some basic, some far-fetched.

  • Spend a week learning to ski in Europe
  • Learn to surf (sharks scare me)
  • Learn to scuba dive (again, sharks scare me)
  • Climb a mountain
  • Go to Machu Picchu
  • Skydive
  • Complete an Ironman event (I’ll start with a half then reassess)
  • Go to Finland! I’m half Finnish and I’ve never been.
  • Go to the Opera
  • Sail a leg in the Clipper Race Around the World
  • Go to Ayers Rock and Kakadu

I can’t say if my list is complete. I may add to it as life progresses…but it’s a start. Why not take some time and write your own list, or if you have one, set some goals to get you closer to ticking some things off. Don’t leave it until it’s too late…

A Dedication

Today I am saddened to hear news an old work friend has lost her battle with cancer. This is why it was so hard for me to write my blog ‘Silver Linings’, because I know people who are fighting their own cancer battles with a more real, confronting prognosis.

Tansy added me on Facebook back in November, and an email followed shortly after. She had learnt through Facebook about my diagnosis and wanted to share her story with me. She had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer a year ago. She had already been through MANY rounds chemo and some radiation. “Still fighting though,” she said. She reached out to me as she thought it would help having someone to talk to who was going through similar treatment and offered herself to me for the same reasons – if I needed to talk at any time, she was there for me. She had heard about my blog and asked if I could send her the details.

I’m so glad she messaged me and I hope my words gave her some comfort or positivity through her battle. It is always hard for me when I know someone’s prognosis is a lot worse than mine. She informed me that her prognosis wasn’t so good, “my cancer had spread to the liver and a few other little spots but I still have a positive attitude as I believe it’s 80% attitude and 20% meds.” My blogs are so positive because I feel good about winning the battle  – I’m not sure how I would be if it wasn’t, you can never know. I was glad to know she was still remaining positive.

Tansy shared her chemo experience with me. She too had reacted to one of the drugs and was reliant on phenergen – something I could definitely relate to. She did a tough battle with chemo – mine was over in six rounds; six rounds was just the start for her.

“You keep in touch too, and it’s been great being able to share this with you. I haven’t really told many people except family and close friends. Just kept a low profile. Take care lovely and speak again soon. Xx” This was the last message I ever received from her and I regret not taking the time to check up on her progress.

My thoughts are with her family and friends. I hope they don’t mind me sharing her words and the details of her battle (if any family member or friend sees this and wants me to take it down or edit I would without hesitation). It saddens me deeply and I hope I have done her justice with this dedication. She was a beautiful person, always friendly and cheerful. Tansy Cartwright, may you rest in peace.

Dot Com

Most friends know technology and I don’t mix. And when I say “technology”, I’m not just referring to computers, it took me about 30 min’s to work out how to use a new food processor the other day. Anything with a power cord is my enemy. If something is going to go wrong, or not work, then it’s bound to happen to me – yes I managed to buy a new software download from Apple Australia using my Apple UK ID…of course I did that.

It would be easy for me to use this as an excuse and avoid technology as much as possible. However, sometimes in life we need to dive head first into things that make us uncomfortable. When I started my blog I chose tumblr, as it seemed fairly foolproof. It was easy to navigate and has done its job, until lately. For the past few weeks it’s become problematic; it won’t let me upload photos where I desire or format properly – first world problems, I know… So I needed to find a solution. I had the idea a while ago to transfer my blog to an actual website. Me, starting a website, now that’s crazy talk. Thanks to my new duties as event director for Ipswich parkrun I was introduced to wordpress. Although it seemed quite daunting at first it turns out its not – it’s just a fancier tumblr. A friend offered to show me how to start a wordpress website (thanks, Barb) but as I had some spare time the past few days (read: procrastinating on uni work) I thought I would put my nerd hat on and see if I could figure it out myself. And I did *golf claps*.

If you know anyone that has set up their own website, they may agree that the hardest part is registering your own .com. What was I going to call it? Would the name be available? I decided on a list of options for the website although a big, red, cross came up each time I entered the details. Hmm. I didn’t want to use my name – rochellevaisanen.com just didn’t sit well for me. I always had the idea swimming around in my head about my treatment being a “cancer triathlon”. A triathlon consists of three elements: swim, bike and run. My proposed treatment also consisted of three elements: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The only thing is if the genetic results come back positive and I choose surgery over radiation it would then be: surgery, chemotherapy, surgery – which is more like a duathlon (run, bike, run)… but let’s not get too stuck on the details, you get the gist. Cancer interrupted my life just as I found my passion for training and racing triathlons and I know triathlons will be apart of my life post treatment, and for years to come. I remember looking at the results of one race and seeing ladies in the age group of 40-45 ahead of me. That will be me. Whooping young girls in the future. So, I typed in the words “cancertriathlon.com” and was greeted with a big, green tick! And so it was written…

In true Rochelle fashion I registered my .com website and set to work transferring my blogs (over 50!). What. A. Job! I also had to edit the date stamp to reflect the journey in true form.

There is another reason I’m happy with my choice of website name. On so many occasions I personally typed into Google “cancer + triathlons + exercise + ironman”. I was searching for reassurances from other ‘fit’ people who were suddenly faced with a cancer diagnosis (I wrote about this in my “I’m 32 not 50” blog). If by chance, someone in the future does the same Google search and my blog pops up, maybe I’ll be able to give him or her the hope, reassurance and comfort to know they will be OK.

So ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, here I am. cancertriathlon.com.

Better stop procrastinating on my uni work…

Silver Linings

I have been extremely torn over the following blog. Why? Because I want to portray the positive changes that have occurred in my life since my diagnosis, yet I don’t want to give a round of applause to cancer; it’s definitely not deserving of it. It takes lives, too many lives. It deserves all the nasty attention it receives, but – and it’s a pretty big ‘BUT’ – for those who are able to fight the battle, and win, cancer can change you. It’s changed me for the better. So let me tackle this a different way. I won’t ‘thank’ cancer; I’ll merely share the ‘silver linings’ that have come from it.

First a story, you all know I like a story…

After surgery and before chemo, I stumbled upon Lance Armstrong’s Autobiography: It’s not about the bike. It was on sale for $2… I wonder why. I mentioned to a few people that I was reading this book, “Why? He’s just declared to the world that he used performance-enhancing drugs and stripped of all his titles! He’s a cheat!” True, yet I had my reasons. I was intrigued to read about how he dealt with his cancer battle. How did a professional athlete deal with chemotherapy? Was he told to sit around and do nothing? Did he listen? It was exactly what I needed to read as I anticipated the start of my own chemo journey.

There was something I read that really stuck with me. He mentions a letter he received from a fan after announcing to the world his diagnosis with testicular cancer. The fan writes, “You don’t know it yet, but we’re the lucky ones.” How can someone be lucky to have cancer? This statement resonated with Lance through his battle. He saw the positive changes he had made in his life: his added appreciation for life; family; friends, and his added desire to never give up during the tough times. He did a tougher battle through surgery and chemotherapy than I could imagine. I wasn’t wheeled into the operating theatre having odds stacked against me. I was having a ‘smallish’ lump removed and a few lymph nodes. Not once did I feel, or have I felt my life threatened. I can’t begin to think how hard chemotherapy was back in the 90s! He did it tough. It changed him. And in a roundabout kind of way, he was thankful to cancer (it’s so hard writing that).

So what silver linings has cancer brought upon my life? Here are a few…

Cancer brought me back to Australia.
There are many good friends on the other side of the world that would disagree that this is a silver lining (I miss you, too) but my family and friends in Australia do.

Cancer forced me to adopt a shaved head.
For my entire adult life, my hair has been the vain of my existence. I can’t emphasis that enough. I could never successfully style it – I constantly battled with straightening irons and curling devices. And don’t even get me started about being blonde and trying to get the colour right… every six weeks. I now know I actually suit short hair. People sympathised for me when I lost my hair (for me, not with me, I was not sad). I tried to explain that I was not only OK about it but I thoroughly enjoyed it. No hair, in summer – perfect if you ask me… By the end of treatment I didn’t even worry about wearing scarves when out and about. The most interesting comment I received was at the check out in Woolworths.
Her: “Excuse me, I don’t want to seem rude, but don’t people stare at you, because of your hair?”
Me: “I don’t really notice, and it’s too hot to care.”

Cancer has given me time to do more and give more to the community.
There is something very special about being able to give up your spare time for the benefit of others. From giving up my spare time – I’ve had a lot of it – I’ve met many amazing people since moving back to Ipswich. I’ve had time to volunteer at some events that have really touched my heart. For me, establishing a parkrun in Ipswich was a very big silver lining!

Cancer has changed my direction in life.
Although I was diagnosed just as I was about to start my dream job – working on Private Jets – the dream job was only to be short-lived. I knew deep down that I wanted to walk about from the life of flying in the near future. I will return to the skies on a part-time basis and have faith that other opportunities will appear when the time is right. Having not flown for over six months has really opened up to my eyes to life on the ground.

Cancer has given me a reason to write.
I was daunted when a friend suggested I start a blog to keep everyone informed throughout treatment. Did I expect it to unearth a passion for writing? Absolutely not! For the past 13 weeks I’ve been studying a small unit through University – Creative and Professional Writing. I’m not sure where the path will lead, but it has been extremely rewarding. It’s also kept chemo brain at bay… a little… I think…

Cancer has strengthened the bonds with the amazing people in my life.
I have felt so blessed by the outreach of support from so many people. It’s really hard to put into words how grateful I really am. And it’s not only been from my close circle of friends, but also friends who have been distant in my life for many years. I received so many emails and messages from people saying they had been following my blog and I have been in their thoughts.

Cancer has given me time for my family.
For the past eleven years I have lived interstate and abroad. Moving back home at thirty-two wasn’t a setback after all; it was a blessing in disguise. You’ll hear no complaints from me regarding this (maybe from them…).

Cancer has given me time to cook.
This may seem like an odd thing to be thankful for, but I lost my confidence cooking a long time ago. Working as Airline Crew, I was either eating room service or socialising on my days off. Now I can make a Pho from scratch and fresh pasta. I still can’t make rice… in a rice cooker… baby steps.

Cancer has enriched my life with knowledge.
It is amazing how much you learn when going through treatment. You are bombarded with so much information. I spent a lot of time on the Internet researching each drug I was dealing with… and I’ve tried a few! I know there are people who chose not to absorb the information. I was like that at first. When asked what type of cancer I had (apart from the obvious) I didn’t remember. Did I really need to know all the details? I realised I did and started to pay more attention after that. I remember chatting to a girl and her mother in the waiting room of the oncology ward; her mum was asking how my treatment was going. It was never an easy question to answer since I’ve had so many changes to my treatment. I asked her what type of chemotherapy she was having. Her reply, “I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, I have to have it anyway.” Everyone is different and I respect that.

Treatment is far from over. There are still challenges ahead… but the end is near.

There may be some people that find it hard to read this and understand where I’m coming from. It’s a very sensitive topic to talk about in a positive manner. Cancer affects so many people in so many ways. I’ve met people who are also going through treatment for breast cancer yet their outcome will be very different from mine. I feel utmost sadness and empathy for anyone who has lost a love one due to cancer. But for me, I’ll take the silver linings…