Ko Terina toku ingoa
Ko Ngai Tahu toku Iwi
Ko Kati mamoe raua koe waitaha toku hapu
Ko Takitimu te Waka
Ko waihopai te awa
Ko Ōtākou toku Marae
I held a Pink Ribbon Breakfast at my whare in May last year to highlight the importance of checking for breast lumps in both men and women. I wanted to make a difference!
Little did I know, five months later it would be me sitting in a doctor’s chair being diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer.
Cancer was something I never thought would enter my whanau, but at the age of 33 with a husband and two young children, that was my reality.
I found a lump on my left breast one day so I went to the doctor to get it looked at. I was treated for a cyst but soon I was down at A&E getting a scan done, followed later by a mammogram and biopsy.
Less than one month later, I was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer – DSIC (Ductal carcinoma in situ - the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast), a mass tumor and lymph node involvement which meant it had spread. I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect or what was going to come next.
On November 13, I started the first of six rounds of chemotherapy. It was brutal. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually brutal. It also lowered my immunity so I also ended up with tonsillitis, shingles, and skin infections.
During my treatment, I was placed into early menopause. My ovaries were shut down so my body could stop producing estragon to feed the cancer. So, at 33, in the middle of summer, I went through menopause along with my Mum. This also means I can’t have any more children, so I feel absolutely blessed to have already had my two beautiful children.
Half way through chemotherapy, I met the Nga Kete Cancer Kaiarahi team after a friend told me about the service and I self-referred. At first, I had no idea how they could possibly help me when I was already pushing my whanau and friends away. However, I am so grateful I let them in, because I can barely even describe how much they helped me!
I remember when I first met them; I just burst into tears because finally I could talk to someone who just understood me and what I was going through. Until then, I couldn’t tell my family and friends how to help me because I didn’t know how to help me. I was struggling with losing my hair and people staring at me, but the team didn’t look at me any differently.
Once the chemo was over I had to have a mastectomy. That was really hard. I struggled with losing my dignity, my womanhood, just everything. Recovery was easy, but then I developed lymphedema so now I have to wear a compression bandage on my arm every day.
The results of my treatment weren’t what we had hoped. It showed I had more cancer so then I was sent to Dunedin for radiation – away from my kids, my husband, my home. It seemed as though the nightmare would never end.
But, the whole way through Barbara and Jo were there for me. It was a relief mentally and emotionally, and even financially. They would turn up and sometimes just talk, which was sometimes all I needed.
It was those visits that gave me the confidence to reach back out to my whanau and friends. Before all of this, I thought I would just burden people when they turned up but after meeting Barb and Jo, I realized I could open myself back up. It also helped my whanau to know I was talking to someone.
They have made me realise it is normal to feel what I’m going through. It’s ok to feel like crap as long as I can get up and keep going. I am also receiving counselling, which helps.
The hardest part of my journey was having no control. I was living appointment to appointment, treatment by treatment, sometimes day by day. Barb and Jo have supported me in taking over and not letting cancer control me anymore. I’m getting some scans done shortly to ensure I am all clear, and genetic testing to see if I carry the gene. If so, I can have another mastectomy and the removal of my ovaries.
The support of Barb and Jo meant the world to me. It meant I could vent about anything and everything knowing it was safe. I feel like if I hadn’t met these two, I would still be that highly anxious, stressed out woman instead of allowing myself to feel what I was feeling. No matter how hard it gets I can always ring them.
Things are getting better now. My hair is growing back, I had my teeth fixed ahead of treatment so that feels great, I have met some wonderful people, and I can’t wait to put together another pink ribbon breakfast – even bigger than the last one!
I’ve won this battle because I’m still here, and I feel the best I have ever felt before!
It is so important for young people to understand it’s not just older people! Cancer isn’t picky, it doesn’t care how old you are or what life you’ve had before it turns up, it’s here and you need to deal with it. Take the support and keep going!