You can imagine my amazement when I found out
had 9 children and 2 grandchildren. Oh my goodness.... what was I doing falling in love with a man with all
|1993 - At last, things could not have been
better for me. I was in love with a wonderful man, Pete, and I had two wonderful children, Brad -
15 and Katherine - 12.
I had been going through a very messy divorce when I
met Pete. We had met through a single parents group that we had joined.
Well I did, and wasn't I pleased to find out that his children were
delightful. They ranged from 8 to 25 and each one of them was lovely to
me and accepted me into their rather large family with open arms.
Well, now Pete and I have 12 children between us. 9 of his, 2 of mine and 1
of ours, and it is absolutely
wonderful to be involved in such a large family and one that is so close. I
was very impressed with the love that this man had for his children AND that
he actually remembered ALL of their birth dates and times. How amazing!!!!!
remember my first thoughts when Pete joined the group were "My
goodness, how can anybody have that many children and still seem sane."
It didn't take me long before I fell in love with
this beautiful man and before I knew it, Pete had moved in with me and we
were talking about having a baby of our own. Was I crazy? Here I was, 39
years old with two teenage children, considering starting all over again.
The more we talked about it, the more I liked the idea. My parents jokingly
called me their 39 year old delinquent daughter. Maybe they weren't
joking!!!! I feel sure at first they weren't too keen on the idea anyway.
Finally I had
found my Prince Charming that every girl dreams about and he swooped me
up into his wonderful world of love, joy and happiness, opened his
heart, and I was truly, blissfully happy at last.
I fell pregnant straight away, in February,
1994. We were extremely happy and all of the other children were happy too.
Maybe my two were a little bit more excited about it than Pete's. After all,
Pete's kids probably thought, what's one more baby when you already have nine in the family. We waited a
while before making the announcement to make sure that everything was O.K.
After all, I was 39 and hadn't had a baby for 12 years. We decided against
having an amniocenteses test due to the risk of miscarriage.
I think our news came as quite a shock to a
lot of people, but I think it grew on them as the time went by. We made
history as being the first people in our single parents group to have a
I kept very well, was not putting on much
weight and everything was going fine. Pete had to go to England in September
to see his daughter, Lara, and we decided that as I was going to be 7 months
pregnant at the time and had other children to look after, that I would stay
home and go next time.
The chain of events that followed are not
that easy to recall, as I am sure that when you have something like this
happen to you that your mind blocks out a lot of the bad things, but I will
try to recall things as close as possible as I can.
It was one morning in August,
1994 that I woke up and felt the lump. I remember Pete was on the toilet,
(sorry for all the gruesome details) and I went in to him and said "Wow,
feel this lump". He felt it and was quite surprised at the size of it
and the fact that we hadn't noticed it earlier as it was quite big and easily
noticed, on my left breast, above my nipple. It seemed to virtually have come
up overnight. We decided to go straight to our local G.P., a really wonderful
doctor who had become a good friend over the years, but were not too worried
at that time. We told ourselves it was probably just something to do with me
We phoned up, made an
appointment, and Pete and I went down to see him that morning. To us,
he didn't seem too worried, but looking back, this was probably his way of
not getting us worried, as, on examination he found a lump under my left arm
as well. He sent me to have an ultrasound (they did not want to do a
mammogram as I was pregnant) as soon as I could. He said this was just to
make sure, that he could not leave any suspicious lump unchecked.
I was feeling a bit scared, but
every woman that I spoke to assured me, "Oh, don't worry, it's only a
milk lump. I had them with all of my pregnancies". This made me feel a
lot better, although, I DID NOT have them with my other pregnancies,
so I was still not quite convinced that everything was O.K.
The results of the ultrasound
were promising, but not conclusive:
"The clinically palpable lump superior to the left nipple has
ultrasound features most consistent with a cluster of simple cysts. However,
the appearance is unusual and other causes including a mitotic process are
not excluded. Careful clinical review is recommended. Progress ultrasounds
may be helpful. A FNAB (fine needle aspiration) is suggested to obtain
definite fluid or tissue for diagnosis."
My G.P. then referred me to a
local breast clinic and armed with these results, we attended a consultation
with a supposed breast "SPECIALIST". He did a fine needle aspiration
(they stick a very fine needle into the lump to try and get the fluid out, if
any, or some sample cells.) He told us that if he was able to suck fluid out
of the lump, then we could go home happy. Unfortunately, there was no fluid
in the lump so he suggested that he send away the small amount of cells that
he got to pathology for further testing, and also I was to go and have a
mammogram. I would have to wear a lead shield to protect the baby from the
I went straight away and had the
mammogram and took the results back to him the same day and they read:
"Mammographic appearance of the lesion in the upper aspect of left
breast has BENIGN features. However, further follow up after pregnancy is
suggested". What a relief. The results of the fine needle aspiration
were not too bad either. The breast specialist suggested that rather than
wait until after the pregnancy, that he do another fine needle aspiration in
Pete went off to England feeling
a little more at ease. We both felt that over the next few weeks the lump
would just disappear. Every time I spoke to Pete on the phone he would say
"How is your lump?" Unfortunately, I would have to say that it was
still there and did not seem to be getting any smaller. I was doing all sorts
of things to try and get rid of it. I was running the hot water on it in the
shower hoping that this would disperse it and massaging it every time I
thought about it. Nothing seemed to work and I must admit I was getting a bit
scared. Yet, still, so many people assured me that they had exactly the same
thing when they were pregnant and after their babies were born, or after they
stopped breast feeding that the lump just went away.
I kept praying that this is all
that it was, but of course, in the back of my mind, there was always that
element of doubt. Then I would think, there is no history of breast cancer in
my family, so it could not possibly be malignant.
Pete arrived home from England
the day before I had to go back for the next fine needle aspiration. We went
to have the test the day after Pete arrived home. We were both so happy. We
hadn't seen each other for six weeks and our baby was getting closer to being
born and we felt sure that this test would come back benign. He did the test
and sent it away and we went back to get the results the next day. We were a
little bit apprehensive but we were also quite happy, thinking that this was
the last of it and we could put it all behind us and get on with our lives
and the preparation of having our baby.
We will never forget the next few
minutes of our lives. We sat in his office, quite nervous, especially when we
saw that he was not bubbling with joy, and waited for the results that would
change our lives forever.
This doctor was cold, rude and
seemingly uncaring about the news he was about to deliver to us. In words
something similar to this, he broke the news to us: "Well, the test
has come back positive, it is cancer, I want you in hospital immediately. We
will have to take the whole breast off and of course we will have to take
your baby. We have no options."
It was as if we had been hit by lightening!
He said he had to take the baby
as the oestrogen, because I was pregnant, was feeding the cancer, so the baby
absolutely had to go and he would have to take the whole breast off as,
because I was pregnant, unless he took the whole breast, the wound would
never heal because the milk glands would leak into it, not allowing it to
heal. The only thing he could think of was to remove the whole breast, thus
eradicating all of the cancer and all of the milk glands.
As he was telling us this news,
he was busy filling in a hospital form and was already on the phone booking
me into hospital. You could see the dollar signs light up in his eyes!
He said sign here, and pointed to
a place on the form, and go straight to hospital. We were in a total state of
shock, I was crying and Pete was very distraught too but this man didn't seem
to care one little bit about the news he had just broken to us, or what he
was about to do to my body and our baby.
We told him that we couldn't go
straight to hospital as we had things to organise and children to get minded.
He said, oh well, just sign the form and get in there as soon as you can this
Thank goodness Pete took a bit of
control and suggested that we not rush into anything, and that we go outside
and have a talk in private about what we are going to do, and just so that we
can calm down a bit and absorb what we had just been told. This could not be
happening to us. We virtually went there just to get the all clear and
suddenly we are planning mastectomies and having a premature baby. This is
the sort of thing that you hear about happening to other people and feel very
sorry for them, but you never, ever expect it is going to happen to you.
The Doctor was not happy about
our decision and said it doesn't matter how long we talked about it, it will
make no difference, and that he could not wait for us to make up our mind, he
had to go, he will leave the form at the front desk. He was so rude and we
were in a deep state of shock and his attitude did not help us at all. I know
that our GP does not refer anyone to him any more.
We went outside and sat in the
car for about half an hour. We didn't know what to do. We were both very
upset at what we were about to go through and were also very worried about
the health of our baby. The thought of losing my breast was devastating, but
even worse, it could have also meant, that, because my baby was only 34
weeks, many complications or even the life of our baby. On top of this was
the very real fear that if I made the wrong decision, I, or our baby, was
going to die. We decided to go back and sign the form and then go home and
talk about it some more, but by signing the form, this did not mean we were
going to go through with anything.
We went home, still in a state of
shock, broke the news as gently as we could to my wonderful parents and my
most gorgeous children and started packing a bag for me to take to hospital.
After all, this man was supposed to be an expert in his field and would only
have my best interests at heart.
It was a Friday evening when we
turned up to the hospital, full of doubt and fear about what we were about to
go through. As I was pregnant, I had to get booked in through the labour
ward. I was to be operated on, on the following Tuesday but the Doctor wanted
me in hospital on the Friday so they could start treatment to improve the
The staff in the labour ward were
absolutely wonderful to us. They could tell how upset we were and sat with us
and talked for quite a long time. It was quite obvious to us, after hours of
talking to the staff and also the hospital superintendent, that we needed to
get a second opinion. They told us that the treatment that was needed for the
babies lungs need not be started until Monday for the operations on Tuesday
so to come back on Sunday Night. Although they were not allowed to tell us
straight out to get a second opinion, we read between the lines and certainly
got the message. We will be forever grateful as we never went back to the
hospital on the Sunday night, which was to be a decision we will never, ever
It was late on Friday night when
we got home, so there was not much that could be done, so we rang my parents
and told them what had happened and took ourselves off to bed for a not so
restful nights sleep. Pete kissed me goodnight and told me that in the
morning we would get on the phone and not get off until we had an answer.
First thing the next morning, Pete took control and I will never ever forget
what he has done for me and I will thank him for the rest of my life for what
he did for me over the next few months. I would never have been brave enough
to walk away from that hospital by myself, but this decision changed the
outcome of my problem in a way that could not be imagined.
We lay in bed on the Saturday
morning trying to think where to start. The only place we could think of was
the breast cancer council. We phoned there, but being Saturday morning, we
got a recorded message.
What to do! Pete then suggested,
the only thing he could think of was that he knew of a lady named
Dianne (one of his son's soccer coaches) who had had something done to
her breast a couple of years earlier. He wasn't sure what it was, but he said
it is worth a try. She had a silent phone number and after much tracking down
through the soccer team, and a stroke of luck, we phoned her. It was still
very early on the Saturday morning. Her husband answered and told us that
they were just walking out the door and had to go but could they call us back
later. Pete gave him a brief version of our story which he relayed to his
wife and Pete heard her say to her husband, "You go, they need to talk
to me". Had we phoned one minute later we would have missed her and our
story would have been totally different again.
Dianne told us that she had had a
total mastectomy due to breast cancer and was now totally recovered. She
talked to us for quite a long time, and highly recommended us to her breast
specialist and gave us his name. She told us that she felt quite sure that he
would talk to us even though it was a Saturday morning. We looked him up in
the phone book and to our surprise he had his home residence number listed.
This man, Dr. Christopher Magarey, is a professor of very high
standing. We phoned him at home and told him of our predicament and asked him
for his advice.
He said he doesn't normally see
patients on Saturday's, but he had to go into his office to do some paper
work and would we like to come in. We couldn't thank him enough and arranged
to meet him in his office at 11.00am. We took with us all information we had
and rang the pathologists and asked them to fax direct to the professor any
information that they had, which they were happy to do.
Full of hope we turned up to see
the professor and he had received the faxes from the pathologists. He read
the reports and told us that he could not see on these reports any indication
that confirmed cancer. We were stunned but extremely excited. We could tell
after talking to this professor for a while that this was the man we wanted
looking after us. We asked him for his opinion but before he could give it,
as we were already somebody else's patient, he said that he needed to know
what we wanted to do.
Pete looked across to me and then
said, "I think I can speak on behalf of Sue and say that we would like
you to be our Doctor." I immediately agreed. He said he would not make
any decisions at all until he had done his own tests and told us that he
would do a core biopsy in his surgery that very day and send it off to the
pathologists immediately. He did tell us that our other breast specialist was
about 20 years out of date and that if the results did come back as cancer,
then he would definitely not have to touch our baby and a total mastectomy
was the very last resort.
He then took me in and did the
core biopsy. This is a large piece of the lump, sucked through a tube about
the thickness of a drinking straw. He numbed the area first and then did the
biopsy. I felt no pain. We thanked him immensely and left feeling at last in
safe hands. We were told to come back on Tuesday afternoon for the results
and we would deal with the outcome then.
We left his office feeling a
touch more hopeful, and thinking that maybe the whole thing had been a big
mistake and that this Doctor was going to give me the all clear on Tuesday.
Pete was furious with the first Doctor and that if fate had not stepped in,
we would have been in a totally different situation. We would definitely have
lost the full breast and possibly even our baby. Even if the results of these
tests still came back positive, the outcome was sure to be totally different
than if we had gone along with the first Doctor's decision. A very big
lesson was learnt about getting second opinions. The fact is, that if I
had not had Pete with me, I probably would have gone along with his decision
and I will be forever grateful to Pete for staying calm and leading me in the
On the train on the way home,
Pete told me that we were going straight to the library and we were going to
get out as many books on breast cancer as we could find and we were going to
know more about it than the Doctors. We spent quite a while at the library
going through many books deciding which ones were right for us, some were
very old and with all the advances with cancer were too out of date. We also
wanted others with diet, natural health and alternative medicine. We left
laden down with books and went home and started reading. We have read so much
(Pete more than I), that we now know quite a bit about breast cancer. Pete
has a scientific background so he understood more than I did and was able to
explain to me what a lot of it meant.
|Even when we went to bed we were still
reading into the small hours and even when I fell asleep, Pete still
carried on. He was not going to rest until he knew more than anyone else
could possibly know about Breast Cancer.
We also started making phone calls and talking
to people who had been through it, although I was slightly different being
pregnant as well. It was good and bad. Once you start talking to people you
find that everyone has known someone with it and they would say thinks like
"my cousin died of breast cancer, she was only 34" or "my
friend had it and now she has brain cancer" so it did get a bit
depressing. Then there were the positive ones like "my aunt had it 30
years ago and is still going strong". In the end I didn't feel much like
hearing other case stories as sometimes they made me feel up and sometimes
they made me feel very down. Pete did talk to a lot more people than I did
and always found some encouraging things to relay to me. This could not be
happening to me, there was no history of breast cancer in my family and I had
never been sick a day in my life.
Pete never for one minute made me feel like I
was going to die. Every time he held me and told me that everything was going
to be OK, I believed him and it made me feel like he knew something that I
didn't. I know deep down that he was very, very scared as well and it was so
stressful for him not being able to break down like I was doing all the time
and having to be brave for me when all the time I know that in the back of
his mind there was that element of doubt. There had to be. It was CANCER
after all! The same thing for my family. They were so worried about me but
all remained so strong for me. Looking back now, I feel so much for my Mum
and Dad, sister and brothers and of course my big kids. I am so close to my
family and I was just so wrapped up in the disease and the treatment that I
am ashamed to say that I cannot remember thinking what they were going
through. My parents must have gone through so much. We are so close and since
I have had my breast cancer, my cousin who was only in his 40's died suddenly
of a heart attack and my Aunt and Uncle are devastated and just cannot get
Everyone was so brave for me and encouraging
when all the while I know that they were just as scared as I was. I truly
cannot thank them enough. Pete, Mum and Dad, my sister, brothers, my
beautiful children, Brad and Katherine, Pete's children, my Aunts, Uncles,
and all of my friends. How do you ever find enough words to say thank you,
when thank you just doesn't seem enough. You
are my family and friends and I just adore you all so much and I am so sorry
that I put you all through that horrible time. I wish I had have understood
how you were feeling at the time. Just know how much I love you all.
Mum sent along a charm from one of her friends
in the retirement village. Apparently they were all praying for me and he was
particularly worried about me and sent me a silver charm of Saint Peregrine -
The Patron Saint of Cancer. I put it on that day and I have never taken it
off. Thankyou Charlie. I feel quite sure that your prayers were heard.
I immediately started on massive doses of
vitamin C, E and A. We also changed our diet and lifestyle. My breast
specialist also held meditation classes for people who had cancer. I attended
these for a few weeks and found them very helpful and relaxing and both Pete
and I were able to talk to people going through the same or similar treatment
and feelings as were were.
I felt terrible for my beautiful children,
Brad and Katherine. They were so brave and not sure what was happening and
whether they were going to lose their Mum. We kept them filled in on
everything that was happening and tried to explain what was going on to them
but at the same time giving them hope that everything was going to be
alright. Thanks for your love and support kids and it was with everyone's
love, like yours, that we got through this trauma in our lives.
After a very long and tense few days, it was
now Tuesday afternoon and time to go and see the future of my life. We very
nervously waited in the waiting room, but as I said, still there was that
tiny glimmer of hope that it was all a mistake, and we held on to that
Unfortunately, our wishes did
not come true and we were told, in a much gentler and caring manner, that
it was indeed cancer.
I can't quite remember our reactions to the
news. I think we had expected it and we just sat, resigned to the news and
inquisitive about what was about to happen to me, to us. Our Doctor told us
that the lump would have to be dealt with as soon as possible and he booked
me in for surgery on the following Monday, 31st October, 1994. I went in on
the Sunday night and tried to prepare myself for the outcome.
Our Doctor was going to do a partial
mastectomy and removal of the lymph nodes under the arm as I also had a lump
under my left arm. He was going to take as little of the breast as possible,
but until he actually opened me up, he could not tell how much he had to take
and there was still the possibility that he may have to take the whole
breast, but he assured me that it would only be done if it was needed to save
my life. He warned us that I may go into labour as a result of the
anaesthetic. The baby was monitored throughout the whole operation and the
labour ward was on standby for an emergency caesarean section if necessary.
We were told that the baby would just have a sleep, the same as me, and would
wake up around the same time.
The time came to say goodbye to Pete and I
really felt so sorry for him and for everyone else at home during this period
of waiting. At least I would be asleep and I wouldn't have to think about
what was happening and I would wake up and it would be all over. As they
wheeled me into theatre, I think I was amazingly calm (probably the sedation)
and prepared for whatever the results were.
The next thing I knew I was waking up in
recovery and all I was worried about was our baby and could I hear the
heartbeat on the monitor. I was assured by the lovely staff that all was well
with both me and the baby and that the baby was probably still asleep but the
heartbeat was loud and strong. As they wheeled me out of recovery, I was so
pleased to see Pete's beautiful face waiting at the first door for me. I was
not sure of what had happened to me yet, and at that stage I was not sure how
much Pete knew either. He confided in me later that when he first saw me that
he thought they had taken the whole breast off as all he could see was
I was on a drip and I also had a tube coming
out of the breast attached to a collection bag for any blood or fluid to
drain into, which had to be emptied quite often. I can remember feeling quite
well considering what I had just been through. I was ecstatic when I felt
those first kicks from our baby and Pete was also thrilled to bits. After the
grogginess had worn off we decided we would sneak a peek inside the bandage
to see if there was any breast left or just a large hole filled with padding
as we had not yet seen the Doctor nor heard any results. We had known before
the operation that it was a very large lump and by the time they took
surrounding tissues as well, they would need to take at least quite a
sizeable chunk of my breast. As we gently eased the bandage back, we were
both delighted to see at first a nipple, and then still at least a small
breast. Even though it was still an horrific event, it was a far better
outcome than was offered by the first Doctor.
Pete stayed with me every minute and it wasn't
until quite late that evening that I convinced him to go home and get some
sleep as I was fine. My Mum and sister had also been to see me but I had to
convince my Dad not to come as he had only got out of hospital that very day
after having a prostate operation. I had already been told that I would
probably only be in for about three days so I told him I would see him when I
got home. I also told everyone else not to bother visiting me as I would only
be in for such a short time.
Pete went home that night with both of us
feeling a bit more at ease and with finally the first stage over and our baby
still in tact with its heart beating contentedly in my tummy.
The next day, Pete was back bright and early
and I was sitting up feeling terrific. We had a visit from the Doctor with
the results of the operation. This was the first news that we had heard as to
how things had gone. They had removed the lump quite successfully and quite a
large amount of the surrounding area just to be sure. An area about the size
of a large mandarin was removed. There was found to be no cancer cells in the
tissue around the lump. They had also removed 10 of the nodes from under my
arm as this is the only way that they can tell if the cancer had spread. They
had found one node was full of cancer cells and two others had microscopic
traces of cancer. This apparently is a very favourable result and the
likelihood of it having spread was very minimal.
The results came back that I had "Grade
3 Infiltrating Adenocarcinoma, 3.5cm".
I found this explanation on the internet...not
sure how correct it is, but it may help you to understand how the cancers are
The Stages of Breast Cancer
Stage is important in predicting the likelihood of distant spread or
metastasis. Stage also influences treatment planning and determines
prognosis. As stage of cancer increases, the risk of metastasis increases.
Depending on your stage, your physician may advise various tests such as
X-rays, bone scans, and CT scans to determine the presence or absence of
measurable metastasis. Stage and presence of metastases will influence
treatment. Staging of a breast cancer occurs after the surgical sample is
examined by the pathologist. To make this process easier medical science has
devised a system of staging called TNM (T = tumour, N = node, M =
Stage In situ - Ductal Carcinoma In situ or Lobular Carcinoma In situ,
or Paget's Disease of the nipple.
Stage 1 - The tumour is equal to or smaller than 2 centimetres. There
are no axillary lymph nodes positive for cancer, and there is no evidence of
Stage 2 - The tumour is over 2 centimetres but not more than 5 centimetres
in size. The axillary lymph nodes may or may not be positive for cancer. If a
tumour is smaller than 2 centimetres, but the lymph nodes are positive, this
would also be considered Stage 2.
Stage 3 - The tumour is larger than 5 centimetres with axillary lymph
nodes positive for cancer. It may extend into the pectoral muscle. In Stage
3, there is no distant metastasis.
Stage 4 - If distant metastasis to other organs has occurred, the
cancer is considered in this stage regardless of the size of the tumour or
the number of nodes involved.
Apparently I was doing very well after the
operation and the baby was fine and I was just to be watched for the next
couple of days and then I could go home. I started getting sore from being
pregnant and having to stay in bed and apart from being a bit sore under the
arm if I moved it, I felt on top of the world. I had Pete with me every
minute and I know how boring for him this must have been. I tried to convince
him to go home or at least go for a walk just to give him a break. He usually
would only go if it was meal times. He was wonderful.
By the Tuesday afternoon, (I was operated on
on the Monday morning) I was getting very edgy and all I wanted to do was go
home. They started giving me exercises for my arm so that I would get full
use of it back and showing Pete and I how to empty the bag that the drain
went into. I tried to convince them to let me go home as I was feeling so
well but they said until the Doctor came in the next day, that they could not
get the approval.
I would have to have radiotherapy and
chemotherapy but none of this could be started until the baby was born. I was
definitely not looking forward to any of this. The lady in the bed opposite
was in for massive burns to the breast from the radiotherapy treatment and
was in terrible pain. Chemotherapy to me meant I would lose my beautiful
thick, long brown hair and I think I was more worried about that than being
sick with the treatment.
I was released from hospital on the Thursday,
only two days after my operation, still with my bag attached to my breast and
"Doctor Pete" had strict instructions on how to empty it when it
got to a certain level. I was very pregnant and Pete had put me straight to
bed when I got home and between him and my parents I was very well looked
after over the next weeks. We had to leave the bag attached until the fluid
draining out had lowered to a certain amount each day. When this happened, my
local G.P. removed the bag and we were amazed at how long the drain tube was
that weaved its way through my breast.
By the next week I was well enough to get up
and around and started thinking about the baby who was to be born at any
minute. I was now on weekly visits to my Gynaecologist and already knew that
as I have had two previous caesarean sections that this baby would be born
the same way. The Doctor decided to put me in two weeks prior to my due date
so on Sunday night the 20th November, 1994, I was admitted to hospital, (the
same one I went to the first time who sent me home), to be operated on the
following morning. The staff remembered me and were so happy for us at how
things had turned out, much better than when they first met me.
Pete would often joke with me and the nurses
(to try to ease my discomfort of the looks of having part of my breast
removed) and he would say that he was a very lucky man. Now, when we made
love, he'd have the choice of a mature woman on one side and a young teenage
girl on the other.
I am sure they did not want Pete to watch either
in case he passed out as they kept telling him to sit down and stop peeking.
I only got to have one tiny little peek at her before a midwife and Pete
whisked her off to be cleaned and checked out.
At 8.34am on Monday 21st
November, 1994, our beautiful baby girl , Jessica Susan, was born.
A very healthy 3.6kg with extremely good lungs. An Angel had been sent to
us from heaven. I was awake during the operation and Pete was giving me a
blow by blow description of what was happening as I was unable to see
because of the sheet that they had up.
As I lay on the operating table, my second
major operation in three weeks, I remember praying and thanking God for
delivering me this beautiful little healthy girl and wondering if I would be
around for very long to see her and my other children grow up.
I promised my poor Mum and Dad waiting
anxiously at home that Pete would ring as soon as anything had happened, but
Pete got so involved with feeding and looking after Jessie that he completely
forgot about making any phone calls.
After I had been sewn back together and
returned to my room, I finally caught up with Pete again and was desperately
waiting to see my baby but apparently they had put her straight in a humidi-crib
as she was two weeks premi and they wanted to make sure her lungs were
working OK. As I had had a caesarean, I couldn't get up and see her but they
told me that if she was going to be in it for more than a couple of hours,
that they would actually wheel my bed around to the nursery so that I could
I asked Pete whether Mum and Dad were excited.
"Oh my God, I forgot to ring them". Pete had been so busy with
everything going on here that he completely forgot to ring anybody. As I had
a phone next to my bed, we decided to ring everyone from there. Of course my
Mum and Dad had become so anxious that they had been in constant contact with
the hospital and knew the news and had passed it on to other members of the
family and friends. They were ecstatic to actually hear my voice and pleased
that I felt well enough for them to come straight over and see me. We then
phoned the various schools where some of the other children were and asked
them to deliver the news that they had a new baby sister and decided that
Pete would do the rest of the phone calls from home later that evening.
After the excitement of a new baby in the
house had died down a bit, the harsh reality of what I still had to go
through finally hit me and we made an appointment to see the Oncologist to
find out about the Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy.
He was a lovely Doctor who filled us in on
exactly what was going to happen. Pete had done heaps of reading about both
treatments by this time and had lots of questions for him which he answered
in a very professional and caring manner. I was told that the operation had
been successful and that the treatment that I was having was called adjuvant
therapy. It was just in case any cancer cells had escaped through the glands
and into other parts of my body and the radiotherapy was directed only to the
breast, surrounding areas and under the armpit to kill any stray cancer cells
that might still be left. The most important thing to me was whether or not I
would lose my hair and he told us that with the mixture of drugs in the
therapy that I would be having, in most cases, people did not lose their
hair. I was warned that I would feel quite unwell at times but that in time
these feelings would pass and that it would only be while I was having the
treatment. I was to have six months of chemotherapy with two treatments each
month and then to be followed by six weeks, every day, of radiotherapy.
I had my first Chemotherapy treatments in
December, a mixture of drugs fed through a vein in my hand. It only took a
couple of minutes and I was fine and felt no effects. Then Christmas was upon
us and I was improving every day from my two operations. Our gorgeous little
girl was a godsend and gave us so much pleasure. We were so happy that the
other children had accepted their new little half sister so well and all
adored her so much.
Things were starting to look a bit brighter.
The treatment was not having any effect on me and we had a very happy home
life and we realised that once we got this treatment out of the way, that
maybe our life would get back to normal.
I went for the treatment again in January and
I didn't feel quite as well and by the February I was feeling quite ill for
about three weeks out of each month. I started getting very bad headaches and
feeling very ill and depressed and convinced myself that things had gone
wrong and that I was now dying. The chemotherapy knocked my immune system
around and I caught a massive dose of the flu and I had to miss one of my
treatments. I felt so bad that I said to Pete that I just wanted to run away
from it all for a while, I couldn't take any more. We looked in the paper
that Sunday and on the Monday we booked a holiday to China.
My hair started thinning and falling out by
the handfull's, but I had such thick hair, that it could not be noticed yet.
The Oncology staff promised me that it was only thinning and that it would
soon settle down, but every day I lost more and more hair and I was not
convinced. Luckily, they were right and it did settle down, I probably lost
half of my hair, but to most people, it was hardly noticeable.
I put off my next treatment until I returned
from overseas as I did not want to feel unwell the whole time we were away.
People probably were not sure that it was the right thing for us to do, but
you look at things in a different light when you have had a life threatening
disease and things that you have been putting off for financial or other
reasons, all of a sudden become of great importance to you. Apart from the
first couple of days, I felt fantastic while we were away and had the most
wonderful time. We took our four month old baby and she was wonderful. We
will never regret what we did and we both now have a different attitude to
putting off until later the things that you really want to do in life.
When we returned from overseas, I returned to
my treatment, and to feeling unwell again and to the massive headaches,
blurred vision, sore eyes, paralysis down one side of my face, etc etc. I had
by now convinced myself that I had a brain tumour and Pete had been so
wonderful throughout the whole thing, being my rock of Gibraltar, just
holding me, comforting me, telling me that I was definitely NOT dying, that
it was only the treatment, how much he loved me and that we could get through
this as long as we had each other and the love of the rest of the family and
our friends. We had been telling the Doctors how I was feeling and they had
not seen these symptoms before. I had this numb feeling down the left side of
my face and down my left arm. They advised that if it did not go away soon
that maybe I should have a brain scan. I was feeling so unwell from the
chemotherapy that the Oncologist advised me not to have the last months
treatment and I must admit I was not sorry to hear that.
This made me feel worse and I now felt quite
sure that I had brain cancer. Pete was trying to convince me to have the
brain scan, just to ease my mind, that I was not dying and that I would feel
much better afterwards. I was so sure that I did have a brain tumour that I
was scared to have the scan as it would only confirm my worst thoughts. I
broke down one day in my Dads arms and told him what I thought and he made me
promise that I would have the scan so that it would put my mind at ease. He
said that it probably was OK but if it wasn't, it was something that we had
to find out and that everyone would be there to help me through, no matter
what the result was.
That was one of the scariest days of my life,
lying on the table and going inside this machine that was going to give me
the answers to whether I was dying or not. Throughout this whole ordeal I was
always feeling so bad for Pete and the rest of my family as the waiting and
not knowing has to be the worst part.
We sat in the waiting room while they looked
at and prepared my results. I felt quite ill and was still convinced that I
knew the results. When my name was called, I took the envelope with the
x-rays and we headed for the train station. We had to go straight to the
hospital to have my first meeting about my radiotherapy and did not even have
time to go to my GP to hear the results.
Here we were with this envelope, not knowing
what answers it had inside. It was addressed to my GP with strict
instructions that it could be only opened by him. We discussed whether or not
to open it. It would be hours before we could get to the GP and we just could
not stand it any more. We drove to the station and decided to make a decision
when we got there. Pete left it totally up to me. I decided to open it and if
it was bad news, then we would go straight home and not even worry about
going to the radiotherapist.
My hands were shaking as I opened the envelope
and read the results to Pete:
CEREBRAL CT SCAN.
Scans were obtained both before and after
administration of contrast. No focal abnormalities could be seen in the
brain. There is no evidence of mass lesion, abnormal enhancement or
infarction. The ventricles and subarachnoid spaces are of normal volume and
there is no evidence of a mass effect.
CONCLUSION : Normal examination
We screamed, cried, hugged each other and just
were absolutely overwhelmed with relief. We got out of the car and I ran to
the phone on the station to ring my parents while Pete bought our tickets.
Mum and Dad were ecstatic. We hopped on the train and headed off for the next
adventure in this very long and draining business. Almost immediately, I
started to feel better. The headache lifted and now that the chemotherapy was
finished, all of my other symptoms started to disappear.
I made a joke with everyone now that at least
I had proof that I had a brain, but I had grave doubts about the rest of
The radiotherapy staff were absolutely
wonderful. Kind and caring and we could tell that they were very skilled at
their jobs. We were told that I would probably burn with this treatment and
that it would be like a very bad case of sunburn. I was taking very high
doses of vitamins A and E and after each treatment Pete would religiously
rub the area with the juice of the Aloe Vera plant which he would pick
each day and cut open the leaves.
As the treatments went on I kept enquiring as
to when I could expect to start burning as I was not looking forward to it at
all. I saw other women there who were in so much pain because of their burns
and had to be wrapped in bandages and come back to the hospital for treatment
even weeks after their radiotherapy had finished.
I was told that I should probably have started
burning by now and that I was extremely lucky that I was only going a tiny
bit pink. Still, every day I would take the vitamins and Pete would rub on
the aloe vera. Then one day I felt a bit sore under the arm in an area that
we didn't realise was being treated and sure enough, it was starting to burn.
It was an area that Pete had not been rubbing the aloe vera on as we did not
know that the treatment was going under there. He immediately put some on and
from then on I had no more burning.
I got right through the treatment without
getting any more than a bit pink and the Doctors and staff were amazed. They
wrote down everything that we were doing and I think that now they are
recommending it to other people in the same situation.
With the radiotherapy over, life started to
get back to normal. I started feeling very well and even though I was still
having regular 3 monthly check-ups, I started to try to put it all behind me.
My check- ups went well and as far as the Doctors could tell, there seemed to
be no recurrence. My breast specialist, radiotherapist and gynaecologist were
all amazed at my excellent recovery.
My breast and underarm have healed so well
that you can hardly even tell that I had anything done. At one stage we were
quite worried about my breast as it seemed to be quite swollen. My GP could
not find anything wrong and said it all looked wonderful. What had amazingly
happened was that, somehow, my breast, which was almost half the size of the
other, had grown back to almost its normal size. It actually looks better
than the healthy breast as it is not quite so saggy.
On 16th October, 1995, almost 12 months after
my Breast Cancer operation, Pete and I were married. Jessie was 11 months
old. We just had a very simple service with very close friends and family at
a Registry Office in the heart of Sydney and then went to a very low key
reception. Cappuccino and cake just up the road. It was very nice, but
looking back, we have both decided that we should have done it in some
beautiful gardens or something. We then had relatives take all of the kids
and we just stayed at one of Sydney's top hotels for the night. We had a
lovely time, and now, every year on our Anniversary, we go away, just for one
night, usually to a show, dinner and a night at a really classy hotel, just
to spoil ourselves. It is lovely. We stay somewhere different every year, but
usually in the city.
Then, at the end of October, twelve months after the operation, I was to
have my first mammogram since it all started. I was so scared. This was the
first real test to see whether all of the cancer was gone and if they even
found one little trace, then the whole thing would have to start over again.
I had been having regular checks but they were just by the Doctor, feeling
with his hands. This was the first real test.
Again I had these terrible feelings that I had
had in the past and was feeling quite ill for weeks before the mammogram. To
say we were delighted when the test came back ALL CLEAR would be an
understatement. Every time I get a headache or sore throat or sore toe or
feel even the slightest bit ill, then I think that it has come back and Pete
has a huge job convincing me that I am not dying. "SUE, YOU DO NOT
HAVE TOE CANCER!!!!!" ***grin***. I believe that these are quite
normal feelings and are to be expected for a few years after such an event.
It is now 18 months since my operation and I
am extremely well and happy. Our beautiful baby Jessica is 17 months old and
an absolute delight and we feel that she was sent to us as some kind of
reward for what we have been through. I say "WE" all the time,
because it wasn't just me who went through this. Pete was just as involved in
this as me, and also my family and friends. It affected everyone's life, not
just mine. We are also extremely lucky to have our other 11 children. We have
a double Brady Bunch and they all get on so well together. (Maybe not QUITE
like the Brady Bunch, but pretty close). I think all of our children now have
a better understanding of cancer and they have all been so wonderful and we
love them all dearly. We have been on another lovely holiday and we now don't
take life for granted and live every day as if it is our last.
How cute is she?
I guess the main moral of our story is, there
IS light at the end of the tunnel. Breast Cancer is not necessarily a death
sentence and one of the most important things that we have learnt from our
experience is to DEFINITELY GET A SECOND OPINION and NEVER give up hope. It
is YOUR life and YOU make the decisions of what you want to happen.
|One of my heroes is Olivia Newton-John.
I know that if she can beat this, then so can I. I admire her so much.
She is the sweetest most lovely lady and she once said, "It makes
me so proud to be someone that can inspire and help people," she
says. "Maybe that's why this happened to me, maybe that was supposed
to be my job all along." If you would like to read about her
story, just click on her photo opposite or the button to the left.
To anyone going through this or any other
disease, I feel for you and your family and wish you well. Keep your spirits
up and I pray that my story has given you some hope.
We would love to hear from anyone reading this
story, whether you would like to share your experiences with us, ask us some
advice, need a shoulder to cry on or just want to say hello. Please email us.
We promise to respond to EVERY email. Sometimes, it may take a few
weeks, but we do try to get back to every person who leaves us a message in
the guest book or emails us.
1st May, 1996 (My 42nd birthday)
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