Read Hayley and Rose's stories and see how you could help us to help others affected by cancer.
"My Dad died of kidney cancer, my Mum died of kidney cancer, then I was diagnosed with melanoma."
"The Cancer Society supported my Mum and Dad and our family during that very challenging time, providing practical support for us, often just in the background helping us out with whatever was needed. When I was diagnosed with cancer, they were there for me and my family too."
"Regardless of cancer, life still carries on with children going to school, bills to pay and errands to attend to. Cancer Society staff are friendly, profesional and have an empathetic understanding of what it means to have cancer, or to be in a position where you are supporting a loved one and how it can affect the whole family/whanau." They can guide you through your recovery as the emotional and physical effects of cancer don't just stop following treatment."
"Please support the Cancer Society - a little donation can go a long way to helping a local family in a time of need. The Cancer society team will be a sholder to cry on or ready with a cup of coffee and a chat if I ever need them."
Hayley Stevenson, Queenstown
It all started with THAT phone call. “Hi Rose, this is your GP. I have the results of your FNA from last week. I’m sorry to have to tell you but they have picked up some carcinoma cells from your biopsy.”
While you may think I was a tad upset to hear my GP’s news, all I thought was “Wow, phew!” From a young age I knew there had been something wrong with that bloody breast and made sure I always had regular mammograms. However, by September last year it had gotten to the stage where the pain was unbearable. And so with those few words my amazing learning adventure began, somewhat appropriately, in Breast Cancer Awareness month. There were meetings with doctors specialists, surgeons, district nurses, physiotherapists – you name it, I met with them.
First stop was with my surgeon, a man I immediately took a liking to. Not just because he would literally hold my life in his hands but because those hands were warm. After the initial examination he explained that my lump, all 45mm of it, meant I would most likely need a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy drugs. But it was detected early, therefore is treatable, he told me.
“Right! Ok, this may take a while but how long will I need off work?? “And will I still be able to ride my horse after this?” As you can see, I had yet to learn to respect this unwelcome visitor to my body!
I knew that once I dipped my toe into this pond, the ripple effects were going to be huge and long lasting. I am an incredibly positive person in those ‘not so positive’ situations but hate being the centre of attention or made a fuss of. When it came to telling family and friends I had to confess I opted for the relative safety of phoning. I feel ashamed I didn’t tell everyone in person but it’s a bit like telling people you got a D in English.
While there were some who have you dead & buried and already buying the funeral hat, there were those who held the light of positivity high. My older sister said “it’s Ok Rosie, look at Angelina Jolie. She’s got two new perky ones and so can you!” Who said mine weren’t perky already! So on with the surgery, a right mastectomy and removal of some lymph nodes on 6 November. This went well and my husband and daughter were there for the ‘big reveal’. As I peeked under my glamorous hospital gown, I was actually fine with what I saw. However, I was quite mortified by the two drains, which looked like grenades and we so nicknamed as such.
My husband did mention that Sports Illustrated had cancelled my bikini contract, which made me laugh!! Once at home I rested and did my exercises religiously. My husband had challenged me with my stretches saying “you need to get that bridle on your horse”, which was just what I needed to hear.
But then I hit a speed bump – well, it was more of a crater in the road to recovery. I found out I had to have another surgery to remove my remaining lymph nodes and insert a portacath at the same time. Ok, so I had two surgeries in six weeks. I thought “that’s ok, that won’t be so bad”. WRONG. It hit me like a Mac Truck, I was left feeling overwhelmed and needing a lot of rest. It wasn’t until late January that I rang for my results, which provided me and my family with the boost we needed – the lymph nodes were clear.
That was one of my highs on this roller coaster ride and fortunately provided us all with a much needed boost as I struggled with the effect of my chemo treatments. Yes, after everything we face as cancer survivors, you would have thought losing my hair wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But it was. I struggled with this because it was such a public thing. You know it’s going to happen but nothing really prepares you for it when it does. I had a wig, which helped me cope a lot, especially in the early days. Strange how I didn’t feel the same when I lost my breast.
It was such a happy day when my girlfriend shaved my hair off for me. Maybe it was the fact that with this one act I took back control, made the decision myself to become bald and not wait for the chemo to pluck each strand. It was a bonus that my husband, who is bald, totally loved the new look. I will never forget the honesty of my beautiful three-year-old grand-daughter Sophia who, after remarking on my hair falling out, said: “that’s ok Rosa - when it does (grow back) I will put ribbons and clips in your hair to make you look pretty”. So precious!
I took the first week off work when I started chemo, then felt ok to go back for the next two weeks. I must admit I got a bit too confident, thinking “Ok I can do this”. As the treatment continued, it took me longer to feel better. Then I was knocked for six – with my immune system shattered I ended up in hospital. Probably a good thing, in hindsight, but on one occasion I was readmitted only four hours after being discharged. That really sucked and made me mad as hell. It was almost like cancer was giving me a good kick in the arse and reminding me that this was serious. So the decision was made not to return to work, not that I could of. I was catching everything possible, averaging an infection every month. As my radiologist so aptly put it “this isn’t a journey, it’s a blood ordeal”.
The term “Chemo Brain” rang true for me and if I hadn’t of written everything down I probably would’ve lost it completely. Rather naively I thought I could handle this chemo crap but it has a way of letting you know who is in charge and playing with your mind completely. It would be fair to say that I struggled. One day a good friend came to visit and I just burst into tears! Trust me, I was never given to emotional outbursts prior to this so I felt very exposed. Bless my friend, the next day she whisked my off to my happy place, Walnut Cottage, with our puppies – yes, loose a breast, and get a puppy. I recommend it.
There is so much I could write about. The triumphs, the disappointments but above all else, the many wonderful people who have been there to prop me up when I needed it, give me information when I asked (and believe me I asked a lot) and deliver the occasional random act of kindness.
My wonderful Cancer Society support nurse, whose mantra “be kind to yourself Rose” was invaluable; the medical staff at our hospitals who gave me confidence and treated me with incredible patience; my employer, for its unwavering support and phone calls to check on progress; and the Look Good, Feel Better programme run through the Cancer Society.
A friend recently asked me what the whole process had been like for me. If I could explain it in any other way it would be: “It’s like you are driving your car but you still have the hand brake on”.
Now it’s mid-July 2014 and the hand brake is off but the car is still in second gear. I’m taking it slowly because given what my body has been through in the last eight months, there’s absolutely no rush to pop it into overdrive.
Rose McMillan, Cancer Survivor, Mandeville