Category Archives: Uncategorized

TWO

On February 1st, I had my second cancerversary.  And while there was no champagne and no celebratory dinner, I did most definitely have a few flashback moments and reminders of the day I was diagnosed.  After two years, lots of the horrific memories of 2016 have started to fade, but my desire to be healthy, strong and happy absolutely remains.

[Here is a little trip down hair memory lane.  Taken using Photo Booth on my iMac at various stages from diagnosis to today]

I haven’t written a blog post in quite some time.  But when I started this blog I wanted to bring everyone along on the ride and help people to understand that breast cancer (well, any cancer to be honest) does not discriminate and that no matter someones age/ fitness level/ marital status/ employment status, cancer really can pop up at the most unexpected times… or is that expected times?

I recently read a book called ‘When the Body Says No’.  It’s a pretty confronting read for anyone that has or has had a chronic illness, but, it’s message was pretty simple.  Sometimes our bodies will do what we don’t do – say no.  It is written by a Canadian physician who says that modern medicine has divorced the mind/ body connection when treating patients.  He argues that modern medicine treats only the body, but that it is important for doctors to ask ‘why’ their patient got sick.  He says (and I would agree) that many don’t ask that question because they don’t want to ascribe blame to patients.  After all, we really are told to believe that getting a chronic illness like cancer is just unlucky.  The book challenges that assumption and concludes by telling the reader that if they have a chronic illness they have to go on a healing journey.

The book and ‘turning two’ has had me reflecting on my own ‘journey’.  Was breast cancer my body throwing its toys out of the cot and my body telling me to stop, slow down, take a breath and most importantly take care of myself?  Probably.  When I look back at life pre-cancer it was hectic.  All the time.  I was working non stop, trying to be there for family, making sure I saw my friends, trying not to miss out on events, working some more in-between it all and not really taking very good care of myself.   I was stressed, puffed up like a blowfish (like, seriously!), not sleeping properly, eating pretty badly (I mean, who doesn’t love kit-kats and cheezels washed down with coke zero?) and not exercising nearly enough.  My Mum referred to me as the ‘robot’.  My regular routine involved being at work by 7.30, working all day and into the night, eating most meals at my desk (including dinner which was often something from the vending machine) and then coming home to sleep and getting up to do it all over again the next day.  For some people that is sustainable, for me, it wasn’t.

Life now is different.  And purposely so.

I ditched the job in private practice and I work a nine-day fortnight for a statutory authority.  My role is only quasi legal but very interesting and I am really loving not being in a law firm. I really need and look forward to weekends and time out of the office. I spend lots of time outside, I exercise regularly, I eat much better and I sleep for far longer every night than I used to.  But I make a serious effort to do those things – most days.

I’m not perfect by any stretch (like this week where I haven’t exercised really at all and I succumbed to sugar to get me through busy days), but I certainly do try to make better choices for me.  I had to re-prioritise my whole life, one bit at a time.  Not an easy thing to do and I am definitely not perfect and I am definitely still figuring things out.  I still overdo it sometimes.  I still crave and eat some sugar (even though everyone said if you cut it out eventually you won’t like the taste – I’m telling you they’re just lying to you and themselves.  Sugar is delicious.  I will always think so.).  I still get stressed and a bit anxious.  And sometimes I just get a little bit sad.  But that’s life, right?  You’ve just got to live it.  And as my surgeon reminded me this week, you can’t live in a bubble.  So, I’m living, as best as I can.  And constantly making sure I tune in to my body.

I am so bloody happy to have gotten to February 2018.  And I sincerely hope (and pray) to see many more Februaries.  I am actually very grateful for everything that has changed since 1 February 2016.   I am lighter, happier, more relaxed (ok, not all the time) and genuinely more grateful for life than ever before.  I catch myself all the time thinking how fortunate I am to be here, hang out with family and friends, swim in the ocean (although the reconstructed boobs don’t particularly like cold water), think, work, breath and live.  Life really is a blessing and a privilege and February will forever more be an anniversary that reminds me of that.

To many more Februaries, a little more hair, a bit more fun and whole lot more living.

Big love,
Krissy xx

 

S P R I N G

In Australia, September marks the start of Spring.  I have always particularly loved the month of September.  I am a lover of the sun and typically, although we have mild winters in Perth, the sun really does start to shine in ernest in September.  Also, the Italian film festival is on in September and while that may not seem like anything to write home about, having studied Italian, I always love the festival.  The festival also marks the beginning of a fun time of year as we head toward the festive period of December, at least in my mind.

This September has been busy.  I am now nearly eight weeks post my ‘exchange’ surgery which happened in late July.  That was a surgery where the air expanders (rocks!) that were stretching my breast skin were exchanged for silicone implants.  My boobs are looking pretty good now as things start to really settle down.  But there’s a little way to go before I’m completely finished with the reconstruction.  I don’t quite know what lies ahead, but a visit to my surgeon in a few weeks will give me a clearer idea.

Now that I’m eight weeks post surgery, I’ve also been given the all clear to exercise.  Just in time because I signed up to the ‘Steptember’ challenge with some work colleagues this September.  We have to step 10,000 steps everyday to raise awareness and much needed funds for people with cerebral palsy.  It’s a movement challenge which is symbolic of the fact that people suffering with cerebral palsy have such restricted/ limited movement.  So far this month I’ve stepped 223,000 steps.  With 10 days to go, I’m feeling pretty good. If you’re feeling generous and would like to sponsor my team, the Corrs Walkaholics, you can do so here.

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My bathroom renovation has also been happening this month.  So far the demolition and tiling are done.  It’s been a little more involved than I anticipated, but I’m pretty pleased with how it’s all coming together.  Next on the reno list is the kitchen.  Eeeeppp. That’s one for next year.

In and amongst the stepping and the renovating, I’ve returned to pilates and been working.  Yesterday I was part of a flexibility discussion at work – given I work part time and am not a mother, I’m an unusual candidate for flexibility at work.  But I have to say that I continue to enjoy the part time work arrangement.  Although, in the last few weeks I’ve been contemplating whether it’s time to increase to four days a week.  Seems like a big step, but I think it’s one that will be good for me (and my team).  I take my hat off to those who have successfully navigated flexible working arrangements in the past.  I certainly don’t find it easy to work part time, but I do think it’s so important for my health and sanity to continue trying.

Trying to piece together this new normal life of mine certainly isn’t always easy.  And I have to say sometimes it frankly bloody sucks.  I feel grateful, every day, for different things.  For example last week my friend Sara made me climb the rocks in North Beach.  A month ago my body simply wouldn’t have been strong enough, but with some persistence (and grumbling), I managed. Win.  I’m also more energetic than I have been in a little while.  I credit the walking, but it could also just be time.  But while I’m pretty happy and grateful most of the time, sometimes the events of the last two years hit me like a tonne of bricks and I get a bit shitty about just how hard everything has been.  My lymphy arm remains a source of constant struggle and every time I overdo things (too much work, too much physical activity etc) I get a flare up which in turn is a trigger for me. A constant reminder that my body will never be the same again (just in case the fake boobs didn’t give it away!).

I suspect that all I actually need is a holiday.   But having taken so much leave this for surgeries, there’s not much left over for a break… I am, however, looking forward to four days in Melbourne at the end of October and a work course in Singapore in November.  I’m sure they’ll help me recharge my batteries!

In the meantime, I’m trying to think of a fundraising idea for an October fundraiser for Breast Cancer Care WA.  I’m thinking a dance class, but can’t quite decide! All ideas welcome…

For everyone in WA, I hope you find some time to relax and enjoy the sunshine over the long weekend.

Big love,
Krissy xx

 

 

The anxiety of moving forward

2015 was, among other things, the year of the house hunt for me.  I had been diligently saving my hard earned lawyer pennies and looking for the perfect house to buy.  I had very specific requirements, for example, I wanted an old house which had:

  • wooden floor boards throughout;
  • high ceilings, preferably with some decorative detail;
  • at least two decent sized bedrooms with another room for a study;
  • a kitchen sink under a window (who likes to stare at a wall when they’re washing the dishes?);
  • good bones that could be spruced up, without any real structural renovations required; and
  • the right price tag, within 8km of the city.

I really wanted to buy in Wembley, but after months of searching and finding nothing in my price range, I gave up.  In fact, after about six months of endless scrolling through realestate.com I gave up altogether.   Then one day, after a scrolling hiatus of a few months, I was eating lunch at my desk at work when I jumped online just to have a look and see what was around.  Encouraged by an ultrasound of my (then) suspect lump which (allegedly) revealed I only had a cyst, I thought it was the right time to see what was out there.

Much to my surprise, there was a perfect little house, in Wembley.  BUT, the price was definitely not right.  About $80,000 more than what I was looking to spend.  Still, buoyed by the fact that the house had failed to sell at auction, something told me that I needed to see this house.  It was OFI the next evening.  I had a mediation the day of the OFI and around 4.30pm I was getting a bit antsy.  I told the partner that I really needed the mediation to wrap up because I had to go and see a house that evening.  He was most confused, largely because I never left work early but also because although I had been talking about buying a house for many months, I had never attended a home open during the week.

But, attend I did.  I loved it.  It needed some serious TLC and a whole new kitchen and bathroom, but that wouldn’t stop me.  I flew to Melbourne the next morning for an awards evening for work and on my return on Sunday, I made an offer.  I made that offer in November 2015.  The settlement of the house occurred in late January 2016.  And then I was diagnosed.  All my plans to renovate and move into said little house flew out the window.  The house got a bit of a facelift and then was to be rented.  Luckily, it rented easily and I am grateful that I have good tenants who love living in my house.

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Here’s the thing.  I was supposed to live there.  As much as I love my Mum and my sister, it was time to move out.  Well, here we are 16 months after diagnosis.  I’m still living at home and my little house is still rented.

So many things, including my income, have changed since I bought the house, but I still want to renovate and live there.  I made the decision that if my tenants were taking a holiday any time this year, I’d tackle the bathroom as a first small step toward realising that goal.  Planning the renovation required me, however, to go back to the house and measure the (little) bathroom and (even littler) powder room.  Well, cue the anxiety.  The thought of living there or renovating can sometimes overwhelm me.  I can’t even explain it.  But the house represents so much of what was lost in the midst of treatment and recovery and it also scares me a little to do anything with it, given the timing of events last year.  I don’t like to think of the what-if’s, but sometimes its inevitable that they creep into my thoughts.

But, there’s a little quote that always sticks in my mind, ‘forward is forward no matter the speed’.  So today, I’m going tile shopping.  The bathroom reno is happening in September.  Time to start moving forward.

Krissy xx

Foob* time

*Foob = fake boob

After many months of umming and arghing about whether to have a breast reconstruction, on 19 May, I bit the bullet and had my surgery.  I was so apprehensive about the surgery and really worried about the recovery, but as it, thankfully, turns out, I really had nothing to be worried about.

I put my ‘foobs’ (fake boobs) in the safe hands of Dr Mark Lee.  My prophylactic right breast mastectomy was in the safe surgical hands of my breast surgeon, Corinne Jones.  Corinne and Mark would work together to perform the surgery, which it was anticipated would take 3 to 4 hours.

I saw Mark the night before my surgery and he draw his surgical markings on me.  I then checked myself in to hospital to get ready for the surgery.  I was wheeled in to theatre at about 7.15am the next morning and about three hours later, I was in recovery.  In between, Corinne removed my right breast and Mark then performed a breast reconstruction using my lat dorsi muscle.  Once he had dissected that muscle and used it to form a shelf for my new foobs, tissue expanders were inserted and stage 1 of the reconstruction was complete.

An excellent pain pump (which pumped me with fentanyl) ensured that I really wasn’t in any pain for the first few days.  Nerve blockers and oral pain killers have taken care of me since then. As always, the care of the nurses at St John of God was wonderful.  And, I was lucky to have my family visiting and bringing me (edible) food.  They also filled my room with beautiful blooms, which brightened my abode right up.

I’m now two weeks post surgery and recovering well at home.  I’m still bruised on my left side (my radiated tissue and muscles didn’t play quite as nicely as everyone might have like during surgery), a little sore and I’ve got restricted movement. I still can’t drive, but I’ve just started going on walks again and I’m looking forward to these very foreign lumps on my chest starting to feel a little more normal.  In that regard, I must say, these reconstructed boobs (foobs) really do feel very strange.  It’s kind of like someone strapped two rocks into a very tight bra on my chest and told me to carry on as normal.  I have been told that after surgery 2 it’ll all feel softer and more normal.  In the meantime, I’m going to be expanding my foobs using a little remote control to get them to a desirable size… watch this space. I pick up the remote on Thursday.

Just before I was going to publish this post, I took a little insta break.  As I scrolled through my feed I saw a post by a friend I’ve made in the support group I attend at Breast Cancer Care WA (_justpeachey).  The post was about another one of the young women in the group, Jess.  Jess is 30 and has two kids. She always sticks in my mind because she bravely decided to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction.  And just at the end of last year she got a new job and felt like her life was back on track. Then, earlier this year her cancer returned. Metastasized to her brain.  I can tell you right now, it’s every breast cancer survivors biggest fear/ nightmare that the cancer will metastasize.  There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer.  My heart breaks for Jess and her family.  If you have a spare dollar or two, you can donate here (and read her story) to ease the financial strain on Jess’s family.  Please keep Jess and her family in your prayers, her oncologist has said she’s only got months to live.

I thought long and hard about whether to bring Jess’s story up in this post. But with the news of Olivia Newton John’s cancer metastasizing recently, I thought it was only right to do so.  Breast cancer is a shitty cancer. We can be positive, exercise, eat well, do all the right things and that may still not be enough.  This disease isn’t all pink ribbons and fake books. If it returns and metastasises, it is a killer.  And in my opinion the more research dollars we can pour into understanding how to cure metastastic breast cancer the better.  That way, we can have conversations about survival rates beyond five years and take this very real fear off the plate of breast cancer survivors.

It’s a long weekend here in Perth.  I’m planning to spend some time outside and soak up the sunshine. Bon weekend to you all.

Krissy x

Wonderful problems; spectacular moments

I always said that this blog was intended to give people insight into what it’s like to have breast cancer in your early 30s.

Well, it’s been just over a year since I started chemo and about six months since I finished all my treatment. And while I haven’t written a post in quite some time, life has certainly been carrying on. Getting back to (new) normal.

The medical appointments have lessened, although they are ongoing. I actually don’t mind the appointments though, because they give me some comfort. There is constant uneasiness about random aches and pains and about the fact that my body is just so different now. January and February were months of scans, mammograms and ultrasounds. All clear, thank God. And then there’s my lymph-y arm and chest wall, both of which are a source of constant attention, vigilance (and physio sessions!). And then there’s that small surgery that’s coming up in just two weeks, eek.

One of the things I have struggled most with post cancer is my lymph-y arm. When it’s bad it aches and is a little swollen. Lots of massage, physio, stretching and wearing a compression garment helps, but I hate it. For me it’s just a constant reminder of how much cancer has changed my life forever. I don’t begrudge it, but it does sometimes annoy me. I have occasional flip outs – like last week when I lost my shit because I wanted to go to Melbourne for a concert but didn’t want to come back completely exhausted just 10 days out from surgery. There are so many constant reminders that will be with me forever. Hopefully forever means until I’m old and grey (not just feeling old and grey).

In and around all the medical stuff and health management, life has just carried on. A big part of life continuing has been returning to work. I don’t want to labour over what’s that been like. Needless to say, it hasn’t been as easy as perhaps I would have thought. Patience, a virtue of which I have traditionally had very little, has been required. Working part time is, however, a saviour. All I’d say to anyone that’s on hormone blockers and has had an entirely successful return to work is, well done. While I am more than happy to be on exemestane and zoladex and while I’m so glad that I have a hormone treatment available to me, let me just tell you ladies, appreciate your oestrogen. It does far more for your body than you might imagine. Far more.

Other than wellness and work, there has been plenty of time for fun. Adele (ah-mazing!), a weekend in Margaret River, I turned 33. Another year alive, tick. Blessing. Then there was the second diner en blenc, which was a great event. So lovely to have my sisters and brother in law attend this year, too. And last month we celebrated Easter. It’s a big deal in the Orthodox church and I really love the traditions that go with Easter. So I feel pretty fortunate to have had the time to go to Church, bake, cook and spend time with family. My little sister’s birthday, lots of walks and as always a healthy amount of time in the kitchen.

I don’t think that this time a year ago I quite understood the path that lay ahead of me. I have had so many people tell me that everything would change, everything would be different and treatment would probably take two years to wrap up. I didn’t quite believe any of it. But here I am 15 months post diagnosis and I have to eat some humble pie. Life is so different now. The way I socialise, how much I need to sleep, how I can work, my ability to be spontaneous and jet off at the drop of a hat, my diet, my physical ability. It’s all different. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by it all, to be honest. But most of the time there’s a moment in the day when I am overwhelmingly grateful to be able to live this somewhat weird new normal life.

I’m looking forward to getting part 1 of my reconstruction out of the way. Nerves are at an all time high, but I have great faith in my surgeons and I’m looking forward to what adventures await post surgery. All I feel like doing right now is getting on a plane and having a whole lot of fun. Better start planning that next holiday…

Bon weekend!

Krissy xx

One

No one tells you when to celebrate your ‘cancerversary’.  Is it the day of diagnosis, the day of your first surgery, the day of your last surgery, the last day of treatment?  I think it’s really the day of diagnosis, but for good measure I’ve waited until after the date of my last surgery, last year.

‘Survivorship’ (as the time after cancer is commonly called) is, in the beginning a little tough.  Admittedly I’m only at the beginning, so I can’t really comment on how I’ll feel in time, but I can tell you that the five months which have passed since I’ve finished active treatment have probably been more emotionally and physically taxing than my actual treatment.  I’ve been reflecting on just why ‘survivorship’ can be a challenge and I think it all comes down to the need to adjust to a new normal.  I’ve written many times about feeling normal.  Actually though, I feel so different to the old me that there is no normal.  It’s all just a bit weird.  And trying to adjust and ‘be kind’ to myself can sometimes be a little frustrating.

There are lots of changes which have been positive post cancer.  An increased focus on wellness, fitness and diet has resulted in me being fitter, lighter and generally happier than I was this time last year.  Tick, tick, tick.  But then there are the cognitive changes, memory fog, achy joints, hot flushes, a lymph-y arm, endless physio appointments etc. which aren’t all terribly fun.  All of those things are by-products of surgeries and the drugs that I’m on (exemestane and zoladex).  And while I didn’t find any of those things particularly troubling before I started back at work, I must say they often present a challenge during the working day.

For example, I have recently developed a lymph-y arm.  I don’t like to call it lymphadema, and in any event, the physio isn’t quite sure if that’s what it is, but that results in practical implications like having to wear a compression garment, make sure I am moving around at work frequently, trying to stand at a standing desk instead of sitting all day.  All things which, of course, are very manageable.  But they’re also different.  In fact, the way I do my job is now generally quite different and certainly the number of hours I can spend sitting at my desk has changed dramatically.   So much of the last few months has been about figuring out the work part of my life – a lot of why I think I was good at my job was because of the sheer number of hours I spent doing it.  Compare that to working three days a week and you can only imagine the adjustment that has been required…

My last thought for today is about the ever increasing number of women who are being diagnosed with breast cancer.  On Tuesday as I sat at the hospital waiting for my monthly zoladex injection and port flush, I read that new statistics project that this year 48 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day in Australia. That’s apparently 5 more women every day this year than last year.  And that is, frankly, unacceptable.  Everyone will tell you that more woman are surviving breast cancer than ever before, but from my perspective, it would be better to avoid breast cancer entirely rather than survive it.  Cancer changes your life indescribably – it changes you physically, mentally and emotionally.  Maybe the conversation that we all need to be having now is one about what we can do to ensure that less women are being diagnosed than more.  I have pretty firm views that too much stress, a shitty diet and not enough physical activity are all working against us. But that’s a story for another day.

For today, I’m just going to count my blessings.  They are many.  And, as always, I am so very grateful for life.

Krissy xx

 

 

 

New year, new challenges.

2017It’s been a busy and social start to the new year.  January is always social, but this January in particular has been jam packed with fun events and long overdue catch ups with friends who returned home for the Christmas break.  It was one of those years where everyone descended on Perth for some sunshine and relaxation and it really was a treat to have so many friends home (from London, New York etc) and to get to attend the beautiful wedding of Josie and Cam.

After two weeks of lunches, champagnes, beach swims, dinners, wedding festivities, birthday celebrations and a trip down south, I thought I would feel completely rested and relaxed.  And while I was definitely relaxed, I returned to work for 2017 pretty exhausted.  Then I realised – my body simply can’t do what it used to do.  For the first time in many months I was having consecutive late nights and indulging in a few sneaky alcoholic beverages along the way.  Not one to completely break my routine, I was also pushing it in the exercise stakes.  Silly season indeed.

Now that I’ve been back in my regular routine for the last little while,  I’m feeling mostly pretty good.  Except that I’ve had some niggly throat/ cough/ chest thing going on since I was down south a few weeks ago.  In my past life, something like a cough and a bit of chest tightness wouldn’t worry me.  Now though, my mind wanders to all the worst case scenarios of what could be going…

I was told several times last year that while treatment has its own challenges, the time that cancer patients/ survivors find most difficult is the time after treatment when appointments stop and you’re left to fend for yourself and figure out how to go about your life.  I must say, while I am grateful to be feeling well and I am so happy that I am able to get on with my life, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t freak out about something or other most days.  There’s some serious anxiety that comes with this post treatment period.  I’m trying to live normally, but I don’t even really know what that means anymore.  Trying to get on with life, but that’ll all be disrupted again in a few months for more surgery.  Trying to be happy and stay in the moment and trying not to sweat the small stuff.  But it’s all frankly just a bit weird.  And still after all the time that has passed, I am still emotional and even a little fragile.

All I can hope for is that as the days, weeks and months tick by that it all gets a little easier and a little more normal.  I’ve always liked a challenge, so I’m totally up for taking on the challenge of living a more normal year and generally having a happier year than last year.  Onwards and upwards.

Happy new year to you all.  Here’s to a better year for everyone.

Krissy xx