Fa la la la la la la la la!

As I was drinking my morning coffee I realised that it has been over a month since my last blog post and one month since I started back at work.  The idea behind returning to work just before Christmas was that I would get to ease myself back in and then get a little break over Christmas before resuming in the new year.  What I didn’t factor in was all the extra things on at this time of year.  Ordinarily there’d be so many fun and festive things happening in any event, but this year, we’ve also had the big ‘Goodbye Golden Locks’ fundraiser and my little sister’s admission to throw into the mix.  And with everything that’s been going on, the only real word for the last month has been ‘busy’.  And that is not a word I like to use often anymore… So let me break down the last month for you:

  • 0 – blog posts written (until now).  Work has consumed all my mental capacity!
  • 1 – visit to the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research for a tour of the facility and meeting with researchers;
  • 1.5 – glasses of champagne drunk (some serious restraint has been exercised!);
  • 2 – sessions with my new Pinc & Steel physio, Charlene Duncan;
  • 3 – Christmas parties attended.  Two for work and one Nanson St Christmas party;
  • 4 – sessions with my ex-phys and four pilates sessions;
  • 9 – Christmas cakes baked for family and friends;
  • 13 – days worked;
  • 16 – the date in December that I got to move my little sister’s admission at the Supreme Court of Western Australia;
  • 17 – the date of my big sister’s birthday;
  • 30 – the number of tamoxifen tablets, magnesium/ calcium/ vitamin c supplements that I take daily;
  • 70 – cupcakes baked for the Goodbye Golden Locks fundraiser;
  • 75 – people that attended Goodbye Golden Locks;
  • 200 – gingerbread men baked to raise money for the Perth Children’s hospital (at the Nanson St Christmas Party);
  • 18,000 – the number of dollars raised for Perkins by the Goodbye Golden Locks fundraiser.  Huge thanks to everyone for your support and generosity and a special shout out to Fiona, who is now rocking a buzz cut!  You can read about the day here.

On reflection, what the last month has really meant is that my life is returning to some sort of normal.  My energy is slowly coming back (even if I still have to be in bed by 9.30pm most nights) and I am ever so slowly getting back in to the swing of things at work.  It wouldn’t be my life if there wasn’t lots of other things going on.  Working part time has been wonderful because I have had time to fit in all the other things.  In my past life, I would have shoved them in to a few hours over the weekend and ended up triply exhausted by Christmas.  Of course the challenge for me is always going to be to try and not take on too much.  A lesson I have had to learn, but one which is difficult to adhere to… although my body does a pretty good job these days of stopping me in my tracks when take on too much.

So with five days left until Christmas, more than anything, I am feeling pretty emotional and very grateful.  My emotions catch up with me fairly frequently these days, but that is ok.  I have gotten through the year and for that I am eternally grateful.  I thank God daily for giving me the strength and courage to get through this difficult year.

Now it’s time to get ready for Christmas and the new year.  Just a little more baking to do and a few salads to be made before Christmas.  The presents are (mostly) wrapped and the tree is decorated.

Before signing off, I want to wish everyone a very merry and blessed Christmas.  This really is a wonderful time of year.  I hope you take time out to enjoy Christmas with your family and friends.  Don’t get grouchy with shoppers, lose your mind in the traffic or get grumpy with your family when it all gets a bit much.  Just count your blessings – they are many and we often forget them.  Enjoy the festivities, over indulge, get in some exercise, tell the people around you that you love them and celebrate life!  Merry Christmas – may your days over the festive season be merry and bright!

Sending lots of Christmas love,
Krissy xx

 

Emotional ending

I’ve written a lot about my return to work.  Well, now it’s here.  Monday is the big day.  I expected to be a little apprehensive about returning to work, but I didn’t expect much more.  Incorrect, Kristina.

I have been surprised this week by just how emotional (yes, including teary) and anxious I’ve been.  Emotional for lots of reasons.  I am going back to work, my sister finished her chemo (thank God) and  for the first time in a long time, it feels like the end of this most difficult journey we’ve been on this year.

As I was walking at City Beach this afternoon, I felt like I had come full circle.  The day I was diagnosed my Mum and my little sister took me to Odyssea at City Beach for a drink.  I’ve been to Odyssea for countless juices and coffees this year.  And I’ve walked the path at City Beach more times than I can count.  It’s gotten me through many tough days. Days when all I could think about was being on the other side – of chemo, of radiation, of treatment in general.  Now that I’m on the other side, there’s a huge wave of emotion which has swept over me because now I just have to live my life, albeit differently to how I lived it before.  Work marks the beginning of a return to normal life, which is why I think I’ve found it all so emotional.  A line in the sand.  Treatment behind me, life in front of me.

With living though come so many fears.  They’re not logical or reasoned, but they do exist.  Every headache, twitchy eye or sore body part, a fear rises inside that something sinister could be going on.  Then there’s fear about whether my brain is going to work again.  Will I even be able to lawyer anymore?  Can I afford my life, including mortgage, working part time? Cue anxiety.

But today I decided to just let it all go.  Whatever will be will be.  If I’ve learnt anything this year it’s that I’m really not in control of much of what happens in my life.  So, I just have to have a little faith and hope for the best.  I’m sure my work skills will come back to me, even if slowly.  And as for living, I intend to do just that.  Lots of exercise and healthy eating in the coming months.  (The plastic surgeon has put the hard word on me to get as many kilos off and get as fit as possible before surgery next year.)  And of course there’s Christmas coming and my little sister’s admission.  So many things to look forward to.

Cancer certainly has changed my perspective on life, but it has also fundamentally changed me.  I’m not the same girl I was on 1 February.  I think I’m a little kinder and a little gentler with myself.  I certainly listen to my body more than I used to and I definitely put myself first a lot more now than I did before.  The challenge from next week is balancing the new Kristina with Kristina’s old life.  So, time to rip off the bandaid and get back to work and try.

In the meantime, I’m gearing up to attend the Super Sunday Group Fitness Class Fundraiser at Lords.  Our ‘Goodbye Golden Locks’ fundraising campaign has now raised over $7,000 for the Harry Perkins Institute.  We are so amazed and proud.  I’m calling it, we can get to $10,000.  Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to everyone that has so generously donated so far.  Come along on Sunday if you feel like getting sweaty!

Have a very lovely weekend.

Krissy xx

 

Back to reality

Yesterday, three things happened that to most people would be insignificant, but to me were milestones.  I did the bridges walk (a 10km walk around the Perth river), met with a cabinet maker and attended a flexibility workshop at work.

You might wonder why these three random events have any significance to me.  Here’s why.  They are all little milestones marking my entry back into the ‘real world’.  For the last nine months I have lived in a bubble of treatment, exercise, wellness, sickness, netflix, cooking and appointments.  Yesterday though, for the first time, my day included activities that are forward looking and not at all to do with recovery.

It felt so good to finish the ‘bridges’ walk.  A walk I haven’t done since before I left for Melbourne in 2010.  It’s a cracker, but my fitness seriously deteriorated over the years and the thought of walking that far was exhausting, let alone doing the walk.  It’s nice to be back in a place where I can get around the bridges in just under 1.5 hours.  (And yes, for the runners of the world, I know that’s not fast, but I am a walker, not a runner!).

After my walk, I jetted home to meet with a cabinet maker to talk kitchen cupboards.  Not overly significant, except that the last time I met with the cabinet maker was just before I was diagnosed.  It’s interesting the little things that trigger a bit of fear inside me.  My house is a big one.  I was excited when I bought it, but then so utterly shitty to be diagnosed two weeks later.  All my grand plans for renovating flew out the window and I felt like cancer had totally deprived me of the opportunity to take the next steps in my adult life.  Now, here we are nine months later and with my tenants’ lease expiring at the end of March and me starting work in a few weeks, it’s the right time to once again turn my mind to all things renovation.  But what if it all turns to shit again?

I am pretty positive and optimistic most of the time, but sometimes, doubts get in the way of positivity and the idea of planning and moving forward is difficult, at best.  But move forward and enter the real world, I must.  It’s time to move out of ‘recovery’ mode and into ‘living’ mode.  That means going back to work, helping my friend Fiona plan her ‘head shave’ fundraiser (PS we’ve now raised $4,500, but keep your generous donations coming!), planning the house reno and looking forward to Christmas.

Speaking of going back to work, that all begins again in less than two weeks.  My cupboard is rearranged to accommodate new work clothes and yesterday I went to a workshop on working flexibly.  Something that before I have to say I never really thought was possible.  Now though, I want to really try and make my flexible (part time) working arrangement work.  I’m starting back only three days a week and in time I’ll to build up to four.  I was never terribly good at having ‘balance’ between work and life, I just used to try and do everything.  So, challenge accepted.  I am going to have to make a concerted effort to make sure that I can balance the demands of private practice with the demands of my body (including exercising and resting enough).

Until I start work, I’m going to be soaking up as much sunshine as possible.  And tonight, my sisters and I are going to Delta Goodrem!  You might think Delta’s a bit naff, but so many of the lyrics of the songs on her latest album helped me get through chemo (and the year generally).  Needless to say, I’m pretty excited…

Krissy xx

Researching our way to 100%

People often quote the statistic that the 5 year survival rate for breast cancer is 90%.  That might seem high to you, but if you break it down, all that statistic is telling you is that 90% of men and women who are diagnosed with breast cancer survive for 5 years.  What happens after 5 years?  From my perspective, 5 years is hardly enough years to live out the rest of my life.  I want the statistic to be that 100% of women survive breast cancer.  Full stop.

You might think that is wishful thinking, but Australia leads the world with breast cancer research and the progress that is being made each day here is significant.  There are so many amazing oncologists, breast surgeons and scientists constantly trying to better the ‘statistic’ and that is encouraging.  What is needed to keep funding vital research is funding.  Cold hard cash.  And while big corporates and the mega wealthy shoulder a responsibility to dig into their deep pockets to fund medical research, we can all help in small ways. Whether you give $5, $50 or $500, it can all make a difference.  Sometimes though, in the fog of pink that can be breast cancer awareness, it gets difficult to identify where to direct your pennies so that they are being put to good use.  If you’re interested in research, here are just two organisation who deserve your dollars.

Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research – Western Australia’s premier adult medical research institute, its priority is to recruit and build internationally renowned highly skilled research teams, comprising doctors, scientists, biostatisticians and pathologists, working together with cutting edge technologies to make new discoveries and translate this new knowledge into more effective treatments and cures.  Harry Perkins does excellent, cutting edge research into all womens’ cancers.

National Breast Cancer Foundationthe NBCF has set an aspirational goal of achieving zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030. NBCF-funded research is helping to better understand how breast cancer originates, grows and spreads, in order to develop tests, treatments and interventions to improve outcomes for people with the disease. Also, NBCF is 100% community funded. Enough said.

If you would like to donate during breast cancer awareness month, you can easily donate online.  Or, you can donate to a fundraising project that is very close to my heart.  One of my fabulous friends Fiona Kemp is shaving her head to raise money for the Harry Perkins Institute.

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Fiona’s ‘golden locks’ in all their glory. 

Fiona and I have been friends since we were 6 – we are two relatively opinionated individuals, but we have remained firm friends over the years and Fiona has been such a supportive friend not only to me, but also to my family over the course of the last year.  Fiona floated the idea of a head shave many months ago and the idea has grown from there.  The choice to give the funds raised to research was a no brainer really.  Initially we thought we’d just donate the funds for breast cancer research, but after my sister was diagnosed with lymphoma in July, we thought it more apt to direct the funds to research into womens cancer generally.  Fiona is an exceptionally brave woman and a very loyal friend and I encourage you all to jump on to the Facebook page ‘Goodbye Golden Locks‘ to read the stories that Fiona is sharing and to donate (here) to a wonderful cause.

Oh and if you’re in Perth, there’s going to be a big breakfast at which Fiona will shave her head!  Stay tuned for details of the breakfast – we’ll release dates etc. in coming weeks.

Until next time, have a spectacular weekend.  I hope the sun is shining wherever you are!

Krissy xx

October: more than the month of pink

I can hardly believe it’s October.  Firstly because it is supposed to be spring in Perth, but winter is persisting with a fierce determination.  Secondly because I feel like the months this year have passed in a whirlwind of doctors appointments, hospital visits and countdowns.  Now the countdowns are over.  No more appointments, no more regular check ups with the oncologist, it’s just me on my own navigating life, waiting for my energy to return, oh, and waiting for surgery so that I can stop calling myself a one breasted unicorn.

I also feel like I’m ready to stop talking about (breast) cancer.  It’s a conversation that has dominated at our dinner table for quite some time and I am so looking forward to the conversation being about other things.  It would, however, be entirely inappropriate to stop the conversation today as the whole point of this blog was to raise awareness about breast cancer and it happens to be breast cancer awareness month.

You might think that it’s just a month pink products appearing to attract your consumer dollars.  And in part, you might be correct.  I myself for years acknowledged the pink but really did no more than that.  In fact a few years ago, my sisters and I held a high tea to raise money for the McGrath foundation.  It was a wonderful afternoon, but I didn’t have a great grasp of why the work of the McGrath foundation was that important…

Fast forward three years and now I totally get it.  So each week for the month of October, I’m going to shine a little light on the organisations that are helping women everyday and why the various organisations deserve your support and hard earned dollars.

This week, lets talk about the organisations that provide practical support to women:

  • Breast Cancer Care WA is a fabulous organisation which provides so much support to Western Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer.  There are breast care nurses, counsellors and supports groups that women can access at Breast Cancer Care WA, all of which are super helpful touch points.  They also provide financial support to women who require it and run workshops and fun activity days for those that need them most.  I have seen a counsellor at Breast Cancer Care WA and I also attend the ‘young womens support group’ every second Monday each month.  It’s a unique organisation that doesn’t exist in the other states and they do wonderful work.
  • The Cancer Council, while not breast cancer specific, also provides so many practical services to both cancer patients and their families.  Things you might never give a second thought to, like the wig service, counselling, yoga classes, accommodation for people required to travel for treatment or mindfulness classes, but all of which can brighten someones day and give them tools to help them through difficult times.  There are many people who say that giving to the Cancer Council is a waste of time because they have huge admin costs, but don’t be deterred, because so many people get so much benefit out of the Cancer Council resources.
  • The McGrath Foundation funds breast care nurses around the country.  Put to one side any issues that the government should be funding these jobs, the breast care nurses are so important to women diagnosed as they can really help to navigate the unknown and be a sounding board when issues arise.  I had access to two wonderful breast care nurses at St John of God hospital – they helped me get access to other resources, hooked me up with some fake boobs and bras and checked in on me very regularly in the early days.  Invaluable.

Finally, here’s why this month is important to me.  Breast cancer currently affects 1 in 8 women in Australia.  That’s 44 women each day in Australia and that number is increasing each year.  More women are diagnosed with breast cancer than any other cancer.  And while the five year survival rate for breast cancer is 90%, for those of us unlucky enough to have a brush with breast cancer in our 20s or 30s, five years really isn’t enough.  We want a lifetime.  Which is precisely why research is so important.  We are world leaders in cancer research in Australia and that is something to be proud of, but we need to keep pushing and keep agitating, particularly we need to know much more about how to treat metastatic breast cancer (which is currently incurable) and how we might stop breast cancer metastasising.

So next week, we’ll talk research.  Oh and I’ll tell you about a very special fundraiser which we’re planning to raise funds for the Harry Perkins Institute.

Krissy xx

Blessed | Grateful | Alive

If you asked me on 1 February how I thought I’d feel after my last round of radiotherapy, I probably wouldn’t have known how to answer you.  Actually, I might have said lucky.  But today, I feel so much more than lucky.  I feel blessed, thankful, happy and I feel very, very grateful.

I’ve written many times about feeling grateful – but as I celebrate the end of the ‘therapies’ – chemotherapy and radiotherapy (hooray!), the overwhelming feeling I have is that I am thankful and grateful.  What for? Everything.  Catching the cancer in time, my surgeon/ oncologists/ physio/ counsellor/ nurses, my family, my friends, that I was given strength and courage to get through the last seven months, that I live in such a beautiful part of the world (with a spectacular coast line and marvellous sunsets), my resilience, my health and, most importantly, my life.

Sitting in waiting rooms and hospitals teaches you that life is short.  So short that to be anything other than happy now seems to me to be a bit of a waste of time.  I have to say, if you’d asked me in January to describe how I felt, ‘happy’ wouldn’t have sprung to mind.  But now, I try to find little things that make me happy everyday.  I also laugh a lot more than I used to, mostly at stupid things… something I’m going to have to learn to control when I return to my corporate job.

Speaking of corporate jobs, I’ve also realised that mine really used to define me.  And in fact, pre 1 February, if you asked me to describe myself, probably the first thing I would have said is ‘lawyer’.  But the reality is that’s not a descriptor of me at all.  That was simply my job, all consuming as it was.  I wouldn’t now describe myself as a ‘lawyer’, and in fact, after the last discussion with my oncologist, my job really needs to become the least defining aspect of my life.  Doctors orders are not to work full time going forward and to lead a very healthy life.

For me, a healthy life is about so many things.  Eating well, exercising regularly, being happy/ calm/ relaxed and having faith.  I don’t often write about faith and religion, but I really do believe that phrase, ‘without faith there is no hope’.  I have gotten a lot of strength and courage from faith and prayer this year.  Not only my own praying, but the prayers of so many people.  And for all the prayers that have been said, I am grateful.  From our friends here in Perth, to those abroad including my Mum’s orthodox friends in the States who convened a prayer group with us by teleconference (prayer in the modern world!), I feel very blessed indeed.

To everyone that has sent me well wishes, prayed for me, sent cards/ flowers/ gifts, dropped in for cups of tea, listened to me whinge, sent positive vibes, exercised with me, invited me for lunch, made me laugh, cooked me dinner etc., thank you!  You have no idea what a difference it makes to what can be such difficult days.  Opening a card from a friend on the other side of Australia, receiving a beautiful gift from friends abroad, a random delivery of flowers, or even a walk outside in the fresh air, it all makes the days more bearable.  Which brings me to my very last point, if one of your friends or loved ones is ever having a difficult time and you are wondering what you can do for them to brighten their day, there are so many options other than flowers.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • invite them over for brunch or lunch (or go out if cooking isn’t your forte!);
  • buy a gift voucher to one of their favourite (or your favourite!) stores for some shopping therapy – think David Jones, Mecca, Big W, Dymocks, Myer;
  • deliver a box of fruit and veggies or juices for a few days;
  • deliver something for dinner;
  • buy a gift voucher to a day spa;
  • offer to drive them to medical appointments;
  • drop in for a cup of tea;
  • offer to get outdoors and go for a walk/ play tennis/ play some park basketball [ask my sister Thalia for any other tips on fun outdoors activities – she’s very good at thinking them up!];
  • send a cleaner over, or just head over and wash their dishes/ do the vacuuming/ pick up the washing;
  • babysit, if they have children…

The number of things that you can do to brighten someones day are endless.

For now, it’s time to let my body recover and to get as healthy as I can before starting work.  Oh, and to lose those 5kg that my oncologist ordered me to lose… off for a walk and an appointment with the exercise physiologist and dietitian!

Until next time, have a fabulous week.

Krissy xx

Radiate me

As I approach the end of my radiotherapy treatment, it occurred to me that other than mentioning my treatment, I haven’t said very much about it. To be perfectly honest (unlike me, huh?), the four weeks of treatment have flown by so quickly, a blur of early mornings and moisturising, that I haven’t had a chance.  But if you want the down low on radiotherapy, buckle up.

img_2343My radiation treatment has required me to undergo 25 sessions of radiation.  One treatment every week day for five weeks.  I opted to have my treatments at 8.30am so that they wouldn’t interfere with my day.  Whilst the radiation fatigue is now starting to make it a little difficult to get out of bed and out of the house by 8.10am each morning, on balance, I am still glad I opted for mornings as that has meant that radiation really hasn’t interfered with my daily routine at all.

But lets talk a bit about the daily radiation routine.  Once I arrive at Sir Charles Gardiner hospital (‘Charlies’), I quickly strip down and put on the ever so glamorous three armed blue gown, collect my pillow slips (one to line the metal bed I lie on and one for ‘modesty’) and patiently wait for the excellent staff to call my name so I can get started.

And while I wait, I chat to all the other people who are having radiation, or their partners/ mothers/ fathers/ carers.  Of all the time I’ve spent waiting for treatment this year, I think the time I spend in the waiting room in the radiation oncology department at Charlies has had the biggest impact on me.  I have met (and observed) so many different people having radiation – there are toddlers, young children, teenagers, people in their early 20s (my radiation oncologist also treats kids so they’re always around), middle aged and elderly people.  From the paediatric cases, to the 22 year old boy who has had tumours in his knee/ thigh/ groin/ lungs and whose cancer they are growing in mice to determine the best way to treat an unusual cancer, to the man in his mid 50s who just bought a farm and now has terminal throat cancer (and was never a smoker), to the woman who has had breast cancer four times in thirty years, there are so many stories.  And let me tell you, every discussion, every observation, every smile from someone who is having a tougher day than most could imagine, is a reminder about how precious this life that many of us take for granted is.  I keep saying it, but if you’re ever having a bad day, just go and sit in a hospital waiting room and really have a look around you.  And then you will count your blessings.  I certainly do.

Then they call my name.  Into the radiation room, I lie down on the metal table where the nurses align me perfectly in preparation for the radiation.  No movement allowed once aligned (seriously, no moving!), I lie and wait for the painless zaps of the radiation.  The only signal I have that the radiation is happening is the flicker of two lights and the distinctive sound of ‘bzzzzzzzz’.  The radiation machine moves around me seamlessly and within a matter of minutes, I am finished.  Back out to the change room, remove the temporary markings that have been drawn on during alignment, moisturise and go home.  And that’s really it.  Until the evening when it’s time to moisturise again before going to bed.

 

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I have been having external beam radiation therapy – basically, a machine directs radiation at my chest wall and clavicle (where my cancer once lived) and surrounding tissue with the aim of killing any cancerous cells that may be lingering.  Whilst it is completely painless, there are some side effects.  The only side effects I have encountered are a bit of fatigue, the feeling of having a lump in my throat (thanks to the radiation targeting my clavicular lymph nodes) and some redness on my chest wall and clavicle.  I will say, my skin reaction has only just started and as the nurses tell me, that’s pretty good going given I only have four treatments to go.  How red you ask?  See for yourself.

I am so grateful to have gotten to the end of radiation with so few issues.  I do feel very fortunate indeed and thank God daily for helping me get through the treatment.  I’m also thankful to the women I have met in the support group I attend at Breast Cancer Care WA for sharing their tips on getting through radiation.  The most useful tip for me, which I am now passing on to you, was to use calendula cream immediately after radiation and emu oil to moisturise each night.  I overlay those with a healthy dose of vitamin e cream.  It’s super important to moisturise as you don’t want to break the skin at all.  Calendula cream is herbal based and used to treat burns, rashes etc.  Emu oil is very good for any sort of inflammation.  So far, I think they’ve been helping.  PS, don’t tell the nurses at Charlies about my use of anything other than sorbolene cream.  It’s all they recommend, but frankly, I don’t think it’s good enough.

Oh and finally, you might ask why after having all my treatment as a private patient, I opted to have my radiation treatment in the public system.  Two reasons – one, there is a significant out of pocket expense having radiation treatment in the private system and after all the bills of the year, it’s a cost I could really do without.  But more importantly, after meeting with two different radiation oncologists, I chose the oncologist that was best for me and she just happened to be at Charlies.  Dr Mandy Taylor is really wonderful – very knowledgable and able to answer all my questions with great confidence.  I feel like I’m in very good hands with her and that is so important.

With four radiation treatments to go, I can finally see the treatment finish line ahead and while it’s been a very long seven months since my surgeries back in February, I am looking forward to giving my body a proper chance to rest and heal.  In the meantime, I’ll continue with yoga, walking, pilates and cooking to get me back into tip top shape.

Krissy xx