The big “C” has never really been a major issue in my life. It never really hit close to home – until it did. Within the space of two years it reared its ugly head – twice.
First a very close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2014.
‘I nearly fell off my chair’
I hadn’t heard from Kass in a while. But we’re like that; we have been friends for more than 20 years; she was my first mentor way back when I was an eager, nervous and very young intern. Through the years, though, we have always shared our big milestones, so longish gaps are normal for us. When we do catch up it is always epic, and always real.
So when she popped up on my timeline, I was happy – as always – to catch up. And then she very casually slipped into the conversation: “Oh, by the way, we may have a breast cancer diagnosis.” At which point I nearly fell off my chair. Kass is my one friend who really does it by the book in terms of health – she eats well, looks after herself, and she runs marathons, for God’s sake.
She also has the two most beautiful children. Her youngest was 16 months at the time of diagnosis, and the eldest son four. My first thought was, “What about the kids?”
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. But over the years, Kass and I have also not done drama. This time would be no different – we’d get on with it. Practically speaking, her treatment involved immediate chemo, followed by a lumpectomy, more chemo and eventually a bilateral mastectomy.
I saw Kass for the first time after she had started chemo. She’d already cut her hair short and it had started falling out. But she looked okay; she looked, well… normal, except the glossy curly mane was gone. She still had her sense of humour. But beneath it all – I cannot imagine how terrified she must have been – her whole world had changed.
I also can’t imagine how she must have felt when, after the initial chemo and lumpectomy, she was told she would have to undergo a bilateral mastectomy. What if she weren’t around to see the children grow up?
Being the resilient and strong person she is, Kass approached the treatment head-on. She gave it horns as it were. A week after having both breasts removed, she was at a fundraiser to raise money for her treatment. Dressed to the hilt and looking amazing.
Three years later, she has started running marathons again. The children are thriving. So is her career – she edits a health magazine. Things are back to normal, whatever that is. She is an inspiration, as is her devoted husband who was steady as a rock – and an equally strong network of family and friends. Even her sisters now run. I haven’t got there yet…
‘How long does she have?’
In July, 2015 my mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer after having a minor stroke. The cancer diagnosis was made kind of by the way, following various scans after the stroke. She refuses treatment, which is her right. As a former nurse, she had a fair idea of what would lie ahead should she opt for treatment.
Her diagnosis was a cold slap in the face for me and my two sisters – one of whom is based in the UK. And of course the resultant worry – how would we cope, how do we manage her pain, and how long does she have?
Mom also has serious renal issues, so doing actual dye tests etc to test for spread would kill off her existing renal function. So every few months, we visit her physician and have the necessary X-rays done to see what we can.
To date, nothing much has changed – the cancer lesion hasn’t shown much growth. And although she eats like a baby bird, she is in relatively good shape. We manage whatever raises its head symptomatically. She has a great physician who takes no prisoners, a straight-talking, feisty woman. And we prefer it that way.
There is a reason mom was (and still is) known in nursing circles as “Battle Axe”. The moniker is a perfect fit for her – and us – right now.