To the mama who got a shitty diagnosis: Know that the diagnosis is the worst week. The tests. The waiting. Those words when you find out it’s multiple sclerosis, or parkinsons, or, in my case, cancer. That first week when the life you had planned, the life you had carefully dreamed up, got torn away from you: that will be the worst week. Know that I’m sorry. That everyone is sorry. And although sorry doesn’t fix it – the fact that people are sorry means you have people in your corner and THAT is a blessing.
When I was 20 weeks pregnant with our second little boy, I decided to get the lump in my sore right breast checked. It never occurred to me that it would be anything other than a blocked milk duct. Even when the doctor doing the ultrasound asked for a second opinion. Even when they rushed me to see the surgeon on the same day. Even when he said that they had to do an urgent biopsy.
Because I was 32 years old, in good health, with no family history of cancer, with a three year old, and I was pregnant. It couldn’t be breast cancer.
So when the doctor called me that night and told me he had bad news, even then I thought: “it must be abnormal, damn they’re gonna want to do more checks”.
When he told me that I had breast cancer, I collapsed to the floor and held my belly. Bubs was kicking in there and I was crying and the doctor was still talking and my husband was looking at me in pain knowing what he didn’t already know.
And that week was the worst. The diagnosis week is the worst. Where is the cancer? Where else is the cancer? What type of cancer is it? What does this mean for my baby? What does this mean for my three year old? What does this mean for my life expectancy?
I had surgery the next week and commenced chemo two weeks later. Yes. You can get chemo while pregnant. No. It doesn’t affect the baby. Trust me, the kid is a happy, fat, monkey. He came out with more hair than I had!
But it’s a journey. And, like any journey, there are bumps. Big bumps. Right when you don’t think you can take any more, something else will happen.
We had to have Bubs early. He ended up in intensive care with breathing issues for weeks. It threw us. Badly. It crushed us. Every night I cried at being separated from my baby. I would call the ward at all hours to see how he was. Those nurses are angels. They took my calls, they reassured me, they answered all my questions – even when I’d called 15 minutes earlier to ask the same questions.
And then, when finally my milk dried up, I saw it. In the mirror. I didn’t even need to feel it. The lump was huge. And my husband and I knew – if this was more cancer, we were in serious trouble. It meant it had grown through the hardcore chemo I’d had. That would be a sign of it’s utter aggression.
Another diagnosis week. The tumor was 7.5 cm and hooked into my blood supply. The cancer was on the move. With a three year old in childcare each day and a newborn in intensive care we spent the week in MRI’s and CT scans and X-Rays.
I don’t know why my cancer is so aggressive. But, for all of its local aggression, it hadn’t spread. It should have spread, but it hadn’t. I’m a medical miracle. I’m blessed.
I then had a full mastectomy. I was released from hospital the same day as my baby. My husband picked me up (with drainage tubes still coming out my side and a bandage around my chest), we drove to another hospital and picked up our baby. Then we headed to childcare, and picked up our three year old. And we FINALLY headed home. Broken and more in love with each other than we’d ever been.
Since then I’ve commenced radiation daily and chemo twice a week. We have settled into a routine. As a couple, my husband and I have been very very vocal about both our needs and our boundaries. Passive aggression is a luxury that we no longer have time for. We’ve never communicated better.
Our kids are thriving in an environment of love and chaos.
We get out into nature more than we ever have. We take lots of precautions, and we are always within half an hour of an emergency department in case I take a turn, but we’re still bush-walking. We’re still enjoying our lives.
To the mama who has had a recent diagnosis, this too shall pass.
Being mamas, we are amazing at adapting and moving goal posts. Our children have taught us that nothing stays the same, that we must grow to meet new challenges (be they night waking thanks to new teeth or designing boundaries around technology), they teach us that we are flexible and strong and resilient.
Mama, you can do this. I am so sorry for your shitty diagnosis. It’s gonna be hard. You might have to give away some of your hopes and dreams and aspirations.
When your brain goes to the crazy place (believe me, I know the crazy place intimately), bring yourself back to what you KNOW.
This cancer could easily kill me in the next year. Or, this crazy treatment could work and I could live until old age. The only thing I KNOW is that right now I, at this very moment, am tumour free. And that means I have a great quality of life. So I’m living every moment as badass and full and happy as I can. Every nappy is a blessing. Every tantrum is a joy. Every wine on a sunny arvo with friends is a miracle.
So, mama with the shitty diagnosis. Plan your LIFE. We only ever have today mama. And on the days you can get out into nature, do it. Create those memories with your babies. Teach them about rivers and trees and clouds and dirt. Tell them that it’s your place together where you get to spend time together.
And then, they will always have nature with you. Forever.
Tiny Green Hands aims to inspire other families who have an unwell loved one to not let it stop them getting out into nature. Balancing crazy medical treatment with crazy adventures helps families reconnect with each other and the earth and makes the tricky days that little bit better.