A Personal Update: When Life Gives You Lemons…

I have debated long and hard as to whether I was going to share the lemon that life has recently thrown at me. This is a travel blog, it’s all about far flung locations and wild adventures.
But my life for the next few months (with one short exception) is probably going to be as far away from travel as is possible. If fact, I am likely to rarely leave my house.
So I feel that you, my readers, deserve some explanation if I suddenly seem to disappear from cyberspace or I’m not as active and attentive as usual.

But let me just rewind a little. Less than a month ago I was living it up in Canada. I was hiking up mountains, loving the scenery, standing on a glacier, avoiding bears – and generally having a great time. I got home and was starting to look at booking travel for next year.

Read some of my Canada posts here

Standing on the Athabasca Glacier just a month ago

A couple of days after we got home I had a routine doctor’s appointment. A throw-away comment to my GP saw me start on a round of poking and prodding. For the next two weeks I had multiple doctors appointments, scans, biopsies and even a stint in hospital for surgery.

Each round of testing I had done kept coming back inconclusive, which is why it had to keep getting more invasive until I required surgery to get a proper yes/no answer. Then I got that answer.

I have breast cancer!

For the technical details, I have Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, which, if you are going to get breast cancer, is apparently the one you want to get. It’s of the non-invasive variety. It tends to be called Stage 0 breast cancer.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a long road for me over the next few months. My surgeon was fantastic as he explained all the options I have before me and what treatment I will likely have going forward. He gave me exactly what I needed and laid all the stats out before me for each option (I am a numbers person).

I had just under a week to think about everything he had told me, read everything I could get my hands on and turn it over and over in my head. No matter what I read, I kept coming back to just one thing – I want this dealt with, as swiftly as possible with the minimum amount of treatment. But I also want this to be the only time in my life I do this! I am 46 years old, so that means a lot of years left for this to reoccur.

Cancer is scary. The treatment of cancer is almost as scary as the disease itself. Chemo terrifies me. I am lucky to have good cancer mentors in my family – my aunt survived breast cancer about twenty years ago, and my Dad currently is battling melanoma.

Dad has chemo every three weeks, and will do so for the rest of his life. But you wouldn’t know it to meet him. He hasn’t lost his hair and the chemo is more of an inconvenience in his day as he goes right back to work when it’s done. And he’s a farmer, so sometimes the work is tough.

With these in mind, I was able to stay positive and focus on what needed to be done.

Let me say all the options I was facing were bad. I was just trying to choose the one that was least bad. Or at least the one that gave me the best chance of beating this forever.

I will be having a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction on December 5th.

It’s absolutely terrifying and is actually a three-operation process over 3-4 months, but it’s the only option that makes sense. I wish it wasn’t. I wish there was another solution, almost any other solution. But there isn’t.

In lots of ways I feel lucky. Lucky I have found this early, and lucky that there is a treatment option that gives me a very low chance that I will be dealing with this in the future. So many people do not have those options.

Mentally I am doing okay. If you know anything about me you know falling apart is not my thing. I want to use all my energy to heal from this. Physically I don’t think I have ever been fitter or healthier, so I am in the best possible place to get over this. My doctor gave me some guidelines for preparing for surgery and treatment, and luckily I follow most of them already and only need to make some small changes to my diet.

I am finally going vegetarian. I rarely ate red meat anyway, but will not eat it nor chicken at all now. My diet will be all unprocessed foods. I have (temporarily) given up alcohol and coffee. I know, all the fun things in life LOL! (I must say, “going vegetarian” is not necessarily what was recommended. It was more about eating cleaner, cutting down on processed foods, more vegetables, less meat etc – generally eating better!)

There will be more testing of my lymph nodes when I have my surgery, and if these are all clear (and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be), it is unlikely I will have to have either radiation or chemotherapy. If that’s the case, then really, it will only be recovery from the surgeries that I will have to worry about.

I have an event on the Gold Coast in April next year and I hope by then this will all be done and dusted. That’s my goal!

Before my surgery though, I have one more trip – a week in Bali. When my surgeon said there was no reason for me to rush for the next operation (I have already had a lumpectomy) then I decided to still take the trip to Bali I had booked. It’s not the only reason I am waiting, but it will be a nice relaxing week before weeks of recovery.

Lemon
Preparing to walk 5km around the deck of our cruise ship in Alaska a few weeks ago raising money for cancer. I had no idea I would be dealing with it myself not long after

I still have PLENTY of things to write about from all my travels this year, so in one way, being grounded for a few months gives me the opportunity to finally get to some of them. I don’t plan on documenting my cancer journey. (Edit – I lied! See right at the bottom of this post) As I said at the beginning, this is a travel blog. I will perhaps give an update at the end when it’s all over. If you want to know more, connect with me on Facebook or send me an email – I’m happy to share my progress, just not on my blog.

So there you have it – my lemon! And you know how the saying goes, so here’s the lemonade…

Check your breasts! Do it now! Men get breast cancer too, so yes, even if you are a guy, check!
If you even wonder if something is strange, go see your doctor, asap!

If just one person reads this and acts on it, then good has come from my diagnosis. Did you know that 1 in 7 (think about that!!) women in Australia will get breast cancer in their lifetime. 1 in 7! That is crazy. Think about your family and friends – how many of them are you thinking of? Surely more than seven. It is very possible at least one of them will have breast cancer in their lifetime!

And don’t think “well, it’s not in my family, it won’t happen”. Guess what? 85% of breast cancers are not genetic. That’s right. It’s just bloody bad luck! Luck of the draw! Pot luck! So check your breasts and speak with your doctor – you might just save your life.

In the meantime, let me leave you with possibly my favourite quote to mull over

Lemon

EDIT – See how I am going: A Personal Update – Six Months On

UPDATE – Okay, I couldn’t help myself! I find writing really therapeutic, and since I don’t already have enough on my plate (lol) I started another blog to document my journey. If you have an interest in breast cancer, head on over to Josie’s Journey. The best way to keep up is to sign up for the emails that will come out when I post something new. This really is (mostly) for my own benefit and hopefully to help out others who may go through the same thing in years to come.

24 thoughts on “A Personal Update: When Life Gives You Lemons…”

  1. I’m so sorry to hear your diagnosis. You sound like you have become as informed as possible and are prepared mentally and physically. I wish you luck in your journey. Having a goal in April is a great idea. Enjoy your visit to Bali.

    A

    • Thanks Alizon. I feel surprisingly calm now that I have all the information. Fairly sure I won’t be so calm once the surgery date comes around 🙂

    • Thanks Jane. You know what? Sharing is easier than being silent I think. Now I do not have to spend any energy worrying about who knows or doesn’t know, being careful what I say etc. It also means I tell the story once – not dozens of times. I have nothing to be ashamed of and I hope my story helps others.

  2. I’m so sorry that life’s given you this lemon to deal with. Wishing you all the best for a full recovery. I can’t wait to read more about your travels.

    • Thanks Katherine. Hopefully this is the worst lemon life has for me, and once it is dealt with I can get on with it.

  3. Josie you are amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your story and the struggles you face. That’s what I love about you, you are so real. You will be in my thoughts and prayers and I think with some downtime you’ll be brainstorming new places to explore and share! Wishing you a healthy recovery. All the best ~

  4. Josie, so sorry to hear about your diagnosis but love your positivity and thank you for the timely reminder to keep checking. Travel is not so easy without a good level of health so wishing you all the best for your surgeries so you can get back to doing what you love and what we love reading about. I really enjoy your blog and use your information when planning another trip. I hope you have lots of great books to read. Thinking of you.

    • Thanks Janine. If there is one thing I have plenty of, it’s books! It might finally be time to get through a few of them 🙂

  5. So sorry to read this Josie.
    I hope you can relax and enjoy your holiday in Bali and be mentally prepared for your surgery by the time you get home. I’m sure it will all go well and you will quickly recover.
    Sending big hugs, love and loads of positive Healing Energy.

    • Thanks Carol. I think a week relaxing in a Balinese resort is the perfect way to prepare for surgery 🙂

  6. What a strong and courageous person you are to share this personal story with us. Sending you lots of positivity and a big hug.
    My mum is just starting radiotherapy after being diagnosed with the same breast cancer. Thankfully hers hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes so won’t require chemo.
    I couldn’t agree more. Check your breasts and go for mammograms. Even the consultant couldn’t feel her lump, it was picked up on her routine mammogram.
    Also a great quote and one I try to live by.
    Good luck and take care of yourself ❤️

    • Thanks Wendy. So glad the mammogram picked up your Mum’s cancer. My only known relative with breast cancer (my Aunt) found hers the same way. Also had only radiation. That was twenty years ago and she’s still going strong. Good luck to your Mum for her treatment too.

  7. Oh Josie how life can change in a second. This lemon is one of those that fall from the tree right into your hand to make “lemon tonic” lemonade, gin and lemonade. Or anything you wish to make from it. Spend your time in Bali resting, eating loving life. You have got this!… Lemon Pie! yes please.

  8. I’m sorry to hear about this. I wish you all the very best for this new journey.

    Ps I love reading about your adventures, a new post is always straight to the top of my to read list.

    • Thanks Megan, I appreciate your thoughts. I’m sure I will be back to the travel in no time. In the meantime, I still have so much from my past travels to write about!

  9. Wishing you a speedy recovery Josie. You are a positive person and I’m sure writing will help you. My sister did a similar thing when she was diagnosed earlier this year and found that writing what she was thinking and feeling was beneficial. All the best xx

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