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 – generally having a great time. I got home and was starting to look at booking travels for next year.
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.
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
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.
Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.