What cancer has taught me

by Kathryn Elliott

I remember precisely the moment my life changed forever: 8:10 am, Wednesday 21 August 2019.

Just shy of my 47th birthday, I was getting dressed for work when, for some reason, I stopped to look down at my right breast. Immediately I noticed a strange raised lump under the skin that I’d never observed before.

I’ve always been very fit, active and led a busy family life with my husband and three boys. I was in complete shock when, two days after noticing the lump, I was diagnosed with locally advanced triple positive breast cancer. The results showed it was six centimetres in size and growing aggressively.

Inside a week I’d been through 15 appointments, numerous scans, a procedure to have a port inserted into my arm and started an intense, six-month program involving 16 rounds of chemotherapy. My life as I knew it had been turned completely upside down and I found myself travelling along a path I had never expected.

Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer is a scary, confusing and lonely time. The first two weeks for me were brutal – I not only had to accept and process my diagnosis and treatment schedule, but had the emotionally challenging task of communicating the news to my husband, children, family, friends, work colleagues, school community just to name a few.

But I quickly made a decision to accept my diagnosis with positivity and to see the challenge as an opportunity to heal myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. My approach specifically combines conventional medicine with alternative therapies, which I believe has kept my body and mind clear, strong, positive and healthy during the treatment process.

I couldn’t have made it this far without my husband Paul and our kids. They’re my life; they truly see the best and the worst of me. They are living and breathing the experience of breast cancer. They have seen me at my darkest times, but they’ve also been able to support me and there’s no doubt it has brought us closer together as a family.

Kathryn Elliott

Kathryn Elliott

To make sense of breast cancer I began journaling and started an Instagram account (@healingbreastcancer) and website (www.healingbreastcancer.com.au). As part of learning to accept it, I also wrote it a letter. It was a way for me to start to come to terms with what was happening to me and my body. Here it is, in full:

 

Dear breast cancer,

 The first two weeks were the most brutal. I felt like I was on a crazy nightmare ride. Shocked, scared, alone. I’d been pushed into another reality I wanted to run from.

 Sharing the news with people who loved me most was the hardest. I wanted to protect them from the fear and pain they would feel but I couldn’t.

 But something changed after those first two weeks as the new normal settled and I started to focus on my healing.  I wanted to make peace with you. I decided to accept you, talk to you, message you and connect with you.

 I’m also grateful for teaching me some valuable life lessons …

  •  You’re teaching me to be present each day and to be grateful for what I have.
  •  You’re showing me that my family loves and accepts me more than I ever understood.
  •  You’re helping me to slow down and stop being so hard on myself.
  •  You’re introducing me to some incredibly courageous and generous people who I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for you.
  •  You’re showing me that you have to keep a good sense of humour during this process or you could lose your mind.
  •  You’re reminding me that life can change direction in an instant without reason or warning.
  •  You’re conveniently saving me six months’ worth of haircuts and waxing.

 There are of course some things I wish you had not brought into my life …

  •  The dreaded cold cap. It’s a love/hate relationship as I’ve managed to keep some hair but the fact it adds at least two hours to every treatment is not fun. Particularly as wearing it feels like my head is stuck in a tight-fitting freezer.
  •  The loss of my long, thick eyelashes and eyebrows.
  •  The fact I can’t enjoy the simple pleasures of washing, brushing and blow drying my hair.
  •  The nasty skin rashes I’ve developed in response to chemotherapy.
  •  The underlying question that edges its way into my mind each day that I have cancer and whether it may cut my life short.

 Breast cancer – I wouldn’t wish you on anyone. You have the power to steal a very happy and healthy life and turn it upside down.  

I look forward to the day I can’t feel you and that we’ve healed you out of my body. By then I will have learnt a lot from you and you from me and I’m confident we will both have decided that you won’t come back.

Much love,

Kath

Issue 86
Autumn 2020