Archive | February 2015

The start of yet another battle

Sitting outside the doctors rooms I thought my heart was going to beat right out of my chest. My mouth and throat were so dry, I battled to swallow. My palms were sweaty and I’m pretty sure my pulse rate was through the roof. If there was ever somebody that was in the throes of a flight or fight response, it was me. Except that flight was not an option for me…I had no choice but to remain and stay the course no matter how ugly it turned out to be.

Eventually sitting opposite the doctor at his desk, my head and body had become ice cold, my ears were ringing and everything just seemed to be happening in slow motion. Getting up to go and look at the scan on screen, I thought my legs were going to buckle underneath me. There is was…the hot spot clear as day…the little blighter that was causing so much trouble and angst.

Much to my relief, my doctor said that he didn’t think that chemotherapy would be necessary this time around, but that he was definitely going to suggest radiation. That I could do. Just the thought of having to do chemotherapy yet again was enough to send me into the depths of despair. Since the cancer was so close to the surface, my doc wanted to send me to another private hospital where there was an excellent surgeon that could remove some of the cells from this tumor, whilst doing the minimum amount to damage to the surrounding tissue and prevent any scaring. This was our chance to see if I would perhaps test positive for treatment with Herceptin. I had tested negative for it in the past, but I’d been told this could always change. This testing would be very important for me, because I knew without even having to be told, that it was my best chance at a cure. In general we also just wanted to see how the cancer was behaving. My doc was very puzzled that the hormone therapy had stopped working for me so abruptly. I think he knew even then what was really happening, but saw how frightened I already was and didn’t want to send me into outright panic mode.  He also knew how I felt about my already existing porto-cath scar on my chest that was a real eye sore, and assured me that this doctor would be very careful to prevent further damage. Upon meeting this other surgeon when the day arrived for my procedure, my mind was set at rest. He had a wonderful bedside manner and although I was only sedated and not under anesthetic while he set about retrieving the cells, I hardly felt anything and today you cannot even see where he went in. After resting for a couple of hours  after the procedure, I was able to go home.

It was then time to start the radiation. Since it was in the middle of the girls summer vacation and we couldn’t go back home to South Africa for obvious reasons, they wanted to travel in the car with me everyday when I went for my sessions. Unfortunately the best facility with the most precise and advanced equipment was 250km away in another town, but what choice did I have? I was determined that I was going to fight this and my girls were determined that they would be by my side every step of the way too. For two weeks everyday, they made the most wonderful company and distraction in the car, as we laughed and chatted the whole way to sessions and back again. I was relieved beyond measure when the sessions at last came to a close. Driving for nearly 3 hours only to lie on a table for 10 minutes and then having to drive back the same distance again with just about no rest in between caught up with me thick and fast. Lying in bed the night after the last session, I cried and cried into the early hours of the morning. My poor little girls. They should have been enjoying a lovely holiday in their home country, playing outside in the fresh crisp air with the dogs at their grandparents house, or frolicking around without a care in the world whilst jumping through the waves in the sea. Instead they’d chosen to endure these arduous daily journeys with me in the cramped car, with nothing but desert sand and the occasional camel as passing scenery and not once did they moan.  Having barely made it into teenage hood, they made a pact between the three of them to help me get through this no matter what it took.

the girls 2012

My three angels.

I realized at that moment more acutely than ever before in my life, that things really do happen for a reason and that I had been gifted three very understanding, loving and giving little souls for a reason. My precious girls…words can never in a million years describe how much I love and admire them!

This entry was posted on February 25, 2015.

Back to square one.

on the wine farm

Enjoying our holiday in Cape Town, December 2012.

my family

My precious family.

It was June of 2013, and I had been stable for 3 years and hoped to remain so for as long as I could. It had been 4 days since having a routine CT scan to check that all was well. Reaching this stage in your journey with breast cancer is an achievement in itself, but anybody in my position also knows that there is a price that comes with that. You are permanently teetering on a knifes edge and it takes all your energy and resources to keep your emotions in check…to not let your imagination run away with you and constantly imagine the worst. It is so easy to sink into a black hole that has very slippery walls, making it very difficult to crawl out of. It’s a daily challenge beating back the anxiety and depression whilst looking forward and focusing on the positive light that is in front of you. Once you have been diagnosed with cancer your body is no longer a friend, it becomes the enemy within…you lose all your faith in it’s ability to protect you from the outside world and to keep you safe and alive. Excuse the cliché, but you really do hold your breath and wait for the other shoe to drop.

It’s only after many years of practice if you’ve been lucky enough to stay in remission or be cancer free for long enough, that you start to breathe again and your faith begins to be restored. I was finally reaching this point in 2013. I was sure that after this routine scan all would be well. I had just got out of the shower when my phone rang. It was my doctor. I have to take my hat off to these guys…okay there are some doctors out there that have the bedside manner of a retarded baffoon, but my doctor is not one of those. He broke this to me so smoothly, saying that there had been a small change on the scan and that he wanted me to go in and see him, adding that I mustn’t panic…that it was just small. After the conversation had ended and he’d put the phone down, I remained on the spot with my phone still glued to my ear…staring into space. My heart was beating out of my chest and I’d broken into a sweat. Eventually putting my phone down and getting dressed to go and collect the girls from school, I knew I had to keep it together. I spent the whole journey to the school giving myself a pep talk. It was taking every ounce of my energy to keep my head on my shoulders and my sanity intact. Waiting outside the school, there was a part of me that knew I shouldn’t alarm the family…after all it was just ‘small’, but at the same time I wanted to scream and beat my fists against the steering wheel in panic, anger and frustration.

Just my typical run of the mill luck. I have to be honest I had remained realistic through it all. I knew that it was just a matter of time before I would relapse again, but I didn’t bargain on it happening so soon. I was hoping against all hope that I would remain in remission for at least 5-10 years and now it seemed I had fallen hopelessly short at just 3.

My appointment with the doctor was the next day and until then, I could not lose it in front of the girls. I made the executive decision that I wouldn’t tell anybody about this…even my husband. They had all been through enough and I still had no idea how serious this would be. I didn’t want to stress any of them out unnecessarily.

That night, sleep evaded me. I tossed and turned. The hours dragged by and the shadows seemed much longer and larger…way more menacing than reality conveyed. Just before my husband left for work, he asked me what I had planned for the day. Every brain cell was just screaming to tell him. My eyes started to burn as the tears threatened to show themselves, but I swallowed it and giving him a kiss and a hug I said, ‘Oh, probably just a couple of errands.’

I watched him and the girls walk down the hallway, waving goodbye and blowing kisses to them with a forced smile on my face. After they’d disappeared around the corner I closed the front door, sank to the floor and started sobbing.

This entry was posted on February 18, 2015.

Adjusting to life after Antarctica

Saying that after all the excitement of Antarctica had died down it was hard to re-adjust to living our lives normally again, does sound a little drama queenish I know, but it doesn’t change the fact that some of us did have a little trouble coming down from all the hype of it. I was one of them.

In our campaign to raise as much awareness to our cause as possible, we had attracted a lot of media attention along with it. It all came hand in hand with making all of us acutely aware of how privileged we were as individuals to be part of such a group. It took me a long time to come down from it all, primarily because I went from being a desperately bored housewife just managing to keep her head above water in every sense of the word, to being on the front page of newspapers and magazines. I would lie in bed at night replaying events in my head over and over again until eventually I was not able to sleep at all. There were not just moments of triumph on the trip, but there were also moments when familiarity started to breed contempt amongst us. We were all thrown into a very unique situation and within very close quarters of each other for long periods of time. Unnecessary small minded bickering resulted, much of which I bared the brunt of and which almost ruined the whole expedition for me. I was determined to rise above it though, which I did during the trip. I was determined I was not going to shed a tear over certain situations as the individual/s involved were just not worth it. However for months after it all, I kept on wishing that I had said this or that at certain points. I knew at the same time that it was a fruitless exercise and that I was just wasting valuable energy that I could be focusing elsewhere, but that is always easier said than done as we all know.

Making it harder to let go and continue with my life as normal were the ensuing interviews and get together’s to commemorate our efforts and what the whole expedition stood for. It was fun, and I so enjoyed seeing members of the group afterwards and catching up with them, and I am still very close friends with many of them, but all I wanted to do was put it behind me and get on with my life. It just seemed to be dragging on unnecessarily.

What I can say with great clarity is that I walked away from the expedition a stronger and wiser person for it.

What saved my sanity at the end of the day was the fact that the Antarctica expedition ran into a 4 week family holiday in South Africa. It was a 360 degree turn for me weather wise. I went from -10 to +30 degrees in the shade but I loved every minute of it. We went on safari’s, visited many wine farms, caught up with family and friends and just packed as much into those 4 weeks as we could. I mostly enjoyed just being with my hubby and daughters again. It was great to be home.

Wine tasting

Wine tasting with friends in the glorious vineyards of Cape Town.

Me and the girls

My girls and I getting ready to board a cable car…destination? The top of Table Mountain.

I am really glad that we had such a wonderful, relaxing holiday because what 2013 was going to throw at us would be unexpected to say the least and very, very shocking.

This entry was posted on February 8, 2015.

Returning to civilization

crew on board

Some of the crew on board the M/V Plancius that made the expedition an unforgettable experience for us all.

After 10 exhausting days of frenzied activity kayaking, sleeping out in freezing conditions and conquering a mountain we were on our way home. That meant however, that we would have to cross the dreaded Drakes Passage…now dubbed ‘Vomits Passage’. This time though we were determined to stay one step ahead of mother nature. The poor doctor onboard was inundated with passengers beating down her door demanding their sea sickness patches. The journey back was a much more relaxing and nausea free one for most of us. A few unlucky passengers still succumbed to sea sickness despite the patches. Luckily I wasn’t one of them. The trip back was a chance to reflect on everything that we had been through to get to Antarctica and the opportunity that this whole expedition had given us to grow as individuals, and to push ourselves physically and mentally way beyond our comfort zones.

I stood outside on the deck of the ship all on my own at one point. The crystal clean air and the gentle wind stirring past my ears gave me the clarity of thought and perspective that I hadn’t been able to achieve in a very long time. My spirit had at last been stilled. I no longer felt the restlessness that had plagued me for so long. I hadn’t spoken to any of my family members for almost two weeks by that time. All we did was correspond through brief emails that everybody else could read if they wanted to, since it was cheaper for 3-4 of us to share an account onboard the ship, therefore it was kept basic and impersonal. I had never been away from my girls for so long, and now that we were heading back home again I was missing them desperately. I have to confess that I didn’t miss them en route to Antarctica and while we were there. It wasn’t of course because I no longer cared, but I think it was just a method of self preservation and the fact that we had been kept so relentlessly busy for those 10 days. I was in complete survival mode…nothing else mattered to me but living in the moment and just making it to the top of that mountain and not falling out of the kayak into those frigid waters. I didn’t allow myself to lie in bed at night and think about them at all, because I was afraid that if I did I wouldn’t be able to stop crying. There was a part of me that was missing them beyond all description, but I mastered the art of compartmentalizing while I was on this trip… separating thought from emotions and keeping any emotions that might interfere with my survival in the deep, dark recesses of my mind.

me, Linda and lara

Me with two of my team members Linda and Lara.

Now that we were on our way back, a new excitement started to brew in the pit of my stomach as this trip was running straight into a 4 week family holiday in South Africa. I had just embarked on a 3 day journey back to civilization and into the arms of my loving family that I now realized I was missing desperately. Two nights passed and after passing successfully through the Drakes Passage, we had to dock overnight just outside the port of Ushuaia. The entrance back into port was a tricky one and we would have to wait for one of the captains from port to come out and bring us in. That would only be the next morning and till then, it was party time! We turned the music up loud and, after popping a few corks we danced the night away.

Disembarking from the ship early the next morning (with a slight headache), we were all happy to be back but sad at the same time. We had met many lovely people on board from all walks of life and that’s not mentioning the crew members who had bent over backwards to show us a good time and really make our expedition worth while. We had become known onboard as “The pink ladies’ and got to know and like many of the crew members. It was sad to walk away, knowing that we would probably never see any of them again, but at the same time I think we all felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. We had achieved what we had set out to do and had traveled to the ends of the earth to raise awareness. If our message got to just one woman out there in the world somewhere and afforded her some comfort and inspiration, then it was all worth it for every single one of us.

This entry was posted on February 1, 2015.