Archive | March 2015

To the present

So sorry everybody for not putting posts up as often as I undoubtedly should. You see as it stands right now, I am busy running around in circles like the proverbial chicken with it’s head cut off.

my three girls

Three very different characters. Clarice (left), Rochelle (center) and Arlise (right)

Mother nature saw fit to bless me with three gorgeous little girls. Those little girls are now growing up and two of them turned 15 yesterday. Rather disconcertingly, but much to my bank accounts relief, neither of them wanted a huge party or to make a big deal of the fact that it was their birthday in the first place. In the beginning I didn’t know whether to be a little sad or to be glad by how events were playing out. As parent’s, we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that huge birthday parties are a big and daunting undertaking at the best of times and let’s face it, a huge relief when you see the back of the last child walking away with their mum or dad that’s just collected them. As with all things in life, as they grow older this just gets more and more complicated. The sleep overs begin. Just as you’ve finished making what you hope is a healthy dinner for 20+ people, you flop into bed exhausted…listening to hormonally overactive screeching and giggling teenagers in the bedroom next door. This chatting and laughing doesn’t cease until 3:00am, sometimes later and only then are you allowed to fall into a shallow, fitful slumber only to have to get up a few short hours later to cook breakfast with eyes that can barely open and that feel like sandpaper has taken residence in them overnight. As tiring as all of this is, I love it. When every birthday roles around, I am left feeling so grateful and privileged to still be in my children’s lives to celebrate yet another joyful milestone.

You would never guess that my three girls are from the same gene pool. My eldest Rochelle, is a loud and gregarious yet very loving and responsible tomboy, who wants to go into wildlife conservation which terrifyingly enough, is just 2 short years away from happening. She’s passionate about animals. I guess you can take the girl out of Africa, but you can’t take Africa out of the girl. She’s physically and mentally made of tough stuff. She fell off a horse once, where the animal decided to step on her inner thigh while he was at it. She got back on her feet straight away and climbed back on, perfecting what she did wrong by the end of the lesson. My second Arlise, is a real girly girl who is thoughtful, compassionate and empathetic way beyond her years. She loves music and spends most of her time at home dedicated to improving on her flute playing skills which is her latest passion, and which by the way she is very good at. There’s talent there somewhere for sure. She can read notes, but often plays without them, instinctively knowing where to correct herself and plays just the right note at the right pitch. She has a brilliant ear.  She is also going through a sixties, flower power, peace loving stage and dresses the part too. My youngest Clarice, is precociously talented at acting. She has been taking lessons for the last two years and after attending an acting workshop run by a school based in Los Angeles who came out to Dubai a year ago, my husband and I have decided to send her over there at the recommendation of the director of the school. She knew from the age of 10 that this is what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She eats, sleeps and breathes acting and we are preparing to send her over to LA for three weeks in July.

In addition to that, in June my eldest Rochelle is also going to Mongolia as part of the World Challenge that she has taken on through her school. They help orphanages while they’re over there, build schools…do whatever the aspiring philanthropist does. This will also run into three weeks, hence my chicken syndrome. The last few weeks have been a blur of applying for visa’s, filling out paper work, taking care of the necessary immunizations and getting kit lists sorted out. Whew!!  No rest for the wicked!

This entry was posted on March 28, 2015.

Chemotherapy…yet again!

So, my predictions were 100% correct. Things were getting more and more complicated and messy as events unfolded. My doctor was so flummoxed by what my test results had revealed that he’d had to resort to consulting other specialists abroad in order to decide what the best protocol was to follow. I was sitting at home…my family and I still reeling from the shock. I didn’t reveal to my girls how serious the situation really was. I didn’t want to traumatize and worry them. I also wasn’t sure whether they would grasp the full gravity of what I was up against and that would also just add confusion to the mix which I saw as a recipe for disaster. As it was I felt so sad that not only did they have to spend their summer vacation in the car going backwards and forwards to a cancer center, but for their entire lives so far they had never known a mother without health problems. There has never been a moment in their lives where they have seen me as a normal, healthy mum. They’ve had to grow up with extra worries and burdens that other normal children have never had to think twice about. I was sure as hell not going to add to those burdens and worries now.

As the days passed after the doctor dropped this bombshell on me, my anger and frustration mounted. I had this monster inside me…a highly stealthy enemy that I knew from the beginning was capable of dodging surgery and chemotherapy. Now however, the stakes were even higher because I had no idea until now that this disease was capable of mutating and morphing it’s chemistry to avoid being terminated by medical intervention. One minute I would be crying and beating my fists against anything that was nearest to me, and the next I would be huddling in a corner,my legs drawn up with my arms wrapped around them rocking back and forth…absolutely paralyzed with fear. I had just had the only safety net that was left available to me ripped out from underneath my feet. I felt as though I’d been thrown into the air by the quick and violent rip of the carpet being removed, and I was sailing through the air. Beneath me was a black hole that I was falling towards and I had absolutely no way of preventing my terrifying descent into it. I knew too, that this black hole had vertical and very slippery sides and that it would take me a very long time to slowly and agonizingly crawl my way out of it…if at all.

A week later, my doctor called me back to his office with a plan of action in place. I would have to do 6 more months of intensive chemotherapy once a week for three weeks with a weeks break in between. He provided me with one small spark of hope, and that was the fact that triple negative breast cancer responds very well to chemotherapy…more so than most other types of the disease.

I grabbed onto what I saw at the time was my last microscopic shred of hope and bit into it for all I was worth. It was all I had for now and I wasn’t going to let go. 6 months of chemotherapy lay ahead of me in the form of two different types of chemotherapies. Avastin is a high risk medication to take because it can cause serious internal bleeding amongst other things but my doc added it to the mix because it is a targeted treatment and assists with the effectiveness of the chemotherapy. Despite the risks, we had to take the chance…it was all I had left. Each chemotherapy session would take at least 6 hours. I settled in at the daycare ward to start the long slog once again. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I remember thinking to myself how nice it would be to just sleep for these 6 months and not wake up till it was all over. In my mind I pictured my girls when they were still small. It would give me the incentive to keep fighting.girls at the zoo

This entry was posted on March 13, 2015.

A bombshell

On the morning that I received a call from my doctor telling me that the results of the fish testing were back, and that I should come in to see him to discuss the results, I had no conception of the shock that I was in for. From the beginning of my relapse until now, the doc had told me to continue with the hormone therapy that I was on until we got more definitive results from the testing. I honestly thought that all that could possibly happen was that he would tell me that we would have to change my hormone therapy to a stronger one perhaps, as the cancer was obviously becoming immune to the present medication that I was on.

When I walked into his office, he was sitting with my rather substantial file in front of him on his desk. One look at his face confirmed the fact that, as I had just known in my gut from the beginning, that this was going to turn out to be far more serious and complicated than originally anticipated. His exact words were, ‘I’m so sorry Sarah, I have no idea how this happened but it does occasionally occur in some patients…your cancer is now testing triple negative. Negative for estrogen, progesterone and Herceptin.’

My immediate response was total denial. I said, ‘No, this can’t be, it’s not possible…does this happen?’

To my utter dismay, he nodded ‘yes.’ ‘Breast cancer has been known to change receptor status like this as it adapts and becomes immune to treatment.’

I could barely talk…I battled to find the words to articulate myself as my blood ran cold. My next immediate thought was that as scared as I was, this was it. This was the end of the road for me. I sat there fully expecting the doctor to say to me, ‘It’s time to go home, be with your family and get your affairs in order.’

He continued to tell me that he couldn’t be totally sure that some of the cancer sites had remained hormone receptor positive whilst other areas had changed. He said that my case was an exceptionally complicated one, and that he had consulted specialists around the globe about it. With that, the only piece of remotely good news that he had for me was that after putting their heads together, they had come up with a treatment plan for me. This however, would include 6 more grueling months of chemotherapy…something that I wanted to avoid at all costs. I was angry and frustrated at this prospect and started arguing with the doctor. I still contend to this day that the lesion that appeared on my sternum wasn’t new at all. I distinctly remember having a lesion on my sternum from the beginning, but the doc said I was mistaken. He also asked me how I thought it got there in the first place. It could only have travelled through my blood stream, therefore it was systemic hence the need for chemotherapy.

At that point I was so exhausted and mentally defeated that I decided to choose my battles and just go along with the treatment plan, after all, the reason why I was with the doctor I was with, was because I trusted him and this was no exception. Feeling like I literally needed to bend over and pick my heart up off the floor, I started crying. Sitting there all teary eyed, the doc was brutally honest with me, telling me that although triple negative breast cancer does respond very well to treatment with chemotherapy, that there was still no guarantee that is was going to work. I had a very long road ahead of me and he said that I had enough to cope with psychologically and wasn’t going to overwhelm me right away with what treatment protocol we were going to follow after chemotherapy, but that I should rest assured that he and the rest of my health care team would find a way to get me through it. My chemotherapy would be starting in three days and as I left his rooms to walk through the hospital to the parking lot where my car was, I cried openly. All heads in the hallways turned to stare at me, but I didn’t care. When I got into the car, I sat behind the wheel for about half an hour trying to compose myself before driving back home again. At one point I started to hyperventilate slightly. I put my cupped hands over my mouth and nose and waited it out.

me on table mountain

Me on Table Mountain in Cape Town, 6 months before my 2nd relapse. Late December 2012.

Driving home the tears continued. I stopped on the side of the highway several times because I couldn’t see where I was going. Screaming and crying, I beat the steering wheel with both my fists repeatedly. I didn’t care that the next day they would be swollen and black and blue. I didn’t care about anything at that point…not even about my husband and children. All that I could focus on was the fact that if I thought I was in a bad position when I’d first been diagnosed in 2003, it was nothing compared to what I faced now. I was looking down the barrel of a gun, and as much as I wanted to run away and preserve my fragile existence, I couldn’t. I was being forced to play Russian roulette. The trigger had already been pulled twice. Would the third pull produce a bullet? The terrible part was that I had no idea…no idea what was to come next.

This entry was posted on March 2, 2015.