It all started with an off hand conversation in the lobby of the Wanaka Event Centre. I was chatting with Adam Fairmaid (of GODZone team) who asked me if I had entered the 2018 race in Fiordland. I’d met Adam when I competed at Kaikora GODZone in 2014. I gave him a million reasons why I wasn’t competing. Firstly, Fiorland is the wettest, wildest, coldest, sandfly infested part of New Zealand and anyone who enters that race would have to be crazy. Secondly, I was still trying to regain fitness…and recovery takes so much longer than it used to…and I get sick really easily…not sure my body can take it…blah blah blah. Thirdly, and the saving nail in the coffin so to speak, was that the entries were closed anyway. He said I should write to Anna and Warren and see what they had to say.
So I did.
And here we are with Team B-CAB ‘Breast Cancer and Beyond’ entered into GODZone 2018, and a gracious sponsored entry to Red Bull Defiance 2018 too.
I want to rewind a little back to June 2015, I was 37. The surgeon that did my breast lump biopsy the week before called me and asked if there was someone with me, did I have time to talk, and was I sitting down. I’d left the clinic the week before confident that my fairly large visible lump on my nipple was just a benign lump that they would cut out. But my surgeon continued on the phone by saying that the biopsy has shown that the lump was indeed cancerous and I would need surgery. During the procedure some lymph nodes under my armpits would also be removed to check for cancerous cells. No worries I thought. Easy. Be back climbing, tramping, riding, skiing, paddling in no time!
The lymph nodes came back positive for cancer. There was a chance that the cancer had spread to other parts of my body. They also found I was HER2+, an aggressive, rapidly growing form of breast cancer.
Things now looked very different that I ever could have imagined at 37 yrs old.
My oncologist and I had a very blunt conversation where I played Devils advocate and asked what would happen if I refused chemotherapy. His answer was “it would be a great shame if someone as young as you died from something we can try and treat”. That wasn’t really the answer I was looking for. He told me that I would receive chemotherapy through a Portacath – a small medical appliance surgically implanted under the skin with a catheter into a vein close to the heart. The port would sit on the upper chest wall. This meant I wasn’t able to carry a backpack, climb, paddle, weight lift or indeed do anything strenuous in my upper body – the port isn’t something you want to mess with. Again, being Devils advocate I asked what they would do if I refused the Portacath, my Oncologist replied “then we couldn’t give you treatment as you need multiple sessions of chemo, and you don’t have enough veins in one arm to finish the treatment”.
A week later I had the Portacath inserted under aesthetic and whilst still fairly bruised, the next day I received my first chemotherapy. I went home that day. Two days later a community nurse called to flush my port and check in. Things were looking great, I was feeling fine and the port wasn’t so painful anymore. This was as I expected…easy!
That night things took a turn for the worse.
I was violently ill for the next 4 days. On the 5th day as things were coming good again I got a runny nose, by that evening my body temperature was 40’. I was taken to hospital and put in protective isolation, my blood count was 0.1. I’d had a severe reaction to the first chemotherapy, which had literally tried to kill me. I spent six days in hospital on IV antibiotics until my blood count started to creep up enough to let me home. They changed my chemotherapy.
This wasn’t going to be easy after all.
The next 6 months were a mixture of good and bad days, light and darkness. Three weekly cycles of chemo meant for at least one of the weeks I could see friends and go out on mini adventures. On my good days I got to go walking up some local hills wearing a single strap backpack, on bad days I just managed a lap of our street. Training and exercise went on the back burner, making it through each chemo cycle was the focus.
After the chemo came 3 months of radiotherapy, 20 minutes every week day. But I also got my now un-required port removed, that was on 24th December 2015, what a great xmas present. I remember my first climbing day after its removal – 4th January 2016. I was stoked.
I remember thinking that it was all over. On 23rd February, 2016 on my first mountain after chemo, I summited Tititea (Mt Aspiring) holding a sign saying “FYC the End”. FYC meant ‘f**k you cancer’. But I’ve learnt since that the end is just the beginning. I still continued to receive a targeted chemotherapy infusions for the next 8 months which I finished in October 2016, less than a year ago. The overall effect of around 16 months of chemotherapy was that my body got well and truly spanked! What had saved my life had taken its toll. In the last year I’ve gotten back into the things I love – spending time with friends in the outdoors. But i’ve also had multiple sicknesses and injuries in this time, which is of course what I told Adam in July in the lobby of the Wanaka Event Centre.
As I heard myself talking to Adam I heard the excuses… it wasn’t the me I knew from before cancer. Whilst there was no undoing the cancer, I also realised that I couldn’t be a victim to cancer, I couldn’t let it take away who I was, that there was a life after. The second chance life, and a chance to be inspired and to inspire.
Team B-CAB ‘Breast Cancer and Beyond’ began fruition.