My cancer diagnosis came as a massive shock. I had a personal trainer and I was the fittest I’d been in 20 years. I felt good, I had no symptoms and a few months prior I’d had a clear mammogram.
So when I felt an unusual thickening on my right breast I didn’t think much of it, but when I noticed it was growing rapidly I went to get it checked out, even though at this stage I wasn’t concerned.
My doctor referred me to the hospital, and straight away the surgeon told me I had advanced breast cancer and an aggressive tumour which was growing about 1cm per week. From that point forward my life revolved around surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It all happened so fast.
I experienced some challenges following my first surgery. I developed multiple seromas, which became infected (a collection of fluid that builds up under the surface of your skin) but chemotherapy and radiotherapy went well. I knew I was going to lose my hair so I shaved all of it off ahead of treatment.
After the treatment my friend took me on the trip of a lifetime! It all stemmed from a comment I made when I was diagnosed – I’ll never be able to ride through Paris in a sports car with the wind in my hair. She took me to San Francisco, London, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Paris, Barcelona, Portugal and Shanghai. It was the first time I’d felt normal since my diagnosis.
But when I returned so too did the lady with cancer. I felt I’d lost my autonomy and become identified by the disease. I had a wig, but I only wore it once because I didn’t like it. Everything about my life was prescribed and everyone else makes a lot of your decisions. It was strange for me being on the other side as well having spent a career in the health profession.
So I decided to self-refer to the Maori Cancer Kaiarahi Service for support after the treatment process. Barbara Metzger worked with me to help regain my confidence and she made me feel normal again. She’d pick me up and take me for coffee, which was important to me because it was a normal thing to do.
Barbara and I would sometimes spend our entire visit discussing anything but cancer because she let me steer the conversation. It was so great having someone involved who wasn’t a family member, and I felt it was a special relationship between her and I. She’s my person, there for me, which is important even if you’re from a background like mine – I still hadn’t had cancer before.
She helped me get back in touch with my creative side, she supported me in registering my granddaughter as Ngai Tahu, and she’ll frequently text or call just to see how I’m doing. When issues arose that required other input she was able to refer me on to the appropriate provider.
I had my second mastectomy recently, which was my choice and not because cancer had reoccurred, and Barbara helped me through that as well. I’m not interested in a reconstruction or false breasts. It’s so freeing not having any! In fact, I intend to get a beautiful tattoo in their place.
Unfortunately, a few days after my second mastectomy my husband suffered a cardiac arrest at our house and some unexpected CPR was required. Thankfully due to the efforts of our grandson and the ambulance service, a good outcome resulted! Barbara was very supportive during this time.
I’m looking forward to my future, getting back into employment, getting back into creating, gardening and interior design (a course I started while undergoing treatment).
Thank you to Barbara and Nga Kete’s Maori Cancer Kaiarahi Service, you helped me through a difficult time in my life and I am so grateful for your support.
The Maori Cancer Kaiarahi Service is a free service in Southland designed to support Maori and their whanau with high suspicion of/or diagnosis of cancer to get the right information, make informed decisions about treatment options, and get to treatment.
Visit us at 92 Spey Street, Invercargill, or phone (03) 214 5260 or free phone 0800 925 242.