As a curious combination of homebody and adventurer, I left Australia to have a brief overseas fling…almost a decade ago. After exploring the world and living in Munich for many years, I found myself in the wealthy, trilingual, fortress city of Luxembourg, alternating between nesting and regular romps around the continent.
As I was celebrating one year in Luxembourg, I found a large, tender lump in my right breast and, in November 2018, at 39 years of age, my world ceased to exist as I knew it with a diagnosis of stage three invasive ductal carcinoma. Serious breast cancer.
Over the next eight months I lost control of my life, health, body and sanity as I endured four rounds of epirubicin/cyclophosphamide chemotherapy and eight rounds of dose intensified taxol chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumour. Surgery followed, removing my right breast and 13 lymph nodes, eliminating what was left of the primary tumour and checking if it had starting spreading. Then 25 doses of radiotherapy to destroy cancerous cells remaining in my chest after surgery. As my cancer grows in the presence of hormones, active treatment will be followed by up to ten years of hormone therapy with monthly ovary suppressant injections and daily aromatase inhibitor pills to remove oestrogen from my body, plunging me into menopause at 40 in an attempt to reduce the risk of any remaining micro-metastasis growing.
Treatment was aggressive, brutal, soul destroying and effective. In April 2019 I was told there was no evidence of disease following surgery. But I’ve been left with a body, mind and self esteem ravaged by the diagnosis and treatment. And I’m not cured. Oncologists will never say you’re cured when all it takes is one remaining cancerous cell to start dividing again. I live with a constant fear of recurrence or metastasis.
During active treatment, as I deteriorated, I had an overwhelming desire to reclaim my life. As an obsessive planner and goal setter, having my life put on hold was devastating, but creating lists of things I would do “after” gave me pleasure. What I would do, where I would travel, how I would find joy, and how I would come to terms with, and heal, my body.
I’ve set myself a challenge, a recovery plan and a task to love my body all in one. I will swim. I will put my bathing suit on my overweight and lopsided body and I will swim. I will swim to strengthen my damaged chest and arm and lungs and I will swim far. I will swim 200km over the next year and celebrate a year of reclaiming my life with an epic challenge in summer 2020. It seems so perfect, I can’t wait to immerse myself and start healing.