So life was pretty damn great. I have a great circle of friends and supportive family. I had finally decided to put all my eggs into the photography basket, after having them half full for far too long. I was leaving a 15 year teaching career and trying my hand at photography full time. Our babies were thriving in health and happiness, but in all honestly, I knew something dark was on the horizon.
Creatives will tell you, they produce what they feel. And I was having a massive urge to document everything about myself and my family. I hate getting in front of the lens. I have very few photos with myself in them. But for some reason, I needed to have photos that documented my life. Even if the images on my hard drive stayed there. It was just what I felt the need to do.
So I started with some family portraits in Summer 2018, taking the family out on a school night much after their bed time, documenting everything us and chasing that perfect sun.
We had also just spent a couple of days at Wilson’s Prom, I went to the spot I had scattered my Dad’s ashes 15 years ago. And for anyone who has lost someone close, you might relate when I tell you, I could feel him with me everywhere. I don’t often get those moments anymore. But they were so strong, almost like he was trying to tell me something.
And then came the massive urge to document my body and the feeling of unease. I look back on these and get chills, I had no signs of cancer, I have had lumpy breasts all my life, I recently got them checked by a doctor after loosing a friend to breast cancer at the age of 29. I was always checking!! Always cautious, I was doing all the right things, but something just didn’t feel right and deep down I knew I was about to step into a world of darkness.
It was June/July school holidays 2018 and I was in the shower, checking religiously like I do and I found a lump under my arm. Dr Google to the rescue made me release that this could be really shit. So I booked into see a different doctor this time. She was a lady doctor and it was the first time I had seen her.
She said it might just be a virus. But she was going to send me for a Mammogram and Ultrasound straight away.
I went for the tests, they don’t tell you a thing, but I had my suspicions, after noticing the quiet presence wash over my sonographer as he went over the area of concern. The next day I got the call to go and see the doctor for my results. Still - stupidly, I was in denial and in such a rush because I had the kids at home, I went alone. First piece of advice -NEVER GO TO THESE THINGS ALONE!!!
Honestly the next two weeks were a blur. After the doctor confirmed it was most likely breast cancer, I was rushed in for a biopsy and 3 days later I was meeting the oncologist and touring the chemo ward. They were the darkest most horrific days of my life.
I spent them curled up in a fetal position whaling as soon as my children were out of sight. My body shook so much, I couldn’t control it and once it finally settled down, my jaw took 2 weeks to stop aching from all the shaking it was doing.
I was told I had triple negative breast cancer. It was in my lymph nodes and it was stage 3. I would immediately start with chemo as this was my best and really the only chance of survival. All breast cancers are a bitch, but triple negative is the beast of all breast cancers as it’s more aggressive and their are less treatment options.
The plan was 5mths of chemotherapy, including 4 known as the red devil - as its red and can literally stop your heart. Followed by 12 weekly cycles or a different type. Mastectomy and radiation would follow.
I had test after test to see if the cancer had spread - thank god it hadn’t and also to see if my heart was strong enough to cope with the chemo.
So begun the chemo journey - even though I just wanted to start with surgery to chop this shit out of me, I had to put my trust into my team - which for me after being let down with a misdiagnosis was bloody hard to do. I strangely, immediately felt better once treatment started, the out of control hell I was experiencing was now under control and for the meantime I was going to stay alive.
But chunks of hair were falling out after each treatment on the hour and each time I would get a new handful, I would cry. It was a constant reminder of all I was about to lose and the depths of despair I was facing. It was consuming my mind and body.
I visited a wig shop and purchased one - as I was so not prepared for the bald cancer look. Then I gave permission for my girls to shave my head. Hardest and best decision I made.
I remember the first thing my husband said to me as he looked at me with no hair. He said it was empowering and inspiring and honestly that’s actually what it ended up being. Every inch of my superficial self was now shaved off. It was the last thing I needed to worry about. It gave me the chance to look this shit in the face and acknowledge that it was here and I was indeed going to have to fight with everything I had if I wanted to survive and be here for my family.
I then embraced the bald cancer look, well not entirely, at home I pranced around with a shaved head. In public I got great at wrapping some cool scarves or wearing a beanie. One silver lining to having chemo in winter!
I wont lie, chemo was the hardest of all treatments I have had so far. There is such a long list of shitty side effects that go with it. But all you can do is mind numb the bad days with bad reality TV and make the most of the good days which is what I did with my family, friends and my amazing clients with their squishy newborns!
I’m also not exaggerating when I say I had the most incredible team of support. I knew I had great friends, but gosh you guys, I was blown away. I immediately had a freezer full of food, a house full of cards and flowers of support and vouchers and gifts to support my family in every way shape and form. I reluctantly let my beautiful friends come and clean my home and help me when I couldn’t string two words together, let alone get out of bed.
My husband somehow managed to do it all. He would work full time, lay down beside me in my darkest of moments and let me cry on him. He made sure I never was alone at one horrible appointment or treatment ever again. When suffering horribly himself, he would then put on a brave face and be the rock star dad that the girls needed. I thank god for him every single day.
In the midst of all of this cancer crap, we decided to sell our house and move to back to the country!
See cancer is dark, horrific and fucking terrifying. But it also paints a coloured, highly contrasted paintbrush on the world. It strips away the shit that would bother you before and rids of it. It makes you notice each and every inch of this planet and how bloody lucky we are to call it home. It also makes you look at the people that make living worthwhile and appreciate the shit out of them.
So there was no better place to help us see that everyday than home amongst the hills ….
Three days after our move, back to South Gippsland, where I grew up, I went back to Melbourne to finally once and for all have this cancer mother f*$ker cut out of me and finally after 6mths from first diagnosis I was able to call myself cancer free.
Part two will showcase the family photographs I got done for all the morbid reasons at our beautiful home. Right smack bang in the middle of my final treatment phase - radiation. They were taken by a truly gifted incredible, giving photographer Bec Stewart who travelled all the way out to us just so I could have some images with our babies and my husband in our new home.
If you have read this far - thank you. It’s taken awhile to know how to write this. But hopefully it will make those that know my story understand how grateful I am that you are in my life and for those who don’t know me - to listen to your instincts. And ladies - check your bloody boobs! Like tonight - in the shower because you deserve a hot one if you live in Melb - as its freezing!
Love Mel xx