When life gives you lemons 🍋🍋
Full Name: Sharon Steele
Type of Cancer: Late Stage 3 Breast Cancer
The phone rang, it was my younger sister. She was 3 months pregnant with her first baby and we were all so excited. I was currently 7 months pregnant with my 4th child, so it was nice to stop and talk anything baby! But this phonecall was one that would alter the course of our lives forever. My sister was crying as she hopelessly told me that she was diagnosed with Late Stage 4 Breast Cancer!!! It was all so surreal? Cancer didn’t happen to my family…only strangers, it was too much to take in! Being only 3 months pregnant she had a HUGE FIGHT on her hands, both that for her life and her fragile baby. Our family was absolutely devastated and shell shocked. My sister lived in another state which made things even harder to try and support her. My mum (who lived near me) flew down straight away to be with her.
8 days later, I was teaching in my classroom (this was my 17th year of being a teacher) when my phone rang again. It was my Dr. she told me that she needed me to stop teaching and come in straight away. I told her that I would come in at the end of the day but she was insistent I come in NOW…and my heart caught in my throat.
In less than an hour I was sitting in the Drs surgery and with tears streaming down her face, my Dr whom I had grown to know and trust, held my hands and told me that she was sorry, but I had Late Stage 3 breast cancer . The room spun and from that instant I became numb. I was 7 months pregnant!! How could this be!? We had no family history of breast cancer and yet here we were, both my sister and I pregnant and with Breast Cancer! (we later went on to find that we DO NOT carry the bracca gene..that we were just one of those freaky odds situations)
Little did I know that I would never step foot in a classroom again, that after 17 wonderful years of teaching, it would all be taken away from me. It was all I knew. I was very good at it. It was my happy place and my security.
The next morning I was taken to hospital and given steroids to help my babies lungs mature…they wanted me to have a Caesar at 7 months,so that we could start fighting for my life. This was not how I ever envisioned my beautiful baby to be brought into this world. I had 3 older children to my X and my new partner had only just proposed 2 weeks earlier…so this little baby was a special little gift to our family, now even more so! I remember telling my new fiancé at the time to let me go, that he did not sign up for this and didn’t deserve a life of the unknown, but he totally ignored me and quickly became my rock.
Dec 5, 2013 I was wheeled into the operating theatre to have my baby 2 months premature…I wanted so badly to be excited, but his birth was marred with worry, fear and sadness…so many unknowns…would my baby be ok? Would my baby need machines to help it survive? Would my baby have a mummy? My beautiful boy was born extremely healthy and only stayed in special care for a few hours. Before long, I was cuddling Chae close, spellbound by his tiny features. The doctors gave my partner and I a suite where we were treated like Royalty for 4 days. We had a double bed and chef prepared meals in hospital! It was an incredibly special 4 days. We literally spent the entire time gazing into our little mans face. It was a beautiful bonding time.
4 days came and went and the dreaded day had finally come. I will never forget the moment I was wheeled into the operating theatre. I sobbed and sobbed as I kissed my fiancé and newborn goodbye. I was terrified I would never see them again. To top it off, I had previously clinically died for 3 1/2 minutes in a earlier operation due to a allergic reaction to the drugs I was given. This experience had instilled the biggest of fears of operations into me and I really was a mess. That and still trying to recover from my Caesar was already just about all I could handle. My fight had begun, this was my first of many operations (8 to be exact). My lymph nodes were removed and I had an auxiliary clearance.
I awoke sore and sorry, but was so thrilled to see my fiancé and baby chae waiting for me in my room in the ward. I was unable to hold my baby due to my scars and of course I could not breast feed him, it was really hard to watch everyone else feed my newborn with a bottle and give him his first bath and rock him to sleep….when I simply couldn’t. I was allergic to most drugs so pain relief was at a minimum making my experience extra difficult. Depression pretty much started setting in here.
My cancer had spread through my lymph nodes, so I was instructed to start chemotherapy straight away. I was given a couple of weeks to let my drains settle and be taken out and then chemo would start.
I wanted to nurse my baby, fend for my baby, get up and do the feeds in the middle of the night for my baby, but I was too sick to be able to do this, I was mad..(why me?…I was a good person!), I was upset and I was frightened as hell of dyeing and not being able to be there for my 4 children. My other 3 children were 10,9 and 8 and they helped look after chae around the clock.
I loathed chemotherapy, the needles were painful as finding my veins was always an issue (and I am a sooky lala). The children would often come into hospital with me, this journey very much became their journey… a typical evening for them became one where they were doing their homework on the hospital floor. Although not ideal, they wanted to be there for me and support me through my journey, they witnessed the ups and downs, the good and the bad first hand. I was so grateful they were there for me. Motherly guilt was a hard emotion that I had to learn to deal with. My children missed out on a lot of things that other children were doing during this difficult time because I was too sick or we now could not afford it. The thing that many people do not get to realise, is that when you go through cancer, your family and close friends go through every painstaking step with you and it affects them in many ways…I felt my children and partner also needed some sort of support.
We quickly ran out of money as my partner quit his full time job (he was self employed) to be my full time carer. I was unable to fend for myself properly due to being so sick with the side effects, let alone care for my children. My partner gave me his all and I know I am here today because of his support. He put up with a lot!!
It was extremely difficult accepting the help of strangers and others…but it was this help, that was to teach my family a valuable life lesson. Strangers heard about our situation (the schools I taught in all rallied together) and gave us all sorts of donations. We had a room full of baby goods that had us in total tears. We were gifted nappies and wipes that lasted us a year, saving us so much money! We could no longer afford the basics and life was a struggle. Churches were donating us food hampers and we were humbled and speechless. Complete strangers would put gift cards and money in our letterbox…it was this money that we used to pay for the petrol that I needed to get into hospital daily for my treatment (my hospital was over an hour away) people gifted us massage vouchers, a weekend away, clothes for my children, activity packs for my children to bring to the hospital and so much more. Parents and teachers from the school I taught at cooked casseroles and meals and rallied together to give us a chest freezer so that we could be well equipped for when we were unable to cook. Our first Christmas while I was going through chemo was heart wrenching…we could not afford any presents for the children. My close friends chipped in together and gave us $500 to spend on the children…I cried and cried. You see, I used to be the giver..the provider…and all of a sudden here I was on the other end of the stick..it was hard to accept, but I learnt to do so with a gracious, open and humbled heart. I was vulnerable, and I knew we needed help, like it or not. Our children learnt that all the rough looking, tattooed covered, tooth missing and scruffy haired people were in fact our Angels in disguise. They offered the most help, they soothed our soul in humanity and left us so emotional and thankful for all that they did.
What people don’t tell you about,while you face this cruel disease and struggle daily, is that you will loose a lot of friends during your journey. Some just don’t know how to handle it or what to say, others just feel so sorry for you and without meaning too, make you feel like crap. Others pray for you from a distance and feel that is enough. I had a lot of friends, but quickly my large group diminished to a small circle. It hurt real bad, I felt I was no longer me. I knew I looked different and that was hard enough to deal with, but some friends stopped coming around, or made excuses or started treating me differently and my soul shattered. I hated myself enough already and adjusting to such a loss was unbearable. I was fortunate enough to have a small circle of friends who still treated me like me, loved me for who I was, not what I looked like and made me feel normal…to this day they are my closest friends. The rest, I had to learn to “bless and release” and this in hindsight became a very powerful tool in finding happiness in my future.
2 weeks into my chemo, I started loosing clumps of my hair. I knew it was going to happen, but when it fell on the floor as I was walking, my reality hit hard…nothing quite prepared me for this. my children and partner joined me in the bathroom and my partner shaved my hair off and put it in a zip lock bag (he aptly named it my ferret!) I cried painful tears as I said goodbye to my hair, I knew it was only hair and would one day grow back, but the process still rocked me to my core…I looked so sick and this just emphasised it more. Now I looked like “one of them”! The nights were getting cooler and my head would literally sting in the cold, then as the months grew warmer my skull cap and wig would leave me so hot and itchy. I liked the fact I could wear a wig, but it felt so foreign, so detached, so fake. I understand many women choose to wear wigs, but you see, there was no choice for me here, loosing my hair was not a choice, so accepting my reality was a bit harder. I tried to embrace the new look, but I lost part of my soul as I lost the me I knew and when I looked into the mirror, I could only cringe. Before cancer, I was happy with the way I looked in general, but now I was very large, had no hair or eyebrows, was swollen in the face, was extremely ill, could barely walk, move or hold my baby and could no longer fit all my old clothes. I was clinically depressed and wanted to hide myself away from the world.
My journey to follow was a complete muddled haze of operation after operation and procedure after procedure. 8 in total with 1 more to come! Hospital felt like home. I had 2 seperate mastectomies and a double reconstruction, a full hysterectomy, and corrective procedures due to infections and damage from radiotherapy. Losing all of my women parts actually played with me mentally for a while. I loathed looking at my scarred hollow chest and found my prothesis uncomfortable… (I had the sheer humiliation of loosing a boob in the local swimming pool and watching in horror as it bobbed around) so I was always conscious of it.
My social life became reliant on Face Book. I would feel so angry at all the happy pics of everyone living their perfect and healthy lives and here I was, bed ridden and miserable. What had I done to deserve this much pain and suffering? My children and family felt like the only reason I was hanging on when every part of me felt like I was dyeing.
One day of FB I came across a lady who had her before and after pictures after doing a nutritional cleanse. She looked amazing. I kept coming back to her post and felt the strong urge to contact her. I desperately needed to change my nutrition and lifestyle and start fighting for me again…start fighting for my children and family. I started selling all I could on our local buy and sell pages to afford these products and did so only because I knew they had 100% money back guarantee ….so I had nothing to loose. It was this nutritional cleanse that payed a pivotal part into changing my whole outlook in life. By day 2, I was sleeping all the way through the night….unheard of for me! Day 6 I found myself smiling…actually smiling!! I could not remember the last time I had genuinely smiled, and instead of crawling back into bed after my shower I got up and joined my family. I knew this was just the effect of fabulous nutrition drenching my body. My body was clearly very receptive after the poisons and toxins I had inside me…the feeling was second to none. In 2 weeks, I was able to swim slow and gentle laps in our swimming pool, it was unbelievable…just a few days before,simply moving was a chore. I lost 25 kgs in 3 months, released a truck load of toxins and felt like a new and improved version of me. In undergoing this transformation, my confidence grew. I started recognising the face in the mirror again. My depression had lifted and I was able to be a mummy again and do things with the children. What an incredible feeling!! What an incredible gift!! My mental clarity came back and I was in fact full of new found energy. I could feel my blood literally pulsing through my veins!
I used this energy to immerse myself into personal development and surrounded myself only with positive and happy people. The impact this had on my life was crucial to my healthy outcome I believe. Anything or anyone that was toxic in my life I blessed and released and this process served me well. I threw myself into the power of the mind and law of attraction exercises and learnings and adopted a whole new positive mindset that I still work on daily.
Don’t get me wrong, I have days where I slip back into negative spells, my lymphodema causes me great discomfort, my hair is whispy and extremely fine, my bones ache from the steroid damage, I struggle with anxiety, my new breasts are uneven and out of shape, I have no nipples, I am scarred from head to toe and the woe is me list can go on….BUT I am so damn Grateful! This journey I have been on had me on my knees, it exposed me to my inner being, it was painful and frightening and at times embarrassing. But it was this exact journey, this exact process that led me to finally discovering myself…I now understand exactly who I am. What I want in life, where I want to be, what I want to experience. I believe in myself like never before, I honour my body and all that it has been through. Now more than ever I believe so much in the power of the mind.
I believe I could have easily died if I let my mind take me there…my body was almost there as it was. The power of the mind was able to dig deep for me when I was at my lowest and what it discovered was so much hope, so much beauty. It is a beyond awesome feeling to be in alignment and to be totally congruent with me. I am now my authentic self. I more than love life and I am hand on heart, grateful for every day.
Just 2 weeks ago I was announced cancer free…4 1/2 years later. I will always have the monkey on my shoulder, but living in fear is no way to live my life. I believe in me…I believe in my body…I believe in my journey…I believe in my future…
I am abundantly grateful……..it is now my turn to pay it forwards!
When life gives you Lemons….you squeeze the crap out of them and make the yummiest version of lemonade around!!