BRAVE FIGHT

BABY GIRL GIVES MUM STRENGTH

Herald Sun - - NEWS -

WE SAW that lit­tle blue cross on the stick and the world shifted on its axis. It was like the in­alien­able prin­ci­pals of physics no longer ap­plied — what was true the day be­fore was no longer true that day.

We were no longer DINKs that trav­elled the world on fan­tas­tic hol­i­days and am­bi­tiously forged ca­reers.

We were go­ing to be par­ents. I’m sure any par­ent can tell you that this shift hap­pens, fast or slow, early or late in the preg­nancy.

In­ter­nally I was like:

“Say you’re ex­cited Jules, and hope­fully the fear won’t take over.”

A few weeks later, my fa­ther called and said, “It’s not great news. Your mother is sick. You need to come and see her.” The world shifted again.

I was no longer my mother’s daugh­ter. I needed to care for her. All of a sud­den, I had a rush of worry. Like I sud­denly needed to grow up and be the adult. How am I sup­posed to fig­ure out this moth­er­hood stuff with­out my Mum?

“Say you think she will be OK Jules, and hope­fully the fear won’t take over.”

Then three weeks later, my GP called my hus­band and told him that I am not an­swer­ing my per­sonal phone and I needed to go in and see her. I was in Dar­win, life was busy, my work as a lawyer in my dream job was a pri­or­ity, I was nail­ing this preg­nancy and I needed to catch a plane.

Frus­trated by peo­ple de­mand­ing my time, I go and see my GP. It’s cancer. The earth moves un­der my feet.

“Say you’re OK Jules and hope­fully the fear won’t take over.”

A few weeks later: it’s metastatic, it has al­ready spread to my liver and bones. It’s not cur­able. I have about two years. I’m 18 weeks preg­nant.

“Say some­thing, Jules …”

My hus­band and I talked about op­tions but never con­sid­ered any­thing other than mov­ing for­ward with bring­ing our baby into the world. It was hard to believe that hav­ing chemo­ther­apy while preg­nant was just a 1.05 per cent in­crease in dan­ger to our un­born child. Oh the irony that a glass of wine would tran­scend the pla­centa but my chemo­ther­apy wouldn’t. Treat­ment started and I lost my hair and yet, just like many other preg­nant women, my nails grew rapidly. I wasn’t nau­seous but I was tired — not sure if that was the preg­nancy or the treat­ment. I got more and more preg­nant and even­tu­ally I didn’t recog­nise my­self in the mir­ror. I broke a rib and frac­tured three ver­te­brae. I had to be very care­ful about pain re­lief and an­ti­in­flam­ma­to­ries dur­ing preg­nancy. As a young woman with breast cancer, let alone a preg­nant one, I couldn’t help but feel iso­lated and that it was all “un­fair”. It was as if light­ning had struck. I went to a Young Women’s Think Tank run by Breast Cancer Net­work Aus­tralia. I was the only preg­nant one but oth­ers had been di­ag­nosed just post-preg­nancy and we all were fac­ing sim­i­lar is­sues, and they are dif­fer­ent to older women with breast cancer. Young women want to talk about fer­til­ity and sex af­ter breast cancer. I needed help through a sys­tem that doesn’t sup­port young women with breast cancer. I needed help with child­care while I was on chemo. I didn’t un­der­stand pri­vate health in­surance and — hell — I want ac­cess to my su­per­an­nu­a­tion!

I came away re­ally em­pow­ered by these strong, sexy de­ter­mined women.

As the months went on, my ob­ste­tri­cian and on­col­o­gist worked re­ally well to­gether. Due to a num­ber of fac­tors, 35 weeks was cho­sen as the best time for the baby to ar­rive.

I had to stop treat­ment for five weeks in the lead-up and in that time my ag­gres­sive cancer al­most had me back to square one.

I was in­duced three times but it didn’t work. Bub was strapped in and com­fort­able; she did not want to leave early.

My ob­ste­tri­cian felt so bad that we needed to go for a Csec­tion that he took my hus­band and I out for break­fast to break the news. Geez, he is a lovely man. It wasn’t his fault. It was my lady bits that were re­fus­ing to play the game.

I needed a gen­eral anaes­thetic be­cause there were con­cerns the epidu­ral may af­fect the tu­mours that had ap­peared on my spine. Ev­ery­one kept telling me I did a “good job” when Rory was born. To be fair, I just fell asleep.

So I woke up, and I was a mum. The world shifted again.

Rory was born with a full head of lux­u­ri­ous wavy hair. Even though I was a lit­tle jeal­ous, I was also happy be­cause it felt like maybe the chemo hadn’t got to her.

Three days later, I def­i­nitely felt the “baby blues”. No­body talks about the wild ride that is the hor­mone rush and re­treat around birth. Or maybe they do, and I never lis­tened.

At day seven, I fell off a hor­mone cliff into “chem­i­cal” menopause. By day 14, I was back on chemo­ther­apy. Rory came home four days later. Then my mother went into hos­pi­tal. Three weeks later she passed away. The world shifted once more.

She was a ti­tan of cre­ativ­ity and love and she was gone. My back­bone of sup­port and strength was no longer there to lean on.

The hard­est thing I’ve ever had to do was tell my mum and dad that my cancer was in­cur­able. I know now, more than ever, that los­ing a child is the great­est fear of ev­ery par­ent.

I know hav­ing a ter­mi­nal ill­ness is a con­ver­sa­tion killer for most peo­ple, but I need to talk about it. I need to plan and I need sup­port from the health sys­tem. I know I am a mi­nor­ity within a mi­nor­ity. I know the sur­vival rate for early breast cancer is some­thing like 91 per cent which is amaz­ing. But there are 3000 women who will die this year from breast cancer.

Those of us with metastatic cancer are for­got­ten in the shiny stats. Not ev­ery woman with breast cancer gets a happy end­ing.

My hus­band and I man­age be­cause we laugh — and ask for help. We can’t do this by our­selves. My hus­band works full-time and is study­ing his Mas­ters de­gree (and some­how on a distinc­tion av­er­age).

With chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­a­tion, I sleep a lot. With­out fam­ily and friends and a part-time in-home carer for Rory, our life would not be pos­si­ble. We are so grate­ful for the gen­eros­ity of our en­tire vil­lage that is help­ing us raise our beau­ti­ful daugh­ter.

I have be­come a “doer” for Breast Cancer Net­work

Aus­tralia. I know BCNA can’t cure my cancer. They can’t save my life. They can’t give Rory a mum and a grandma. It may be the sad re­al­ity that no one can.

I have be­come in­volved in BCNA be­cause my daugh­ter needs to know that de­spite how tough the sit­u­a­tion is, there is al­ways some­thing that can be done. It might not be the per­fect so­lu­tion, but when times are tough, we must par­tic­i­pate in change.

The text­books say I haven’t got long but we are go­ing to throw ev­ery­thing at this and I am ar­ro­gant enough to think maybe I am the ex­cep­tion. I’ve been asked why I don’t lock my­self away and just en­joy the time I have left with Rory but that’s not who I am.

I want my daugh­ter to know that I tried to make my breast cancer count and per­haps im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence of the next woman.

I want her to grow up know­ing the world has women like Rae­lene Boyle and Lyn Swin­burne who have in­spired cul­tural and so­cial trans­for­ma­tion. They have cre­ated a move­ment in Aus­tralia that day by day, week by week, makes peo­ple’s lives a lit­tle bet­ter. It is our duty to par­tic­i­pate. She may grow up in a world that is even­tu­ally free from breast cancer; but even if that is not pos­si­ble, she will know that we stand to­gether to help each other.

To­day I will go to my friend’s hen’s night and next month I will stand be­side her as a brides­maid, just as she did for me only three years ago. I could never ever have imag­ined how my life would change, who would?

My hus­band stops my world from spin­ning out of con­trol. He is the ex­tra­or­di­nary and seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble mix of strength, kind­ness, love and nur­tur­ing for both Rory and I.

I al­ways knew he was some­thing spe­cial, but these last few months has shown me that no one can do what he has to do. He lis­tens when I need to talk. He steps in as both mum and dad for Rory with seam­less ded­i­ca­tion and care. A dec­o­rated mil­i­tary man, he is not only a hero for our coun­try, but he is con­fi­dent and calm when the worst has hap­pened.

He some­how makes cancer funny and play­fully teases me about my ter­ri­ble head shav­ing skills and pretty unattrac­tive side-ef­fects, all of which would seem so much worse with­out the hu­mour that some­how makes them less dam­ag­ing. He is ev­ery­thing you hope for in a true part­ner in life; I can’t believe how lucky I am.

This ex­pe­ri­ence has taught me that when the world shifts, when light­ning strikes and the worst hap­pens, it’s the vil­lage around you that makes it pos­si­ble, bear­able and some­times even funny. And be­sides, the only way is through.

TO­DAY IS METASTATIC BREAST CANCER AWARE­NESS DAY. IF YOU NEED HELP, PHONE 1800 500 258. BCNA HOSTS THE YOUNG WOMEN’S CON­FER­ENCE TO­MOR­ROW, 9.15AM AT FENIX EVENTS, RICH­MOND bcna.org.au

Ju­lia Domi­gan (left), with her daugh­ter Rory, hus­band Joel and the fam­ily dog (right), and show­ing off Rory to her mum Mitzi (below right), who has since passed away.

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