Diagnosis a warning to others
WHEN Sonia Gillan went for a scan she expected would find she had arthritis, she laughingly suggested the doctors would instead find she had cancer.
It was a bad joke, and it had a terrible punchline.
Not only did the scan discover she did indeed have breast cancer, but the 37yearold’s disease was so far advanced that her prognosis was terminal.
‘‘I have a nasty sense of humour, but when the doctor said I actually did have cancer I couldn’t believe it.’’
The scan showed the disease had reached her bones, and was untreatable.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month has just ended, but Ms Gillan said her story was a warning people had to be aware of their health for all 12 months of the year.
‘‘It does happen to people; people do die pretty young from breast cancer.’’
As parents of two young boys, life for Ms Gillan and husband Matt is a constant whirl at the best of times.
But add scans, oncologist appointments and nurses to the mix and the network of friends, family and volunteers which has swung in behind to help the Gillans has been vital to family life continuing.
‘‘A meal train was organised while I was in hospital and people kept bringing us meals — we didn’t need to cook for months,’’ Ms Gillan said.
‘‘Once I was out we said ‘this is a bit much now that I’m home’ but they still kept going . . . it’s been amazing, and people have been so generous and helped out so much.’’
The Gillans’ sons, aged 5 and 4, know Mum has a sore back which will never get better — but do not yet comprehend the drama which has engulfed their young lives.
‘‘They have struggled to understand that Mum won’t get better: they ask to be lifted up and I have to say no, Mum can’t do that.’’
Par ents and teachers know the family’s situation and had helped to keep the boys’ routine as normal as possible.
The Gillans had no family history of the disease, but since Ms Gillan’s diagnosis they had been examined and had genetic testing.
Her disease first manifested as back pain, which steadily got worse.
Treatment escalated from pain killers to physiotherapy, but after a year with no improvement, her doctors decided in January to give Ms Gillan an MRI scan.
The shocking diagnosis meant a couple contemplating buying their first home were now contemplating questions such as whether it should be wheelchair accessible, in case Ms Gillan was no longer able to move freely.
For now, the Gillans
❛ They have struggled to understand that Mum won’t get better: they ask to be lifted up and I have to say no, Mum can’t do
live a life of uncertainty: if the cancer’s spread is slow she may have years to live, but if it picks up pace her life expectancy will drop dramatically.
‘‘The radiologist said we don’t know long it will be, but you will live with it for a while, and he started talking about what you will do in five years — so it’s not immediately fatal, hopefully,’’ Ms Gillan said.
However, a conversation which brought the reality of Ms Gillan’s situation home to her was a discussion about palliative care and hospice.
‘‘It turns out that they are about pain relief and ensuring quality of life . . . they have a nurse who comes up to check on things and they are really cool,’’ she said. ‘‘It was quite a surprise because I didn’t know how that was going to work out.’’
Ms Gillan is now intent on making sure she leaves a legacy for her sons so that they do not forget her.
‘‘I worry about whether they will remember me — I don’t remember that much from when I was 5,’’ she said.
‘‘We got given a holiday, which was pretty cool, and I hope they remember things like that . . . I want to live happily, so they have happy memories, not sad memories.’’
Strong support . . . Matt Gillan and his wife, Sonia, who, at just 37, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.