REAL LIFE

Mum-of-two: Did a hug give me cancer?

Kate was shocked when her sore stomach turned out to be something serious.
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My husband Brett and I had taken our two kids out for a walk when I spotted a handrail by the path.

I decided to show Finn, then nine, and Lauren, six, something I’d done as a child.

‘Watch this!’ I smiled.

Pressing my stomach against the rail and clasping it with my hands, I picked up my knees and rolled around the pole. But as the bar pushed into my middle, I felt a jolt of pain. It was another little alarm bell to add to the bloating and stomach-ache I’d had for a few weeks.

Even tying my shoes I’d feel a jab of pain, and I’d been a bit short of breath too. A GP myself, I knew I’d advise a friend with those symptoms to see a doctor. Always busy, I hadn’t got round to it.

Now though, I took a day off and saw someone. Referred to hospital in April, I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy. They both came back fine so I was sent for a scan.

Afterwards, the doctor said they’d found something, so I was booked in for a second scan that same afternoon.

I’m making every moment count
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Calling Brett, I asked him to come to meet me.

‘It could be something serious,’ I said, feeling uneasy. After my next scan, Brett was by my side as the radiologist told me what he’d found. ‘There’s fluid in your abdomen,’ he said. Knowing what this meant, I burst into tears. 

‘It’s cancer,’ I sobbed, as Brett began to cry too. I’d seen my beloved mum beat lung cancer, only to later to pass away from gall bladder cancer. Now, I was facing my own fight. It wasn’t clear exactly where the tumours were, but we had to act fast.

So, I was booked in to have a hysterectomy and my ovaries and appendix removed the next day.

Recovering from the gruelling procedure, I couldn’t get my head around what was happening to me.

I’ve been at work, I thought. I’ve been playing with the kids. How can I be this ill?

A week after the surgery, there was another bombshell when tests showed the type of rare cancer I had – peritoneal mesothelioma. It meant I had cancerous cells around the lining of my abdomen.

I need to be around for my beautiful children
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But the most shocking part was the cause.

‘It’s caused by asbestos fibres,’ the specialist said.

He explained that if people breathe in asbestos, they can develop lung cancer – sometimes decades later. Mine was in my abdomen though, meaning I must have swallowed a dangerous fibre at some point in my life.

‘Sorry, what?’ I said, stunned. Racking my brains, I couldn’t work out where on earth I’d come across asbestos, let alone how I’d ingested it.

This cancer usually affects people who’ve worked in the building trade, or in warehouses and factories. Just then, I remembered my dad had worked in a factory for around 18 years. Each day, he’d come home in his dusty overalls and given me a hug.

Could I have ingested a tiny fibre from his clothes? Could a hug have given me cancer? Or had I got it from somewhere else? A workplace or a building being renovated?

family
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There was no way of knowing if it had caused Mum’s lung cancer either. I was told that people with peritoneal mesothelioma usually survive just two to three years from the time of their diagnosis.

‘But I’m only in my 40s and I have young kids. I need to be around for them,’ I cried.

In three years, Finn would be 12 and Lauren just nine. It was unthinkable.

I have to beat this, I thought. Breaking the news to the kids was beyond hard, but Brett and I wanted to be open with them.

‘Mummy’s got some nasty cells,’ I told them gently.

They both play a Space Invaders video game, so I used that to explain.

‘We have to zap the nasty cells like you do the aliens,’ I told them.

Little Lauren was too young to fully understand, but Finn really struggled with the news.

‘I love you lots,’ I said to him, giving him a squeeze.

Three weeks after my diagnosis, I celebrated my 43rd birthday with my family. Brett brought me breakfast in bed and I spent the day cuddling the kids and laughing.

It was wonderful, but I wondered how many more days like that we’d have together and how many more birthdays I’d see. Soon after, I started the rst of four rounds of chemotherapy, feeling exhausted but determined. On top of that, I needed an immunotherapy drug called pembrolizumab.

kids
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But at $60,000 for the course, I didn’t know how we could possibly pay for it.

That’s when my best friend, Emma, stepped in. ‘I’m going to fundraise,’ she told me, setting up a GoFundMe page.

At first, I felt uneasy, but when I saw how kind and generous people were in donating, I was moved to tears of gratitude.

‘It’s so humbling,’ I said to Brett. Now, four months after my diagnosis, I’ve finished chemotherapy and started immunotherapy.

And I’m waiting to see if I need more surgery.  Thanks to my amazing family, friends and the kindness of strangers, the page has raised more than $61,000 for my treatment. I’m making every moment count with my incredible husband and children. I’m not giving up until I’m fighting it.

To help, visit gofundme.com/healing-dr-kate

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!

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