Three days shy of my 36th birthday I was informed I had cancer. Some weeks and many painful and invasive tests later, my doctor informed me that I had advanced and aggressive non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Without treatment, I would die within a couple of months. With treatment, he was not willing to predict my chances.
I’d known for about a year that something wasn’t quite right but back pain was a long familiar companion and being a little more tired and a little more run down than usual was, I thought, to be expected given I was a working single parent of two small children.
In shock, I began chemotherapy and started making arrangements for my children’s future if I died. They were two and five.
My first thoughts were for my kids. For their sake, I had no choice but to live. And I was determined that my illness and treatment should change things as little as possible. I resolved to continue working so that I could pay the bills and keep our home, and, as much as I was able, to remain their primary carer.
I am by nature a happy optimist. But as chemo wore me down, the kids-work-cancer juggle became increasingly difficult. I shed weight, permanent exhaustion and bone-deep aches set in alongside steroid-induced mood swings and all manner of other uncomfortable and unpleasant side-effects. Towards the end of treatment, just one activity a day would wipe me out. Getting the kids up, dressed and fed and dropped off at school and day care shattered me for the rest of the day. Showing up to work and producing something meaningful for my tolerant and understanding employer was almost impossible.
I was extremely fortunate to enjoy the help and support of a large and loving network of family and friends, without whom my children and I would not have made it through that year in such good shape. They cooked, shopped, helped with the kids, gave me a great cleaner, gardened, sent me music and movies and other happy distractions, took me out when I was up to it and in many other small ways carried me through the most difficult year of my life. I’d always worn my independence as a badge of honour; that year I learned to accept all manner of help with grace and gratitude.
One of my most important supporters was and is The Warwick Foundation, which showed me that I was not alone. Despite the unexpected and glorious outpouring of love and community spirit, until I found The Warwick Foundation I felt acutely different. I knew of nobody else my age fighting cancer. I certainly knew of no other parents of small children who were in my situation. Every three weeks I spent a day in the chemo ward for treatment, surrounded by people in their 60s and 70s. Later, the daily visits to radiation oncology proved little different.
It was a great relief when The Warwick Foundation put me in touch with other young adults living with cancer. Established by Samantha Lehmann after her brother Warwick died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 35, it is Australia’s first organisation set up specifically to support young adults with cancer.
Discovering that others my age had gone through the same struggles helped. Being sent – with my Mum and sister – on a delightful long weekend was another terrific boost when I felt that it was all too hard. Just knowing there was a caring support network of dedicated people made a difference for me.
The Warwick Foundation’s mission is to bring hope, inspiration and support to 20-40 year old Australians living with cancer. It has a mentorship program, treats, getaways, and other programs addressing their psychological, social and emotional needs. It also provides crucial information and referrals.
I’ve now been in complete remission for just over a year, and the lovely folk at The Warwick Foundation are still there for me as I negotiate this new, post-cancer world. I am honoured to call myself a Community Ambassador for The Warwick Foundation, and to help other young adults with cancer get the kinds of support that I found so valuable.
Kylie Walker is a 30-something single mum who fought and won against advanced non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Through her battle she learned to truly appreciate the value of love and community. Along with family, friends and colleagues, she was supported throughout by The Warwick Foundation, a charity for 20-40 year olds living with cancer.
Now in complete remission, she is a 2012 Community Ambassador for The Warwick Foundation.
To become a member of or support The Warwick Foundation please go here.