real life

Chell was a happy and healthy mum. Then a routine surgery "completely uprooted" her life.

Michelle Roworth has spent so much of her life caring for others.

In her career, 34-year-old Michelle – or Chell as she’s known by those who love her most – has specialised as a high dependency and cardiology nurse. At home, she’s the mother of a four-year-old boy, Connor, who has autism. She also makes a “beautiful and lovely” wife to husband Jeffrey.

But because the world rarely makes sense and good people are occasionally struck with the stroke of bad luck, Chell’s body is currently riddled with a cancer that affects one in two million people.

“She’s a beautiful, kind and caring person. She is also bubbly and happy with an infectious giggle. She’s gone into a career that’s all about caring for people.

“Everyone that knows her loves her. And even those who have only met her for a second love her. It’s why I’ve called the campaign ‘Our Chell’, because she means so much to everyone who knows her. She’s just a very good person,” her friend and sister-in-law Bek Zadow tells Mamamia.

Bek, as someone who has known Chell since their school days in Wagga Wagga and as the wife of her brother, is determined to not let her beloved friend and family member suffer in silence. She may have very little control over the mental, emotional and physical toll, but the financial toll? That’s something that she can put her time and energy into.

And so, a MyCause fundraiser in Michelle’s name was born. While the couple battle an onslaught of medical bills, a fraction of their income coming in (Michelle is unable to work, while Jeffrey is working part-time) and existing therapy bills for Connor, Bek wants to make sure money isn’t a cause for concern. Because with all the known side effects that comes with an aggressive and unrelenting cancer, money and expenses are often the forgotten ones.

“On the basis of [her caring nature] we would love for people to give back to Chell if they’re able to,” Bek says. The fundraiser so far has raised more than $30,000 for the family.

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The thing about cancer is that it’s not unusual and it doesn’t discriminate. But the thing about this cancer? It is unusual. Pseudomyxoma Peritonei is the name, and it is – quite literally – one in million. Well, one in two million.

Image: Supplied.

Just two months ago, Chell went to the doctors with stomach pain. Suspecting appendicitis, doctors took a knife to her stomach and completed what is otherwise a very routine surgery. The results, however, were far from routine. Within weeks, Chell wasn't sure what her future looked like.

Bek likens it to "a massive bomb that has exploded" that has "completely uprooted their lives".

In the short-term, Chell would have to have surgery. The surgery would be 14 hours long, it would remove almost every organ in her abdomen and fill her stomach with hot chemotherapy.

"The tricky thing about the treatment is...because there is so little research, it's a bit like 'we will give her some of this and see how her body responds to it'. It's a bit more of a guessing game."

There are a few different types of the cancer in question. Chell has the most aggressive at the highest grade.

After being told she would spend a week in ICU after her surgery, and a further three weeks in hospital, Chell very cleverly - and with spades of resilience - was out of ICU in four days, and back home a week after that.

Image: Supplied.
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It was a "record" Bek says, and one that perfectly encapsulates everything that is so "stoic" about this woman.

From here, she will begin chemotherapy. She'll visit her local oncology in Wagga for fortnightly, four hour chemo sessions. She'll then go home, and be hit with a different kind of chemo - a slow release kind - for the same period.

It won't be easy, as the chemo does everything in its power to destroy any cancer in its wake. For now, Chell wants to "get it started and methodically get through the next six months".

Little Connor doesn't quite understand what's happening, though mum isn't able to hold him at the moment. Bek says Connor knows his "mummy has a sore tummy, and the doctors are doing everything they can to fix it".

For now, he gives very gentle cuddles.

And although Bek too can give the same - a gentle cuddle here and there - there's so much more she wants to do. She wants that "magic wand" to fix it all.

And until the family finds one, the fundraiser is the next best thing.

If you would like to donate to their family and ease their plight, visit their fundraising page here.

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