Before November 2014 if you met me, what you would’ve seen was a wife to my loving husband Kirk, and busy mother of two beautiful children, Jasmine and AJ. My day-to-day was juggling my amazing family and managing my Sports Medicine business, where I worked as an Osteopath and Exercise Physiologist.
On the 28th November 2014, that all changed.
I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at 32 years of age. At the time, my daughter was three years of age and my son was only four months old. Having always led an active lifestyle, never smoked a cigarette in my life and working in allied health, the diagnosis definitely came as a massive shock.
The day I was diagnosed was the day the disease nearly claimed my life.
It started when I was pregnant, and had difficulties breathing. Initially, I was prescribed asthma inhalers, but after multiple visits to my GP and minimal relief from the inhaler, at 38 weeks gestation I was referred for a chest X-ray. The results were all clear, and I was told there was a simple solution; once I have the baby my symptoms would disappear.
The initial period after giving birth was really difficult, as I was trying to juggle an unsettled newborn, a toddler craving attention as well as continuing to manage my business. Naturally, I blamed my fatigue and difficulty breathing on the hectic lifestyle. However as my symptoms continued, I just knew something was ‘not quite right’ and within a short space of time, my situation became a lot more complex.
I remember sitting at home watching my daughter play with her baby brother, I was exhausted and gasping for air with each breath as well as feeling a stabbing pain in the right side of my rib cage, so I made another appointment with my GP. As I was getting my children into the car for that appointment, I coughed up blood.
My GP sent me straight to hospital where some tests were performed, which initially indicated bronchitis, but when I continued to cough up blood for three days continuously, my doctor recommend further tests, which finally confirmed the real reason for my symptoms – a tumour in my right lung which was wrapped around and strangling my one my heart’s main arteries. By this stage, I needed emergency surgery to stop the bleeding in my lungs and I was told there was no guarantee this would be successful. Thankfully, it was.
Whilst I was lucky to have survived, further tests and examination in hospital soon after revealed the lung cancer had already spread to eight different locations in my body, and it was then I was told there was no cure.
Initially I felt numb and then the emotions began to snowball. The panic set in followed by feelings of helplessness, fear and confusion all rolled into one. My life as I once knew it was totally falling apart and the fear of losing my life was devastating. I was scared for Kirk and my children.
Having to tell family and friends about my diagnosis was really hard emotionally, as I feared it would fracture the family, compounding the problem. However, what has been even more difficult, are the negative, confronting images the public relate to, and then link me with, when they think about lung cancer.
Unfortunately, I know that my experience is not uncommon. A recent survey by The Lung Foundation Australia found that more than a third of Australians consider people with lung cancer to be their “own worst enemy” who “have only themselves to blame.”
It is this lack of empathy and understanding that can have a significant impact on someone’s mental health and wellbeing who are already dealing with a devastating diagnosis. I constantly feel the need to justify myself which can become quite tiresome and something I am trying hard to change.
For me, my treatment journey began in January 2015, where I started on a clinical trial specific to the genetic mutation linked to my cancer-type.
In addition to my medical treatment, I also worked specifically on the power of my mind through a positive mental training program working towards more positive thinking. As a result of this experience, (which helped transform me personally), I have co-written a book called ‘Conquering Cancer. Develop your WILL to LIVE’. Writing this book has helped me to heal emotionally as well as provide a useful tool for others in similar situations, with the overall goal to help motivate, inspire and empower those who need it.
Currently stable, I see each day as a gift, and feel more alive each opportunity I have to see my children reach their milestones and each day I wake up next to my husband. I set myself both short and long term goals every six months and spend time each day picturing myself at 80 years of age, holidaying in our caravan and watching the grandchildren play... I never count myself out. For me, giving up is not an option.
Each morning, I live my life through the eyes of my children, particularly my daughter who runs into my room each day and says, “Mum, mum the sun’s up”. My thoughts are... That’s right, the sun is up, and I’m alive. I’m here to live my life to the fullest, I hope you are too.
For more information on lung disease, including lung cancer, as well as support, please visit: https://lungfoundation.com.au/
LISTEN: Sally Obermeder on living life to the fullest as a cancer survivor...