Pictured: Ebony with her kids, Max and Lola, who were aged 7- and 10-years old when she was diagnosed.
Exercise is the last thing most cancer patients want to do after chemotherapy. But for Ebony, a mum of two and a Walking Star, it helped her through her ordeal with breast cancer.
Ebony first found a lump in August 2017 and, after an ultrasound mammogram, was told she had cancer late on a Friday afternoon. An emergency school pick-up meant Ebony had to attend it with her seven- and 10-year-old children.
“The poor doctor almost had a fit with two kids in tow!” she said. “I left them outside – it was tricky to hold it all together and not let them know; I didn’t want to until we knew more about what we were facing.”
Unable to see a specialist until the following Monday, Ebony and her husband Travis spent a nervous weekend not knowing what was ahead.
Ebony’s biopsy was done soon after, showing two separate Stage 3 tumours and a tumour in a lymph node. Things didn’t slow down from there.
"[My doctor] was really good and told me not to panic,” Ebony said. “She had discussions with oncologists and came up with a plan. Seeing that it was a significant tumour, they thought ‘It’s on the march, let’s go for it’.”
With Ebony’s cancer appearing to be moving quickly she was put onto chemotherapy.
She was able to take a year off from her career working in disability as a behaviour support practitioner which helped Ebony get through her treatment – as did focusing on her fitness.
“They gave me the advice that combing chemo with exercise is really good,” she said. “But the first round of chemo – which they call ‘The Red Devil’ – I was so sick I couldn’t exercise.”
Ebony hired an exercise physiologist who wrote her a program to enable her to exercise in bed when she couldn’t get up.
“It was hard, but worth it; it made me feel better,” Ebony said.
Ebony’s mother-in-law began driving her to the gym when she felt up to it, starting Ebony on a cycle of feeling good for two weeks before “wiping out” for a week after her chemo treatments.
The second stage of chemotherapy was weekly treatment, and by then Ebony was managing to ride her bike around 7km to receive the treatment at East Melbourne and ride home.
“I was determined to stay well; I hadn’t been super fit, but I got into it,” Ebony said.
Part of her determination came from her desire to keep taking good care of her children despite all the difficulties, and show them that hard work can pull you through tough times.
“Having time to hang out with the kids makes you realise what’s important in life,” Ebony said. “It was a bit scary for them at times, seeing their mum sick, but we had really good advice from the oncologist and the surgeon saying, ‘This is treatable, keep hanging onto that.’
Pictured: Ebony’s daughter, Lola, was nervous about her mum’s hair loss, so they made it fun with a hair cutting day where Lola got to be the hairdresser!
“That’s the message we drove home for the kids: that I’ve got to do what I have to do, follow through and work really hard.”
Even with Ebony’s resilience and positive outlook, dealing with cancer is never easy. Several times, when things got hard, she rang Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 information and support line for help.
One of these occasion’s was when she was faced with the decision of whether to have a reconstruction after her double mastectomy. Ebony wanted to forego the reconstruction to avoid the strain extra surgery would place on her body, but faced a lot of surprised reactions.
“My surgeon set me homework before I made that decision,” Ebony said. “One thing I did was ring Cancer Council’s peer supports to speak it through with people who had had the mastectomy without a reconstruction."
“It was the best decision I’ve made. I didn’t want extra surgery and risk, I just wanted to get on with my life. Having Cancer Council’s peer supports was really good in being able to talk to people who really knew what it was like.”
To show her gratitude for the help she received, Ebony took part in last year’s Walking Stars, a night-time walking half marathon, which she said was a wonderful night.
And, like with walking a half marathon, Ebony advises those currently going through a cancer diagnosis is to take it bit by bit.
“Try not to think about it all as a whole, because it can be overwhelming,” Ebony said. “Take it one step at a time, focus on what you have to do next, and throw yourself at that.”