A cancer diagnosis is devastating.
I got mine on a busy afternoon during school holidays, 20 minutes before I was due to pick my daughter up from a birthday party.
Before the diagnosis, I had been doing a lot of cycling and walking and was fitter than I had been in years. I felt great – but then I caught a cold and couldn’t seem to shift a persistent cough.
Things dragged on and I was set for an x-ray, then a CAT scan and then ordered back into the GP for the results. He said it looked like lymphoma. Hold on – wasn’t that a cancer?
I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. How was I going to tell my two beautiful children? Freya was 11 and Gordon was 8. I had no idea what I faced but I knew I didn’t want to hide something this big from them.
Jane with her husband and two children, Freya and Gordon.
The CAT was followed by a PET scan which revealed that my body was riddled with cancer. It was everywhere. I had tumours throughout my torso, my spleen had doubled in size and the cancer was in my bone marrow. I was admitted to hospital days later to start chemotherapy.
The speed of my diagnosis and the start of treatment meant I didn’t have time to research or plan. I asked the oncologist how to tell the kids and she told me not to lie to them. Keep it simple and keep it straight, she said.
In the days that followed, there were many questions. I found Cancer Council’s Talking to kids about cancer booklet online which was an incredibly useful resource as I needed advice from people with experience in this field.
However, what I really wanted was a picture book I could read with Freya and Gordon and help them to prepare for what they were going to face. But I couldn’t find one – so I wrote one.
Mum’s Purple Scarf was written to help other parents with that devastating conversation. It aims to help primary school-aged children learn what to expect when they have a parent being treated for cancer.
The book is about the practical aspects of having cancer treatment. It is about Mum being tired, about visits to hospital and extra play dates, and about having to do more to help around the house.
Everything in the book actually happened. We did get three lasagnes in a day and I did nearly drop my hair in the kids’ sandwiches.
My friend, Janet, illustrated the book and the artwork is beautiful – lightening the tone of a difficult topic.
I wanted something good to come out of my experience and this book is my gift to other parents who are facing the same journey in the hope that it will make things a tiny bit easier for them and their children.
My treatment journey was long, hard and something I don’t want to remember in detail. I had six rounds of chemotherapy and immunotherapy and when it didn’t work, I underwent salvage therapy (a much harsher chemo) and an autologous stem cell transplant.
I lost my hair, twice, was hospitalised with the flu, had dozens of trips to the hospital and was calmed by the professionalism of the staff at the Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre.
Jane's extensive cancer treatment meant she lost all her hair – twice.
For the stem cell transplant, I spent three weeks in the same hospital room. When I got home, I spent most of my time on the couch and was pushed into menopause. I felt like I was nearly destroyed and then rebuilt.
However, through it all, I found kindness everywhere. School mums I didn’t even know dropped food off to my house. Friends took my children to school. My cleaner cleaned my house for free for months. My mother flew back and forth from Tasmania to help out and my husband took over the mental load of organising our family.
Two years on, if feels like I have woken from a nightmare, but I know that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be.
My kids have grown. They don’t want to remember or talk about when I was sick.
Ironically, although I dedicated the book to my family, they haven’t read it. But that’s ok because they know how it ends.