*I gave a talk yesterday at a Breast Cancer Awareness function in Doha. There were some great speakers from Hamad and the Cancer Centre – lots of great info and a great event to show women in Qatar that they are in good hands. I really want to say thank you to the American Women’s Association. Those love heart cushions and drain bags are so incredibly useful after surgery. We love useful. Here’s my speech from the event (that I completely messed up after I lost my place)*
My girlfriend Erika has a phrase that I love, it’s one she uses for someone who always manages to land on their feet. Someone who appears to live in a constant state of good luck. You may have heard it, she’ll say:
“She/he always lands with her bum in the butter” this comes after she hears of the latest good fortune.
I’m not sure why having your bum in butter is a state to be envied – but I completely understand the context.
I’m pretty sure if you were to ask my parents and childhood friends they’d tell you that my bum has always appeared to be perfectly buttered.
Until last year.
My good fortune in life has meant I grew up with two loving parents in a very comfortable middle class Australian home. My sister and I had our grandparents living next door, and a swag of uncles and aunts to turn to for advice or help. I was physically able, heavily involved in sports and had enough talent to sing a song in a school play or dance in a chorus if required. Don’t get me wrong, I was not a star but any stretch of the imagination, but I had something that I didn’t realize was a gift until years later when I had my own children. I had the confidence to attempt anything. I was always happy to try. The biggest problem my parents had with me was that I wanted to do everything, every sport, every activity, every event.
When it came to luck, I had it handed to me in large doses. I put absolutely no effort into school but still managed to just scrape by. Once again, don’t get me wrong, I was not a star – but I always knew things were going to work out. I wasn’t nervous about what would happen next. When you’re someone who as my friend Erika would say “always lands with her bum in the butter” you’re never too worried about what will happen next – because you’re always fairly confident that it will all be okay.
Me and my well buttered bum had a lot of fun in our twenties. I stumbled across a career that I loved, one I of course fell into because of mutual friends. And when it came to finding the right man? Where did I find him? Well, he arrived at my front door of course! Hand delivered by a girlfriend. Kirsty, meet Greg. See? Bum in the butter.
We dated for a few weeks and were married within a few months. ‘How can you be so sure? Aren’t you worried’ people asked. I just knew. Like a girl who always lands with her bum in the butter does. He was perfect, I adored him, he adored me. Of course it would be fine.
Like most married couples we’ve had our every day ups and downs. Through mortgages, moves, and the complete madness of having four children under the age of six. Our adventure has meant that we’ve lived in 7 countries over the past 17 years. I appeared to share my butter with my husband. Four healthy children, constant employment, many giggles, and friends from all over the world.
So, having told you all of this, you can understand the confusion on my face when the doctor walked into the room to tell me that they’d noticed something “sinister” on my ultrasound.
Fourteen months ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
And for a girl with a buttered bum, this was highly inconvenient news.
My instant reaction was to thank the lovely doctor and radiologists for letting me know, and to explain politely that I now had to head off to lunch with a girlfriend and then fly back to Doha with my children because, you know, school starts on Monday!
To say I had no concept of what was about to unfold in our lives, would be an understatement.
Last year I watched a YouTube clip of a breast cancer talk in the Middle East, I can’t remember if it was Abu Dhabi or Dubai – but I’ll go and find it and post it on my Facebook page. The one thing about the breast cancer talk that I clearly remember, was when the presenter, a woman in a headscarf, asked the crowd of women if they knew how to get to the closest IKEA. I think 90% of the crowd raised its hand. She then asked for a show of hands on how many people knew where to go for a trustworthy and reliable mammogram? About 10% of the room raised its hand.
I could drive you to IKEA in 7 different countries, but I only knew how to get a mammogram in Australia. Thankfully, and maybe because I always land with my bum in the butter (depending on how you look at things) I was in the right place at the right time. I had my mammogram and following ultrasound when my tumor was about 9mm big. I found it early, I got to it before it made its way into my lymph nodes. These are all good things, and all reasons why you need to make yourself get checked regularly.
Here’s what I didn’t know about breast cancer before last year.
There are so many different types. My breast cancer is probably completely different to the breast cancer of your aunt, sister, friend or mother. Therefore my treatment is completely different. While my breast cancer is triple negative which means there are no drugs I can have after chemotherapy or radiation, my girlfriend’s breast cancer is hormonal which means she will take drugs for the next ten years to protect herself. My breast cancer is highly aggressive and has the highest return rate within five years, bizarrely though, if I can get through the next five years my success rate is higher than other breast cancers. What does this mean?
It means we’re having a really big party in about five years time.
This time last year I had my first round of chemotherapy. I did this in Doha with the help of amazing friends, and with my children and husband around me. I went though the experience that most of us see in the movies. My hair fell out, my face took on an appearance of steroids, and I had some of the usual side effect: tingly fingers and sore feet, nausea, weight gain, yes gain! So unfair.
But here are a few of the other side effects. I began a new job and acquired a whole lot of new skills. I bought a block of land with my husband and began planning our dream home. I gained an insight into the world of health care and those who are trapped in the cancer cycle. I met women whose cancer had metastasized, which means it had spread to other parts of their bodies and would never go away. “When do you finish chemo?” I naively asked someone one day. “When I die” she answered. These are the women we need to think about – and why I struggle so much with the pretty in pink. It’s not fun runs and girl’s night out for everyone.
Landing with your bum in the butter is all about perception. We may perceive that someone has been lucky in getting a certain job, or a house, or a partner. They are a moments in time. None of us know what’s around the corner, whether it’s fabulous or not, and while people like myself will always assume it will end fabulously – we really don’t know.
The only thing we can do is check in now and then to see how things are tracking. Find out where you can have a trustworthy and reliable mammogram, get a second opinion, ask for an ultrasound. Follow your instinct.
And here’s to years and years more of buttered bums.