Sally is one of those “you do what ya gotta do” type of personalities. Has her first year of parenting been what she imagined? Hell NO. But has she let it define her and stop her from feeling joy in life’s most simple pleasures? Also HELL NO.
So here is the story from a Mum who has literally been through what can only be described as hell on earth. How she has survived that first tumultuous year of motherhood and how she will not let “a little cancer” get in the way of her enjoying her BEAUTIFUL baby boy.
Who was Sally before she became a Mum?
What is something about motherhood that drives you bonkers?
Since becoming a Mum, what is something about you that has changed which you actually love?
I have also learnt to look after myself by recognising when I need to step back and take a break. I am not an emotional person but have learnt over the past year that just because I’m not bawling my eyes out, it doesn’t mean I’m not dealing with big emotions. I’ve learnt to recognise my own emotional behaviours and be proactive in looking after myself. It can be as simple as taking some time to cook (without a baby at my legs), a long bath or even just a coffee. I also have reconnected with my love of writing and find that writing about what I am going through helps me process the jumble in my head.
Elephant in the room, your son Vinny is almost 12 months old and has cancer. Neuroblastoma to be exact. Can you tell us about those first few weeks of diagnosis as initially the treatment plan wasn’t what we are typically led to believe with cancer.
We were eventually told he had a tumor called a Neuroblastoma, hearing the word tumor I didn’t even think cancer and we were told not to stress so we didn’t. When the doctor said he was transferring us to oncology it all hit me, the registrar working with him quickly realised what was going through my head and they went on to explain that its likely he would not need treatment and although its a cancer in young babies it often doesn’t behave like a typical cancer. This was the only night I hysterically cried myself to sleep, it seemed surreal that a tiny baby could have cancer, and it was difficult to comprehend that after this diagnosis we were just going to take him home and check on it again in another 2 weeks! We were back up at our local hospital two nights later because I couldn’t stop worrying, but slowly we have come to terms with his diagnosis and attempted to regain some sense of normality.
What felt like the second diagnosis came after his first lot of ‘routine monitoring’ which includes a MRI and urine samples. His MRI had come back looking great and we breathed a sigh of relief. A week later I woke up to feed Vinny in the middle of the night to see missed calls and emails from his oncologist, this was extremely frightening as doctors don’t call late at night to tell you everything is going well. I instantly knew that she was contacting us to let us know his urines indicated he needed treatment. Which they did and three days later we were in Adelaide preparing Vinny for chemotherapy. At this point survival mode kicked in and since we have just been taking it one day and one appointment at a time.
Were you ever told at any point that there was the possibility your baby wouldn’t survive?
Unfortunately if you google Neuroblastoma you will see very low survival rates but the survival rate varies drastically depend on age of diagnosis and different characteristics of the tumour. Neuroblastoma can be extremely aggressive in some cases and in others cause no harm at all and then regress on its own. Vinny sits somewhere towards the more ‘well behaved’ end as his doctor likes to call it and if it starts misbehaving again we have multiple treatment options we can explore.
What are 3 of the biggest myths/stereotypes of childhood cancer/being the mother of a child undergoing cancer treatment that you would like to dispel?
What did your life look like whilst Vinny was undergoing treatment?
Every 6 weeks he had a MRI and urine tests, these were extremely anxious times as his treatment depended on these tests. Each time we would be holding our breath in hope it would bring the end of chemotherapy. He ended up requiring 6 cycles of chemotherapy which took around 6 months including a few breaks and then the period after waiting for his line removal.
It honestly felt like life stopped for 6 months and we went into this weird world of chemotherapy, now we have popped back out the other side like nothing but everything has changed.
Vinny still has cancer, he may have cancer for the rest of his life as this isn’t uncommon for neuroblastoma. How do you keep pushing through day by day?
Now that we have seen chemotherapy work and seeing him thrive despite his cancer makes us relax a little. We have been through the hard yards of chemotherapy, we know we can do it and if we have to do it again we will.
What would you say to other Mums in similar situations to you?
And don’t forget to look after yourself too, you can’t give from an empty cup. I learnt this the hard way and burnt out on Mother’s Day which fell about a month into his treatment. I couldn’t look after Vinny. I was a mess because I hadn’t taken any time to myself. After that day I learnt in order to care for Vinny I first had to care for myself or I wouldn’t have anything to give him.