'A Strong Life Force'
A young woman's story of juggling secondary breast cancer with raising five young children on a West Coast farm.
Tamara Malone was 33 years old and pregnant with her third child when fate dealt her a double blow. In December 2009, she was not only told she had HER2+ breast cancer but that she would have to terminate her pregnancy.
Now aged 39, Tamara remembers the disbelief she felt when the doctors told her they couldn’t operate or give her chemotherapy while she was still pregnant. Just 2 days after the termination, Tamara had a mastectomy. “It really was traumatic, I really wanted another baby. I just couldn’t believe this was all happening to me.”
Tamara finished her treatment in 2010 and went on to have a daughter in June 2011 and then a son who was born in January 2013. All was well until April 2014 when Tamara was exercising on a rowing machine and noticed she was getting very short of breath. “I just knew there was something not right within me.” A scan revealed the cancer had spread to her lungs and Tamara was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer.
Following a course of the drug, Vinorelbine and then Herceptin Tamara managed 7 months without treatment until March this year. “I noticed I was struggling to walk up the stairs,” says Tamara. A CT scan revealed blood clots in her lungs. Unable to receive the treatment in nearby Greymouth, Tamara had to travel to Christchurch to receive it. She is now receiving chemotherapy every 3 weeks in Greymouth.
Living on a dairy farm with her husband and 5 children near the remote West Coast town of Harihari has brought its own set of challenges. Throughout her breast cancer journey Tamara has often had to travel 4 hours to Christchurch to receive her treatment and sometimes had to bring her children with her due to a lack of childcare. Having five children ranging in age from 2 to 12 years old means very little downtime. “In a way, it’s good – the kids really keep you living in the present. There’s always a lot of noise at our house,” she laughs.
Tamara is open with the children about her illness, however admits it’s only really her 12-year-old daughter that understands. “And even then, because I haven’t lost my hair this time, I don’t seem any different to them.” While relaxation time is hard to come by, Tamara goes to yoga when she can and enjoys a candlelit bath at night – “once the kids are in bed.”
Apart from feeling tired and having peeling skin on her hands, Tamara is grateful she has never experienced a lot of pain. “I still have a good quality of life – I feel like I have a strong life force. I definitely want to be around for as long as possible.”
15th July, 2015