Hi There and Welcome to My Story.

Well, firstly a big welcome to our brand spanking new site. What do you think? A wonderful idea huh? I think we Mums (we spell it with a ‘u’ in Oz) can use all the help we can get raising kids. You know the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ I believe that is so very true. The thing is when you add cancer into the mix, well you need one heck of a lot of support. It is almost impossible to keep functioning as a Mum, trying to protect our children and keep things running smoothly. This is a blog to support Mums that are doing it tough or have done it tough and are now helping others to get through the chemo, the radiation, the surgery, the fatigue, the pain, the emotional distress, and very often depression and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

My name is Jennifer Ballantyne, I am now 39 years old. I have two children one is 20 (shock, horror) and one is 6. I was diagnosed with bowel/colorectal cancer almost 5 years ago. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever faced and still is. My symptoms didn’t show up until the tumour was quite large, the size of a golf ball actually by the time the surgeon found it. Some of the symptoms that eventually showed up were things like, fatigue, I lost my desire to do things like I used to – I was really dragging the chain. I won’t go into too many details about this but I was horribly constipated, I now know that the tumor was partly blocking my bowel. I used to have to drink the stuff that people drink before a colonoscopy just to be able to go to the toilet. I would not be able to go otherwise which I can’t tell you how horrible that is. I know it’s not the nicest topic but I am not here for niceties I am here for the hardcore truth about cancer, my cancer anyways. My stomach was absolutely huge, I was so uncomfortable and then when I could go after drinking the drinks, there was blood in the toilet. I went to so many doctors before anyone diagnosed me correctly. No-one believed I could possibly have bowel cancer at that age. At that time in our country it was known as disease that men over 50 mostly got, not young women of 34. I even had surgery done for a fistula which had been caused by the tumor, although no-one knew it at the time, while they were fixing the fistula, the tumor was a matter of approximately 1Cm away and they missed it, can you believe that, they were right there operating and didn’t see it. If they had of found it earlier I might have been saved!

Finally someone booked me in for a colonoscopy, I woke to find the doctor sitting beside my bed looking so sad. He then very gently told me the news. I asked him to call my mother and she came to pick me up, he explained it to her also, although I don’t think she really took in the seriousness at that time. From there I had to have chemo and radiation to try and shrink it before surgeons could remove it as it was so big. I underwent some pretty tough chemo complete with a ‘pic’ line which is a tube they inject into one of the veins in your elbow (front of) thread it all the way up the vein in your arm and it ends in your chest. The chemo gets attached to this and you have it pretty much permanently, a few days off here and there where they disconnect you and then you go back and get hooked up again. Then I had six weeks of 5 days a week strong radiotherapy which burnt like heck and, as it was my butt, I had trouble walking and sitting, you can probably imagine, it is an area we use quite frequently but don’t think about. Then came the surgery, I was operated on in a surgery that lasted 7 hours. I was cut from pubic bone up to just below the middle of my breasts, I was given an ileostomy which is a bag that you poop into. That was supposed to be the good news as an ileostomy is reversible. I also woke to find that I couldn’t urinate on my own anymore. I found that out the hard way by my bladder nearly bursting in hospital because no-one believed that I couldn’t wee on my own. Finally I was given a catheter which hung down my leg to just above my knee, I wore that for about a month (yuk) and then went to a specialist where I was told that the nerves were damaged in the surgery and it was unlikely that I would wee again on my own. I was shown how to catheterize myself at least 6 times a day as I had no sensation of when I needed to urinate. I have done that for 5 years and continue to do so. I had to have more post operative chemo in case the cancer had spread because it was found in lymph nodes. Then a few months later a tumor was found right near the original site, now I was eligible for a clinical trial which my oncologist encouraged me to do so I did. For 8 months I was monitored and I had to do paperwork and have the Avastin that was the drug they were trialling it did shrink the tumor significantly and I was monitored for about another 8 months during which time the tumor didn’t change at all. Next the cancer spread to my liver after about 8-9 months of feeling like I might be okay . So next the cancer is in the liver, scans showed that again very luckily they were not clustered, there were 3 of them completely separate which meant they were operable which was so so lucky. I then went through liver surgery. I woke up as weak as a kitten, I literally could only whisper for a couple of days. Anyway I felt such happiness when I woke as I naively believed that I would be okay now that they had cut out all the tumors. I can’t explain to you how good that happiness felt. I was like a person who had been let out of prison for the first time, I thought that now I would be there for my baby and I could help others and I would do so many wonderful and amazing things, like being able to go and help out at my sons school, start a support group here etc, etc. It was like I could breathe again! It was that happiness that let me know how very unhappy I had been, how scared and worried, I had just tried to bury it and focus on getting through all the treatments. Anyway it was short lived happiness as the surgeon came and told me that “unfortunately” (hate that word) the tumors had spread to lymph nodes around the liver, he cut out all that he could find but we couldn’t be sure that the cancer hadn’t already spread somewhere else or was on it’s way at the least. My happiness simply evaporated, there was nothing I could do to get it back, but oh how I wanted that feeling back, it was the best feeling in the world.

Okay I then had another 6-7 months of relative peace when I was found, via a scan, that the tumor in the bowel was active again and growing “Unfortunately” (again) the surgeons couldn’t operate again as there was no room and this time the tumor had gone outside both sides of bowel wall and there just wasn’t any room left to operate. I also couldn’t have any more radiation treatment as my body had had all it could take the first time. If they over do it, it wreaks havoc with your bone marrow. The only thing left for me was chemo and a drug I had had before named Avastin. The Avastin was approved everywhere else in the western world except Australia so I had to pay $25,000 dollars to have it. My oncologist said if it was his daughter he would definitely get her Avastin, so we did, when I say we, my Mum had to help me pay for it as I just didn’t have the money after being unable to earn a proper income for so long, thank God for her huh? The Oncologist and Surgeons both say I am lucky to be alive I should have passed on a long time ago, they say they can only palliate me now and have given me 7 months without treatment, with treatment anywhere up to 3 years but definitely not 5! I don’t know what to make of that or where the statistics come from or how they are done, is it mostly old people that get this disease, I think it used to be but not anymore, so perhaps he has already allowed for the fact that I am fairly young, or maybe not. Anyway I try and continue to think positive but at the same time I have had to go to the place where I might die and what I need to do before then so that I don’t waste whatever time I may have left. I know this is very long winded but I really wanted to include everything so you get a picture of how much I and others have been through because of this disease so I didn’t want to leave anything out. I could go on longer as there is much more I could say I haven’t even touched on the debilitating pain that goes with cancer and cancer treatments but I will save it for another post. Currently I am in the middle of chemo and Avastin treatments and hoping dearly that it will get rid of the tumor for a very, very long time. Thank you for caring enough to read this. I wish you all well, take good care of yourselves and each other.

Edited to Add: I forgot to add whilst I was typing out my story a rather important detail I think that may be helpful to other Mothers and that is that I also was sent into early menopause, (I was 34) my very first chemo treatment was my very last menstrual cycle.  Of course I had to deal with all that went with that including the crazy, messed up hormones, the sweats and flushes and also the awful truth that I could never have another child.  Not that I would have because of my cancer but still it was rather a daunting truth to get a handle on.  Anyway I just wanted to add this in case any other Mothers reading went through similar and would like to discuss any aspect of this with me.  Thanks and take care.

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27 Responses to Hi There and Welcome to My Story.

  1. Jen,

    I have been to your site many times, but I guess I never heard the story from the beginning. Thank you for sharing it again.

  2. sprucehillfarm says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.
    If all our stories help at least on person that will be great! 🙂

  3. CathyB says:

    Hi Jenni! Like Mary Beth, I have visited your site many times in the last couple of months but didn’t know the whole story. I think all of us who read your blog are blown away by your amazing heart, your courage and your generous, bright, shining spirit! But now that I know just how much you’ve gone through I’m doubly blown away. With a spirit like yours statistics mean nothing. Rock on, dear, fabulous Jenni! And all your wonderful friends here too! We are praying for you all, keeping faith and sending love and good energy! What a wonderful site and community you’ve all created for each other. Very healing!!

  4. Thanks dear Mary Beth, so nice to hear from you, I am off to read your story in a few moments! Take care my friend and it is so nice to be on a blog with you! I am really excited about this blog I think it can be a real help to other women who are struggling out there with little support. J xxx

    Sprucehill, thanks for your supportive comment, I am also off to read about you in a moment too, I am look forward to getting to know you all as we work together on this site. Take Care xx

    Dear, dear Cathy B, I just adore you, thank you so much for following me over here already and thank you so very much for your beautiful words about me, I am touched and a little embarrassed but I will do my best to Rock On Cath I promise you that. Love and Hugs to you Jen B xxxxxx

  5. Karen says:

    So well written hun. You have fought an incredible battle so far . It is so important to get the message out to everyone that age is not relevant – so get as many doctors opinions as you need to get answers.
    I have 2 other friends – both mothers – having cancer treatment currently – I am going to suggest that they check out the blog.
    Love and hugs,
    Karen xxx

  6. bcjenster says:

    Jen – (I’m a “Jenni” with an “i”, too!) What an incredible person you are. I’m pretty sure you get told that a lot, but I have to say it, too. I’m so sorry for all that you have been through and continue to go through, but I thank you for sharing it.

  7. imstell says:

    Like many of the women who will visit our little corner of the blogosphere, it’s hard for me to find the right words when hearing a story such as yours. I am at the same time humbled by all you’ve been through and how far you’ve still to go and frightened that I may have to make a similar journey someday. Thank you for challenging comfort levels so this particular road might be less traveled in the future.

  8. My dear Karen, thank you too for following me over here already! You are a champion and I hold you very dear. Your support has meant so much to me, you are one of my fairly few Aussie friends and you do mean so much to me. Thanks for your continued support Karen you are a loyal and wonderful friend. Take care sweetheart, love and hugs Jen B. xxx

    Hi to another Jenni with an “i”, I am so glad to meet you and work on this amazing blog with you. I totally think our stories are worth sharing, for many reasons not the least of them being that other women can see that they are not alone, I believe this is vital in receiving support as there is nothing more empowering than seeing that another human being has been through or is going through what you are dealing with, in my opinion anyway, I know that helped me enormously, especially Whymommy’s blog. Thank you too for your kind words Jenni and I really look forward to ‘working’ with you on this blog.

    Imstell you are such a sweet person, thank you for your kind words too, I hate that you have to be afraid and I wish you didn’t have to feel frightened but I am not going to try and assure you that you don’t need to be because I for one know how scary this world can be – as do many, many others, including unfortunately, young children. I hate the truth of this but there it is. Take care my friend and just know that if others can get through really tough things then so can you. Here’s hoping you won’t have to but if you do, believe in yourself and your courage, I believe we are far more courageous than we know until we are tested. Hugs to you xx

  9. Beverly says:

    Jen, you are such a brave, selfless and kind person to share this blog and your life. Kudos to you and each of the other women that are sharing their experiences in order to help women.

    You make us all proud, sweet one.

  10. leeanne says:

    Hi Jen,

    What a great site for mums suffering just like you. Once again you have written and conveyed you story with amazing truth and honesty. You are a true inspiration as are the other women sharing their stories and journey through this blog.

    Thinking of you always

    lots of love
    leeanne x

  11. kat-in-texas says:

    Hi Jen!
    I wanted to take a peek at your latest endeavor and glad I am for it. This is so wonderful!!! Your words speak volumes to those of us around the world who are praying daily for you! Powerful stuff. Heart-wrenching. Nothing anyone should have to endure in their lifetime. Your efforts will not be in vain as this will help others cope with sickness, sadness, hopelessness. Be an inspiration, a light that shines so bright others cannot help but to flock to it. Like I’ve said before, God put you in our path for a reason. May His grace and mercy lift you up and wrap you in comfort and fullness. I love reading anything you have to share and am proud of you for taking on yet another adventure!!! YOU GO GIRL!!!
    Hug and a Smooch!!
    Kathy

  12. Meg Casey says:

    Brave brave Jenni-you are so amazing to me. Thank you for sharing your story, here, on your blog and out in the world. You are an inspiration and I am proud of you my friend. Love to you
    xo
    m

  13. Thank you for sharing your story, dear.

  14. bete says:

    Just to say that I am happy you have found this site and more support to carry on. You deserve all the love in the world because you’re really a sweet person!
    A warm hug, :o)
    Bete

  15. Lisa L. says:

    Hi Jen – I came to check out your post. I’m so glad that you accepted this challenge…you will be so inspiring to so many! Congrats!

  16. Firefly Hill says:

    Dear Jen,

    Came over from your site and cried reading your story again. You are an inspiration and are helping so many people by telling what you are going through. Stay stong and know that you are loved and supported!

    annie

  17. Dear Beverly, thanks so much for coming over to see our new site and thank you for your love and support, it means so very much to me, you are a dear, dear soul. Love to you xx

    Dear Leeanne, thank you too for coming over for a visit and for your sweet words. The stories are powerful aren’t they, I just really hope we can help other Mums like us. Take care my friend, love J xx

    Dearest Kathy, thank you for visiting me here too, I am touched by your beautiful words and I will do my very best to be as strong as I can and to try and help others if I can, I promise you that. Thank you so much for your support Kathy you are a beautiful person and I am so glad to have your love and kindness. Take care my sweet friend, love J.

    Meg, my darling Meg, thank you hun for coming over here and adding your support. Love you so much and we will talk soon. xxx

    Thank you sweet Jennifer, you are also so very dear and I am so blessed to have you supporting me. Take care dear one, J xx

    My dear Bete, thank you for visiting me here too! I know you will want to give all your support and love to the women on this site because you are such a kind and beautiful soul. Take care friend J xx

    Thanks Lisa for coming over too, I certainly hope we can inspire others somehow. xx

    Dear Annie, thank you for your kind words, I am touched and will try hard to stay strong and I certainly do know that I am loved and supported and I feel so very grateful and still somewhat amazed at the support I have received from my going ‘public’ with my story. Take care sweet friend, hugs J xx

  18. Dear Jen, Like some of the other visitors to your Comfy Place blog, I hadn’t really gathered all the details of your cancer journey, and find it horrific that so much passed undiagnosed. Your spirit shines through all this, as ever, in your straight-talking descriptions. Well done. I know you are going to be one of the shining beacons in this place which will help so many people seeking information and solidarity. Bless you, and all your sisters on this site.

  19. Hey Jen,

    What an amazing and terrifying journey you’ve been on – and with Jack so young at the time of your diagnosis…you must have been heartbroken! But you’re an amazingly brave soul and truly generous to share your story like this.

    Take care of yourself.

    Rebecca xxx

  20. Linda says:

    Wow Jen. What you have gone through is unbelievable. You are strong beyond all belief, even if you don’t think you are, you are. You have an amazing spirit and you give a marvelous gift by sharing your story as you have done. God bless.

  21. Hi Jen,

    To be so young and to have to go through so much is a lot to ask. Thanks so much for sharing and I look forward to getting to know you better!

    Linsey

  22. Dearest Imelda, thanks so very much for checking out our new site. I hope it will really work out to be an inspiration to other women with children that are battling along with cancer, especially mums doing it without a partner, let me tell you that is really, really tough. I am so glad you came over, thanks you again Imelda it means a lot to me. You have been such a steadfast supporter of me and I am touched by that. Take good care my friend and hope to see you over here from time to time just to give the gals a boost. Love and hugs xxxx

    Darling Rebecca, thanks so much for following me over here also, do you know I am getting ready to do a post on your book and on your sisters (if I can just get it back from Lee lol!!) They are both just brilliant books and I am so touched that you sent them to me. Love to you and take good care J xxxxx

    Oh Linda, what can I say…thank you so much your words touch my heart. I certainly hope to help somebody by sharing my long (and at times quite boring no doubt) story. Thank you again my dear and take care Love J xxx

    Linsey, thank you for your kind comment too I also look forward to getting to know you better. Take care J xx

  23. Fern says:

    You are awesome, Jen. Please don’t reply to this one — I will be sad if you do! — because all I want to say is I think you’re wonderful and you don’t deserve anything but a peaceful comfortable easy 50 years or so with your kids. I appreciate your desire to maximize your time — a lesson we all should put into practice.

    I follow your other blog as well — rarely (if ever) comment because I have nothing in particular to say — but I think you’re amazing and I am wishing you the best.

  24. Oh Fern, I am sorry but I just have to comment because you don’t ever leave comments on my other blog how am I to ever get the chance to thank you? I want to thank you , I really do, even the fact that you didn’t want me to answer shows me the type of person you are and I want the type of person you are visiting me on my blog and being my friend. Okay, sorry again Fern but I just had to answer you, love and hugs and please comment from time to time or just shoot me an email. xxx

  25. Linni says:

    Welcome! to you! Blogging and writing on a whole other website?!

    Magical!

    i wonder if these women know how encouraged they are going to be with YOU here!

    One word for you : SUPERHERO!

    Hope you will get just as much comfort here from mummies who are in the exact same position as you…cause only they know…

    Love you xx

  26. Hey Jen,

    Thanks for sharing so many details. It’s the details that make our stories so human.

    Two things you wrote hit home for me:
    1. being “too young”
    2. realizing that this cancer thing means “no more kids”

    I can write so much about both those issues….

    RivkA
    (who will post some day, if I can just figure out how…)

  27. professional says:

    Hello. I think you are eactly thinking like Sukrat. I really loved the post.

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