Our daughter Kate died this year on the 11th January, after battling Stage IV Rectal Cancer.
She was diagnosed 27/1/2017 at the age of 31 - that’s when her life, her partner’s life and our family’s lives changed forever. She had met the love of her life and had not been going out for very long when she was diagnosed. She was also training for the June 2017 Cairns Ironman.
She was always sensitive to wheat but didn’t have coeliac disease. She had quite a few visits to her doctor for bleeding, pain, discomfort & anaemia, but she heard “you are too young for cancer”.
I had told her she needed a colonoscopy and we would pay, but she said it’s “Ok mum, the doctor said I don’t need one.”
Our beautiful girl was very independent and just kept pushing through everything. My husband and I had been living and working in Perth and came back for regular visits when we could. When we came back for Christmas in 2016, I was shocked at how she looked and she had lost weight, which she attributed to all the training. Her sister had mentioned it too.
I didn’t think in my wildest dreams we would have ended up losing her. She told me in January she had had a bleed and I could tell she was worried. I said you can’t put it off any longer , you must have a colonoscopy and she had a colonoscopy the next week.
Her diagnosis just set off a horrendous chain of events as that diagnosis does.
She had to endure so much - IVF to freeze eggs and they found something on her ovaries but luckily it was an old cyst that had pretty much swallowed her ovary. They were only able to get ovarian tissue to freeze. Then it all started, oncologist and surgeon appointments, radiation specialist appointments, liver specialist, portocath insertion, scans, radiation, chemo in a bottle, chemo, 8 hourr bowel surgery, stoma placement, liver surgery, there was no let up for her.
All through this, her partner was by her side and we stayed in Brisbane taking her to appointments and looking after them.
We had to be so strong for her because she didn’t want to have us collapsing in a heap because she wouldn’t have coped. It was a very scary time for everyone who knew her and loved her. Our worlds were torn apart.
It was soon evident that chemo wasn’t doing a great job. She ended up with it in her liver twice and she had developed several little cancerous lesions in her lungs in Jan 2018.
She never really got any good news and had the KRAS mutation which reduced her treatment options. She always tried to keep positive, but it was difficult. I was starting to realise that it was determined to take her.
She put on weight, because of her treatment. She had a stoma bag; her hair was thinning, and her eyebrows and beautiful lashes had faded. It was slowly deconstructing our beautiful daughter. She hated the way she looked, and I tried to encourage her, but it didn’t help.
She even managed to do the Noosa tri in Nov 2018. I don’t know how she did it, she struggled but was determined to do it.
She wrote 2 blogs on Foher about her tri experience before cancer and then after her diagnosis. It was heartbreaking to watch but we were all so proud of her. I was afraid something would happen, but she completed the race with some great support from friends and fronted up for chemo the next day. Her oncologist was very impressed.
She tried everything to improve her chances, but nothing helped. Her chemo regime was changed because it wasn’t working and I noticed she was getting some hair regrowth, this which bothered me, chemo was not working.
She had so many rounds of chemo she was getting sick of it.
In 2019, she and her partner wanted a holiday together, so she decided to have a break for a little while from chemo. Who could blame her? But the cancer continued to grow. She was a skier and loved it and hadn’t been able to go on our annual ski trip because of her cancer, so she had decided she was definitely going in Aug 2019.
Plans were made and she and her partner came over, but she hadn’t been all that well with a cough. We discovered later she was hiding a lot of stuff from us all. She managed 3 days of skiing and loved it. She then went back on oral chemo and was hoping to get on a trial but then things went downhill in November very badly. It was discovered that she had a tumour in her cervical spine and that immediate surgery was required.
She recovered well from her surgery but her fatigue was getting worse and they also found some lymph nodes had grown and were putting pressure on her oesophagus so she could only eat soft food. She had had two choking episodes prior to that discovery. They had also seen a spot on her brain, which they would have to watch, but we knew what the outcome would be.
Kate desperately wanted Christmas at home, but she wasn’t well enough, and I could see her slowly deteriorating. As much as we were trying to keep her spirts up, she had had enough. She didn’t want to be alone so we started a 24-hour roster so we could be there for her. She tried to have radiation for mopping up and to reduce the lymph nodes but after 2 treatments she said I couldn’t do it, so we cancelled it for her.
It was my turn to sleep over the night before she died, and I knew she wasn’t going to be with us much longer. She died very peacefully in the morning with us all there. We were just devastated and couldn’t believe it and still find it surreal.
I would have gladly taken her place.
We mourn the life of hers that she didn’t get to have. She will not see her niece and nephew grow up. Her sister is now alone, and we wake up every day knowing that she will not come back. Yet as awful as it was, we are thankful that we were able to have a funeral for her before the COVID-19 restrictions struck.
This was so difficult to write and not all the indignities she had to put up with are in this story, because it would go on forever.
So please don’t ignore those symptoms and take charge. The stories of those young people who didn’t make it are devastating and the fallout for family and friends keeps on going.
She had a wonderful oncologist, liver specialist & surgeon but unfortunately, they couldn’t save her.