Breast cancer survivor living full speed ahead
FINDING an answer to breast cancer that will help save her life is all National Breast Cancer Foundation speaker Kerrie Claffey cares about.
"I just want to live," Kerrie, 65, states firmly. "Any money they raise goes to research. That is what is going to save my life."
In the meantime, Kerrie has the throttle down as she lives life to the full with competition gliding to pursue, as well as recreational kayaking, bush walking and cycling near her home in southern Sydney, and a fun new job.
Kerrie was diagnosed with stage 3 infiltrating lobular carcinoma, twice; once at age 45 and again at 54.
The early cancer diagnosis and consequent chemotherapy treatment, stopped Kerrie's desperate attempts at getting pregnant through IVF. "Apart from facing a cancer diagnosis, and the fact that chemo brings on an early menopause; you are entering another stage of your life and facing your own mortality," Kerrie said. "But then facing not being able to ever have your own child; it was a lot to take in at once."
But this confronting experience hasn't dampened Kerrie's desire to support women who are on the same pathway as herself.
The former computer programmer retired at 55 from work during the recovery stage of her second diagnosis. Kerrie wasn't ready to do nothing, so when she heard about a tour guiding course, she happily signed up. "While you are on chemo, it's not good to have a lot of free time on your hands," Kerrie said. "You don't need to have time to think; you need to stay occupied.
"When you are happy, free time is awesome. When you are not happy, free time is dangerous."
Subsequently Kerrie secured a part-time guiding job in Australia and New Zealand for an international company.
Kerrie's drive to survive is underpinned by the knowledge that the cancer could return. Last time she had four lymph nodes involved. "That is a sign it may have spread to other areas of the body," Kerrie said. "There were no other areas evident at the time, or till now. But, that doesn't mean it's not there. There is no way of knowing."
Walking a fine line
"Every time your big toe hurts or you get a headache, the first gut wrenching fear is, is it cancer?" Kerrie says.
"It takes a deal of mental discipline to say to yourself, no, I just kicked my toe on the bed leg; chances are I have a sore toe. The first reaction is the panic about cancer, but you just have to say to yourself, hang on.
"The fact that you have cancer doesn't stop these things from happening. You have to say - don't panic. Investigate the likely cause. But, there is a fine line between paranoia and vigilance.
"If something goes on like your toe remains sore for a couple of weeks, you shouldn't ignore warning signs."
Whoo hoo, what a ride!
Life is short and with a diagnosis of cancer, "it may be shorter" due to the illness or the treatments, or both Kerrie philosophises. It's living with this cloud over you that has Kerrie fighting back.
"Get on with it. There is no time to waste," says Kerrie who also admits she has taken a shine to the saying,'life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming wow, what a ride'.
How you can help
Both the NBCF and the Breast Cancer Network Australia celebrate this year milestone anniversaries of their battles to raise awareness and understanding, and fund research into finding answers to breast cancer. Each are encouraging all Australians to join the fight by getting involved in a variety of events during October. To find out more go to www.nbcf.org.au and www.bcna.org.au.