Real Life

REAL LIFE: "How I beat cancer to be there for my girls!"

''I’ve been given a second chance with my family.''

By As told to Take 5

Narelle Richardson, 37, Kalgoorlie, WA shares her brave story

I breathed deeply as my 
feet pounded the pavement and I finally arrived at my front door.
"How did you go?" my hubby, Lee, asked as I hobbled inside.
"Good," I beamed.
I was 35 and training for my second half-marathon. 
At 21km, it was a challenge but I'd always been fit and healthy.
Even after the births of my daughters, Bella, five, Amiyah, four, and Edie, 18 months, I stayed active as I knew how short life could be.
At 17, I'd lost my mum, Christine, 47, and my brother, Matthew, 19, in a 
car crash. From then on, I tried to look after myself.
I also had regular check-ups with my GP. A few days later 
I was in her office when she looked at my neck.
"I've had a lump there for eight years," I explained. "Docs did a test and said it was harmless."
It hadn't gotten any bigger over the years but I was sent for an ultrasound and biopsy, just to be safe. Two weeks later, a radiologist looked at me sympathetically.
"I think it's papillary thyroid cancer," he said. "The biopsy results will confirm."
My heart jolted at the word cancer. How could that be true? Aside from the lump, which doctors had always dismissed, I hadn't suffered 
a single symptom.
Lee and the girls kept my spirits 
up during my darkest days. Image: Supplied
"Try not to worry," the radiologist continued. "This type of cancer 
is treatable and not life threatening."
In a daze, I called Lee with the news.
"Let's wait until 
we get the results," 
he insisted.
But a week later, the 
doctor called confirming what he'd suspected.
"With surgery and treatment, there's a 99 per cent chance you'll fully recover," he added.
I was floored but relieved 
I could fight it.
That night, Lee and I sat the girls down.
"Mummy's got a sickness called cancer," I told them.
I smiled as they enveloped me in a group hug.
Too young to fully understand, they weren't worried.
Recovering in hospital after my first op. Image: Supplied
Two weeks later, Lee gripped my hand as 
I was wheeled into surgery to have the thyroid gland and surrounding lymph nodes removed. 
I'd never had an 
op before and my heart was racing.
"I'll be right here when you open your eyes," Lee promised.
Five hours later, I woke up and a doctor assured me the surgery 
was successful, but I still needed radioactive iodine treatment to fight any leftover cancer cells.
The treatment 
was taken orally 
over three days but the high levels of radiation meant I was toxic to be around.
My dad, Graeme, and my stepmum, Gloria, looked after the girls while Lee went with me to hospital. He was only allowed to stand in the doorway of my room for 15 minutes each day, but he never missed a visit.
Even though he couldn't come near me, seeing Lee made me feel less lonely.
Ten days later, when my radioactive levels had gone down, we returned home.
I suffered from some cramping and nausea but dismissed it as a side effect.
Standing with my proud parents before my mum 
died in a car crash. Image: Supplied
Three months later, the cramps got so bad I couldn't 

move out of the fetal position.
Then I started vomiting uncontrollably.
Lee rushed me to hospital, where a CT scan revealed 
a bowel obstruction and I needed urgent surgery to remove it.
Five days later, Lee was visiting with the girls when my surgeon came in with 
the head nurse, who gripped my hand.
"I'm sorry but it was a 5cm tumour," the doc said. "It's a rare and aggressive form of bowel cancer called signet ring cell carcinoma."
I stared at him in confusion. I was a healthy, young woman with no family history of cancer.
It had spread to 10 of 
the 14 lymph nodes they'd removed during my op. If it had spread any further, I'd be deemed terminal. I needed 
a scan to determine it, but couldn't have one until I recovered from surgery.
All I could think about was my mum. She'd been taken from me when I was just a teenager. For 18 years I'd lived with the grief – was I doomed to leave my daughters with that same burden?
For the next month we lived on tenterhooks with 
no idea how long I had left.
I've started jogging again, but I'm not ready for a half-marathon just yet. Image: Supplied
Finally, I had a PET scan and got my results back a week later.
"You're clear!" the doc said.
Tears of relief streamed down my face as Lee held me tight. I'd still need eight cycles of intense chemo but I no longer had a death sentence.
When I began treatment I'd never been so sick in my life. But my family, friends and church community rallied around me. My Christian faith gave me strength.
Six months later, I finished chemo and, after a final op to clear the remaining thyroid cancer cells in my neck, was declared cancer-free!
I was too tired to celebrate properly but I held my girls and Lee extra tight.
Now a year has passed and I'm slowly feeling like my old self. I've started jogging again and, although I'm not strong enough to tackle a half-marathon just yet, I know I'll get there soon.
Despite all our troubles, I feel closer to Lee now than ever before. It was a gift to love so deeply during my darkest days.
I'm proof cancer doesn't discriminate. For a while I thought I'd leave my daughters with the unbearable pain of losing their mum and Lee without a wife. Now, I've got a second chance at life, I won't take it for granted.
If you or a loved one have been affected by cancer, call Cancer Council's l support 
line on 13 11 20, or visit cancercouncil.com.au.
WATCH BELOW: The father who had to "learn how to be a mum" following his wife's death.

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