In our second story supporting North Shore Mums with terminal illnesses, mum Marisa Calo shares her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27, and how she has found a way for her family to remember her.
2013 was supposed to be a big year, full of changes for my family and I, and it was – just not in the ways we expected. In January my husband and I were getting ready to move into our new home after selling the unit we had shared for the previous 6 years. My sister and I had wrapped up the clothing business we’d owned together for five years. Our daughter, Avia, was 18 months old and we were hoping to give her a sibling, and I was taking time off to be a stay-at-home mum.
But everything changed on the 18th of January 2013 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 27 years of age.
I had noticed a hard mass in my left breast shortly after I stopped breastfeeding my daughter but assumed it was a side effect of this, so thought little of it. Two months later the lump was still there and had started to ache a little so I showed it to my GP when I was at Avia’s 18 month check up. He seemed unconcerned but sent me for an ultrasound anyway, which I had with Avia sitting on my lap. By the time the ultrasound was over I knew there was more to the lump than just clogged milk. To make things that much more devastating, a week after my diagnosis we found out I was pregnant with the baby we had so wanted, but knew we could never have.
I ended up having a single mastectomy, followed by 6 rounds of chemotherapy, and then 5 weeks of daily radiation, as well as 12 months of a drug called herceptin. Before the 12 months were up though, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to my lung, meaning my cancer was now stage IV, or advanced, and incurable.
Since then I have gone through there different types of chemo, each of which worked for about 6 months, and late last year I had surgery to physically remove the cancer from my lung.
I have been incredibly lucky to have received a multitude of help from the local community. Like I said, I had only just been diagnosed when I moved to Berowra from the other side of Sydney, but I have had local support from the very beginning, be it from neighbours, the local bank, my daughters wonderful preschool, North Shore Mums, and even complete strangers. One of the chemo drugs I needed in 2014 was not on the PBS and cost $16,000 but with the help of friends, family, and the community, we were able to fundraise and afford the treatment. Just last month we were able to live out a dream and take our daughter to Disneyland thanks to locals who donated to a fundraiser my neighbour organised while I was in hospital having my lung surgery.
I have also been incredibly lucky to be receiving treatment at the Sydney Adventist Hospital in Wahroonga. My oncologist, Gavin Marx, is the kind of doctor I wish everyone was fortunate enough to have. Not only is he a good doctor, but he is also caring, honest, and dedicated. He knows that there is more to treating cancer than just drugs and surgery, and that a patients mental health is extremely important too, which is why he and his wife created it’s about us.
it’s about us is a tool for cancer patients to write about their cancer diagnosis and treatment and everything that goes with it, as well as their life in general. I was fortunate to be involved with the project from early on, after I mentioned to Gavin that I had been writing. I met with his wife and her partner and they explained exactly what they wanted to create. The end result is incredible and more than I could have imagined.
When I was first told that my cancer had spread and was incurable, I knew I wanted to write a book for Avia. I wanted to be able to write down everything I had planned to tell her throughout her life, about my own childhood and life, as well as my thought on life in general, which is exactly what I was able to do thanks to its about us. Just the other night she asked me to read her a page before bedtime, which I did, and I hope to continue to do for a long time. But if things change with my health, and someday they will, it is comforting to know that she will always have her book, and a piece of me.
it’s about us is designed to provide people affected by cancer with a platform to create a digital, template style scrap-book that can be personalised and printed as a beautiful keepsake.With easy-to-use software supplied by Australia’s leading photo book provider, Momento, it’s about us provides the inspiration and ability to capture people’s memories, emotions, thoughts and feelings, through text and photos, all within a supportive framework.
it’s about us allows cancer patients the opportunity to release their emotions and allow the cathartic process to take place, empowering them to create something real, relevant and meaningful, whether it’s for personal healing or for a lasting legacy.
it’s about us works collaboratively with a number of health care professionals, including Breast Care Navigators, Clinical Psychologists, Grief and Bereavement Counsellors and Cancer Patient focus groups. It’s about us is proudly funded by The SAN Foundation and is supported by the Cancer Council NSW, and the Breast Cancer Network Australia.
Creating a book is a smooth and simple process, simply download the free Momento software, choose the it’s about us pack and start uploading your images and text. Momento is contributing to the project by offering it’s about us customers a 50% discount off RRP (excluding delivery) and a 1300 helpline.