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From cancer sufferer to inspiration: Trish Vermuyten shares her story

On Saturday night at the inaugural Stars of the Beaches event to raise funds for the Cancer Council, local Collaroy girl Trish Vermuyten bravely shared the very personal story of her battle with cancer and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Now Trish has agreed to share her story with us, which has taken her from a cancer sufferer to survivor and beyond, to becoming an inspiration to so many….


It’s amazing how you can go through life and have absolutely nothing to do with cancer then all of a sudden be completely surrounded by it!

When I was 32 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Then 4 years later my father was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer.  And in the middle of my dad’s fight, my mum was also diagnosed with breast cancer.

So, you could say it was a very rough time for my family.  Very sadly, my dad passed away from his cancer but I’m happy to say that my strong, beautiful mum, is a proud survivor who is now 6 years all clear and living life like there’s no tomorrow!

My own cancer journey started when I noticed a pain in my chest after white water rafting. I thought I’d just pulled a muscle, but after a while the pain wouldn’t go away so I had it checked by my GP.  I was told I had a ruptured cyst and that I was too young for it to be anything else and sent on my way.

A month later I was still in pain with nagging doubts growing so I made an appointment with a specialist for a second opinion and a biopsy… and I was lucky that I did..

The call no one wants to receive

I remember sitting at home on the couch with my husband watching TV when I got “the call”. My Dr told me to prepare myself for bad news.  He told me I had breast cancer!  He told me I had a fast growing aggressive tumour… about the size of a 10-cent piece!

How do you prepare for news like that! It came as a complete shock.  My first reaction was “how can I have cancer, that’s an old person’s disease.   I’m young! I’m healthy, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke… That can’t be right. “

But it was… within a week; I was in hospital having surgery to remove the tumour.

Thankful

I am very happy to say that the surgery was a success!  The doctors removed my tumour and thankfully it hadn’t spread…So in MY mind, from the day it was cut out of me, I was cancer free!

But… just to be sure the doctors recommended I do chemo and radiotherapy and they mapped out my treatment for the next 6 months.  And oh my… did I not have a clue what I was in for!

Support

I was very fortunate to have a loving and supportive husband, and a close network of family, friends and neighbours to support me in the journey.  I was truly amazed and humbled by the efforts people made to help me.

There was such a great sense of community – we had neighbours mowing our lawns, friends leaving meals on our doorstep and hanging out the washing, right down to the simple things like my mum holding my hair back as I threw up in the car park after chemo.

For someone who was a strong independent woman who could do anything, it was a real challenge to give into the fact that, throughout this time I couldn’t look after myself, and the help offered by so many was greatly appreciated.

And I consider myself very lucky, for not everyone has this kind of support.  That is another reason why supporting Cancer Council NSW is so important, because not everyone DOES have that kind of support and Cancer Council believe that no one should go their cancer journey alone.

Not just my journey

I was the patient,  but I wasn’t the only one going through it.  Family and friends were going through it too, sometimes not knowing what to do, what to say or how to feel either.  The lives of so many people around me were also affected and our experience was made so much easier with the help of Cancer Council NSW.  By calling their information hotline we were made aware of all of the services and assistance available to us.

I took advantage of Cancer Council NSW funded support groups, counselling, meditation and art therapy services to just name a few. My husband also took advantage of the counselling for carers, because he needed support too.

The knowledge and experience of the staff and other patients was invaluable and we will be forever grateful for their existence.

But……there’s always a but!

Just when I thought all of this was behind me there was a bump in the road. When my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, I discovered that my grandmother had passed from breast cancer, and with me that made 3 generations in a row.

I have 2 sisters and they asked me if I would get tested to see if my cancer was genetic…. The test came back positive for BRCA 1.

You may have heard about that in the news with Angelina Jolie.

For me, that meant, I had a higher than 50% chance of reoccurrence of breast cancer and even higher chance of ovarian cancer.

To my sisters, it meant that they could now be tested to see if they had the gene and to find out their chances of getting cancer.

Unfortunately, one of my sisters also tested positive so we both had a lot of decisions to make.

Taking control

5 years ago I decided to have a preventative double mastectomy and reconstruction … and last year I had my ovaries removed.  I decided that I wanted to take control of my life and my body and not give cancer any chance of coming back.

It was a very long process… with multiple surgeries and lengthy rehabilitation…I also had to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never have children…but I knew it was the right thing for me to do.

Anyway, you have to take the positives out of every situation. It’s amazing how they can reconstruct a breast out of your stomach. And at least I ended up with a flat stomach and a rock’n set of boobs. But  I never dreamed that my first tattoos would be nipples! 🙂

Cancer veterans

I met so many strong courageous people along the way.  Many I call cancer veterans. These people were 10, 15 and even 20 year survivors.  It was so inspiring to see them going strong so many years after their cancer experience.

And that’s why I now volunteer with Cancer Council NSW and tell my story.  I hope to give back to other people affected by cancer in appreciation for how much help was given to me.

All clear

Each year on the 23rd of January I celebrate my anniversary of being cancer free.  I can call myself a cancer veteran now for this year I reached 11 years all clear!

I feel it is important to celebrate these milestones. To celebrate life and the people around you.

Cancer has taught me many things: How to hurt, how to cry and how to be thankful. It has also taught me how to fight. It gave me the strength and determination to face anything head on and to live life to the fullest.

I want to thank everyone who supports Cancer Council NSW’s work.  With that help, we can continue with the research, advocacy, prevention programs and support services, so desperately needed, to improve the lives of cancer patients and the impact cancer has on families, carers and communities.

I believe that together, we will beat cancer.

And I believe all of this would be worth it, if I could inspire just one person to …

  • go get that checkup that they keep putting off
  • to quit smoking
  • and especially here on the Northern Beaches, to be sun smart
  • or simply motivate someone to start taking better care of themselves

I like to think, that if I could encourage everyone to donate just one extra dollar, who knows… maybe that dollar is the one needed to fund the research that allows some brilliant person, the opportunity to discover how to beat cancer.


Interested in volunteering?

Even if you only have 1 day free per year, the Cancer Council would love to hear from you.  Volunteering provides an opportunity to meet new people, to share your experience and to develop new work and life skills.

Find out more about all the different ways you can volunteer with Cancer Council NSW.


 

Author: Patrick Linsen

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