Caitlin Moorhouse is a ‘friend of a friend’ and I just knew she needed to be part of our Women We Love series. Tonight Caitlin shares how she balances first time motherhood while living with stage 4 bowel cancer …
In August 2015 I was living my fairy tale. In late May, after two years of fertility treatment, my husband David and I welcomed our little girl Violet. I was enjoying new motherhood and the slower pace of life that came with maternity leave and a newborn’s timetable.
But on 13 August 2015 life changed irrevocably. Pain in my right shoulder turned out to be liver metastases (secondary cancers) of which there were too many for the pathologist to count. Further investigations resulted in a diagnosis of stage 4 bowel cancer. The pain and shock of that time is impossible to describe. I remember David and I looking at each other in absolute horror as my lovely GP broke the news of the metastases. I remember calling my mother as we walked through Garema Place (in Canberra), David pushing Violet in her pram, as I sobbed down the phone that I didn’t want to die. Mostly I remember terror, pretty much ice in my veins.
Within a week of my diagnosis we had relocated to Melbourne, and I was being treated at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Peter Mac is Australia’s only public hospital dedicated to cancer and going there for treatment was the single best decision we have made. It’s a special place, and I have been very lucky with my treating team and my response to chemotherapy.
Nearly fifteen months down the track I can quite honestly say that while life is different it is not necessarily worse. There is certainly pain and physical discomfort, most of which is related to treatment rather than the disease itself. But even the most unpleasant things become normal – blood tests, chemotherapy, nausea, peripheral neuropathy – they seem a small price to pay to still be here.
I find the mental strain of my diagnosis to be the most difficult aspect of cancer – at times it can threaten to overwhelm. When I was first diagnosed, and again when we learnt that the cancer had spread to my lung, I thought I would never feel happy again. But eventually the intensity of my initial response passes and happiness and even joy creep back in. There is a wonderful quote from Voltaire, which I think of often: Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.
I try very hard not to think about whether I will still be here next Christmas, or if I will see Violet start, let alone finish, school. Perhaps I’m shallow, but much of the time I’m thinking about decorating my new house or whether or not my online Woolies order will arrive in the selected time slot (the answer is always no). I still love clothes and shopping and beautiful things. I love to read, although I tend towards books where the characters’ lives are more depressing than mine – my own misery book club.
There is an Irish proverb – ‘it is in the shelter of each other that the people live’. Never has this been so true for me as it is now. Above all else, cancer has let me know that I am loved. As a person with a certain intensity of feeling, I’ve often felt like the person who likes others more than they like me. But my illness has allowed people to show me how much they care, and for this I am very grateful.
While I am considered terminal, I prefer to frame it as incurable, or even better, currently incurable. In the words of John Cleese “life is a terminal disease, and it is sexually transmitted.” We are all terminal, some of us are just forced by circumstance into a hyper-awareness of this fact. So in the meantime, I am doing my best to be strong, brave and positive and to bring up my daughter to be the same. How lucky am I?
You can follow Caitlin’s journey on her blog.
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