Getting a diagnosis of cancer is a scary time for anyone. Then comes possible surgery and often gruelling treatment.
Andrea Fairbarin has had cancer twice and has written the book Chemo and Back Again about her experiences.
She wrote it to pass on to others going through the cancer journey tips and practical advice she learned the hard way.
Andrea wrote the book over five years to show the really realistic journey cancer sufferers have to endure – both the gritty and the positive aspects.
In many ways life doesn’t go back to the way they were and it’s really important to know how to deal and adapt with life after cancer, she says.
Andrea Fairbarin’s journey began when visited her GP on unrelated issue, but decided to give her a breast check and then suggested referred her for a mammogram.
She says she didn’t take the suggestion very seriously to start with, but after being tested was diagnosed with cancer, for the first time, on her 39th birthday.
Before her cancer diagnosis Andrea had already spent lots of time in hospital as a child which an unusual eye condition which required 25 surgeries before she was 20.
Andrea says that in the first year of having cancer she didn’t see it coming and wondered “how did this happen?”
“The main or me the thing was this wasn’t how my life was supposed to be. I didn’t see it coming. I do yoga, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I’m healthy and [I have] no family history – surely there’s a mistake here.”
While she learned a lot the first time she had cancer, she decided to help others with their experience the second time, which included writing a blog.
For every one of Andre’s books purchased, one will be donated to a Breast Cancer sufferer in hospital
She talks to Kathryn Ryan about her experiences and the advice in her new book.
Read and edited excerpt from their conversation where Andrea shares some of her advice for those who are going through cancer treatment
What did you learn about chemo that you want to share?
What I learned about chemo is that for people who have had chemo it is often worse than having cancer. It is very gruelling treatment depending on the drugs actually. There are lots of different types of chemo and everyone is different, and people have different reactions to the same thing. When I started having chemo I was on a regimen called AC. And I had so much nausea and vomiting and that type of this that I would be hospitalised for the day after, just to keep me stable and keep me hydrated, and that kind of thing. So it’s really learning it the hard way. It’s really like going to cancer and chemo school, like an apprenticeship. Some of things that I learned and had no idea about are quiet difficult to explain to people, especially managers at work, is that quite often with cancer you can be feeling quite good and then you start your treatments and you get sicker, and sicker and sicker. And you’re kind of going down and people think that you are sick and you are getting these treatments and will be getting better and better and better.
What were some of the technical you would do to minimise the emotional or psychological responses during chemo?
That’s huge. There are quite a lot of medications they give you to keep you calm and relaxed. Especially even the night before if you’re feeling nauseas already you’re going to have a bumpier time of it. But the main thing I learned from the first set of chemo into the second was to treat cancer recovery as my job instead of trying to do two jobs. So focusing on that meant I was rested and I got lots of sleep. So every time I went into hospital I felt good, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t stretched or stressed. I was able to go for walks on the beach and have coffee with friends, that sort of thing. Some of the nurses told me that people who rest more and work less have less side effects. And the side effects are huge.
Is visualisation something that you need to persevere with?
Yes, sometimes having headphones works. Closing your eyes and listening to something. Getting yourself out of that situation. I think it’s really import to be as calm and peaceful as possible and have enjoyment in your life. And I had a rule of no negative stories. Often people you know will feel a bit awkward and start talking and babble a bit and start talking about someone they know who died and you need to create this environment around you that is completely peaceful and positive to keep you on that train.
Was the blog part of your therapy as well?
Yes, two things - the first set of cancer and chemo pushed me to my limits, and also I was fundraising for (the cancer drug) Herceptin as well. And after that it took me quite a while to get myself back and get my spark back and feel good about life.
But when I was diagnosed the second time I thought I had learned everything you had learned, it wasn’t as much of a shock, it was more irritating. But I had a strong feeling that this was about helping others and passing on the things that I had learned and it gave me some meaning. But also I felt this was really important. Because there’s lots of resources out there, there are lots of messages out there in the cancer space. However, hope-filled, practical real resources that give you perspective that keep you full of inspiration all the way through are not always there.