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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

The Strength Within: How I Overcame Cancer Three Times

Written by Annie Pateman on 
4th May, 2020
Updated: 29th January, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

The strength within – how do you get it, where does it come from?  

It was 1979 – I was living in Rosedale, Victoria Australia at the time together with my husband Dave and toddler Luke – 21/2.    The pain I was experiencing, had started a year earlier in my left leg and was getting progressively worse. In just a year, I’d gone from being an active young woman to being almost entirely incapacitated. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t sleep.   

The journey to find the crux of this pain was going to be almost as diabolical as discovering the diagnosis.

I had been to at least 10 different General Practitioners, a naturopath, osteopath and an orthopaedic surgeon.  Outcomes - Prognosis – arthritis bursitis yahda yahda.  During this time I also discovered I was pregnant with my second child – so an obstetrician was added to my list.  The pain was becoming unbearable and I asked to see an orthopaedic surgeon. I was 3 months pregnant at this time when I went to see him. I had an Xray – he couldn’t see anything and pretty much told me I was wasting his time even though I had a prominent lump on the inside of my knee at this stage.   (No MRI or Ultra Sound equipment at this time.)  I continued as best I could with a lively toddler and my husband, Dave working double shifts.    It was time to attend my appointment for my 6 month check up with the obstetrician, on completion he advised that the baby was progressing well and all was OK.  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back - I threw a massive tantrum, started crying and yelled out

Everything is not alright.  

I demanded that someone look at my leg and I wasn’t leaving the hospital until they did. 

I was suffering excruciating pain in my left leg - I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t sleep. I was finally heard. They sent for the junior Orthopaedic Surgeon who came to see me and reluctantly took an Xray because of my pregnancy, and placed about 5 radiation jackets over my stomach.  They discovered there was some cause for concern – my lump was the size of a tennis ball yes – well there would be wouldn’t there. I was immediately admitted into hospital for a biopsy. 

I phoned my neighbour who left a message for Dave at our house. (No mobile phones back then either}. 

He came to the hospital straightaway as soon as he could.

The next day, on the 1st April 1980 - yes April fool’s day - I underwent a biopsy - the lump was identified  as a tumour.  

It was a Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

Finally, after 18 months I had a prognosis. It was such a relief to finally discover the cause of the pain because I could now tackle and overcome this obstacle and move on with my life or could I? 

The surgeon advised it was operable, fortunately… but at the cost of my leg and almost in the same breath said the baby may not survive due to the trauma of the surgery.  I was 26 years old and 26 weeks pregnant. 

I’m not a religious person, but on this occasion I prayed to G-d something I hadn’t done for a long time and prayed that we would both survive. 

I prayed and prayed and prayed. 2 days later, on 3rd April, Good Friday – I underwent the surgery.  When I woke up my husband was beside me and gave me the news.  The surgery went well and more importantly the baby had hung in there. What a relief!  I knew she would. And my next thought was that my life as I knew it was over. 

Emotions were running wild and there were a lot of questions

  • How would I cope?
  • How would I manage with a toddler and a new born?
  • Would my husband actually be attracted to me as now a woman with one leg?

Yes I did have my “why me” moment but that passed quite quickly.  The answer to my questions were – yes you will be fine, yes, you will manage and yes. your husband will still be attracted to you.

Then as I call it my hospital crawl began

2 weeks at Traralgon Hospital where I had the surgery, to recover, and then transferred to the Royal Women’s Hospital to await the birth of the baby – I was induced at 32 weeks and on the 8th May  1980, a beautiful healthy baby girl was born weighing 31/2 lb.  Another week, I was transferred  Prince Henry’s to start my 12 month cycle of Chemotherapy followed by 6 weeks of rehabilitation to learn how to walk again with a prosthetic literally made out of spare parts while my stump settled down before I could get my custom made permanent one. 

It was an horrendous time being separated from my newborn

But the light at the end of the tunnel was being able to see her on weekends. My son was fostered out to friends and family and Jessica stayed at the Royal Women’s until I was able to come home.  It was 3 months before I finished the hospital crawl. I finally got home and the family was  reunited and especially with my new baby.

So how did I overcome this crisis?

As I said – I prayed and did a lot of self talk – that not only was I going to get through this and survive, so was Jessica.

Positive thoughts all the way through, dreaming of bringing my baby home and creating pictures in my mind of how we were going to move forward in my new world having a disability – looking for the light at the end of the tunnel –.the tumour was a Ewing’s sarcoma – normally only found in children under 10 and rarely in women in there 20’s

Statistically I shouldn’t have made it through.

Fast forward 30 years 2010 -  my strength was tested again.  

I went for a scheduled mammogram – yes a lump was discovered and two further episodes within 12 months – it was advised that I have a mastectomy.  That was 10 years ago.  This time I employed the above and also started on a spiritual journey, following another scare 5 years ago, I changed my diet and became vegetarian. So I guess you can say I was reinventing myself with each new crisis.  It has worked for me. 

My take home message for you, your loved one or friend is this

If you are facing adversity – dig deep think positive thoughts and build your resilience.  Seek out professional help, but if no one is listening make a bigger noise until someone does – believe in your gut feelings and you will find the strength within.

Further reading

The Light at the End of the Cancer Tunnel: A Personal Story of Recovery

Appreciating life in a way that I never have before.

The Cancer Shop - All The Items You Need When You Have A Cancer Diagnosis

Hospital Cancer Patient Gift Hamper

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