In 2008, when Lynne was 51, her life changed forever.
A GP had sent her for further tests after Lynne complained of discomfort in her abdomen. “A pelvic ultrasound found fluid and I had extensive abdominal disease – bowel, ovaries, fallopian tubes, everywhere. Then they found the breast cancer; a tumour deep in my chest. It was ER+,” says Lynne.
Her oncologist told her he thought he could help her, but he was careful not to give false hope. Twenty-four hours later, Lynne remembers having a revelation. “I sat up in bed and said, I’m not going to die of this. I’m just going to get on with it.”
Lynne has been told that a patient’s attitude accounts for one-third of their recovery, and she has tried to remain as upbeat as possible throughout her treatment (including mastectomy, chemo and other drug treatments). “At first I googled the hell out of everything because I was looking for the slightest glimmer of hope. But with the internet, you have to take the good with the bad. So I stopped googling a long time ago.
“But it depends on the individual. It’s different for everyone,” she says.
“Medical professionals are very cautious. You often come away from appointments feeling a bit negative, that you’ve lost a bit of hope. But I have a great relationship with my oncology team. We talk about a million things other than me.
“At first I felt very high and very low; everything was exaggerated. After 10 years I’ve learned to control the rollercoaster. Even if I’ve had a CT scan and I’m anxious, it’s no longer debilitating.
“I try to help people get down off that peak. It makes it easier to support people with cancer when you’ve got cancer yourself. I think that’s why I’m still here.
“I’ve never asked, ‘How long do you think I’ve got?’ Because if they give you a number, everything else goes out the window. You’d think about it constantly. Tomorrow isn’t here yet. I live very much in the moment.
“I did go through a stage where all I did was imagine and worry and think about what might be. But while you’re thinking about that, you’re not in the ‘now’.
“You can’t change what’s happened but you have a choice about how you think and feel about it, and how you manage your everyday life. I live with a very positive mindset. I have to.”
Lynne credits state-of-the-art drugs with contributing to both quantity and quality of life. “I’m on a treatment now (Faslodex), and have been for two years, and I feel the best I’ve felt. It was recommended by my oncologist but had to be signed off by an oncologist in private practice. There’s a lot of red tape. It’s just BS. The Minister of Health needs a kick up the bum.
“I have Southern Cross Medical insurance but because the drug I’m on is not Medsafe approved, they won’t give me the $8000 a year for drugs I would otherwise be entitled to under the terms of my policy.”
“I have been self-funding my own drugs. I pay $1100 every four weeks.
“I work full-time as office manager at a kiwifruit pack and cool company. My employer has been great. They gave me time off when I needed it. When they found out I’d have to pay for my own drugs, the group accountant came up with an idea: Donate a Day for Good. Staff were invited to donate the value of one day’s annual leave and straight away it raised $8,000.”
Receiving is great, but giving is even better, Lynne feels.
“Friends and family wanted to fundraise. I felt uncomfortable with all the money coming to me, as there are so many others in need. I already belonged to a group, Angels for Action, which had fundraised before for the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. We went to the oncology nurses and asked how we could help, and we started paying cancer patients’ prescription costs, provided HOP cards, sometimes meals and duvets.
“Having been through chemo myself, I knew how they were feeling. I know how it feels to be too sick to get out of bed. I feel like we should help if we can, so we do.”
Lynne admits that the reality of living with advanced breast cancer can be draining, painful and difficult.
“There are dark times. If I need help, I ask for it, but if I’m just having a bad day I put my Big Girl’s Panties on and get on with it.
“I’m in a closed Facebook group of metastatic patients and they share how frustrated they are that nothing further can be done for them. I know there’s nothing I can say to them. I know that one day, my time will come. They give me insight into what’s coming.
“When the drugs I’m on no longer work, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.I don’t give up, I keep going. Show no fear! Or, at least, feel the fear and do it anyway.”
“Sometimes you need to look at the bigger picture to get perspective. Some of the small things that we thought were terribly important, aren’t.
“Some people say, it’s terrible that this has happened. But I’ve never thought, ‘Why me?’ I think, ‘Why not me?’
“I know two or three ladies who have survived past 20 years. I told my specialist, I reckon I’ve got another 10 years in me. They replied, I wouldn’t bet against you.”
Lynne is a much-loved member of a large extended family.
“I recently held a big party, a 10-year survival celebration. I think my family has always been celebratory. I have five brothers and a sister, countless nieces and nephews and amazing friends. My husband Graham is retired, daughter, Debbie, has two children: Jake, six, and Emily, three; and my son Carl has a daughter, Jayde, who turned two in July. I used to have hobbies; now I have grandchildren!
“My father, Allen, is 85. He has never been one to say much – but he feels a lot. He understands the journey. He’s very supportive. But parents are not supposed to outlive their children.”
Lynne is open about having terminal cancer, and doesn’t shy away from the topic with family, friends and workmates. “I’m happy to share. I’ve shared readily with anyone and everyone. The more I’ve shared, the less it’s haunted me. But I still have times it haunts me, and it’s perfectly okay to feel that. I say: ‘Allow yourself to go there, but don’t allow yourself to live there.’”
Meanwhile, Lynne continues living a fulfilling life, packed with love and laughter.
“I’m just so bloody-minded I refuse to die! I refuse to give up,” she smiles. “It’s the way it is. You have to accept it and live life.”