Kicking Cancer in the Ass
Words by Beth Reid
Introduction by Louise Agnew
This is the story of how my dear friend Beth Reid kicked cancer in the ass – a bittersweet triumph among the mess that 2020 has brought. Beth says “I was ready to fight for my life and there was no way I was going to lose”. I was so honoured to photograph Beth, to celebrate her being in remission. So much love and gratitude to capture.
Beth and I met when our first born daughters arrived and we have been such good friends ever since. For someone who has the kindest, most selfless and easygoing nature, she sure knows how to put up a fight. Words don’t even describe the strength, courage and determination this gal has. So proud and inspired by you Beth, superwoman!
Beth is a mum to two children, Olivia and William, wife to farmer Nathan and has recently opened her own business, Mothers Meals. Soon after hitting remission, she reflected on how grateful she was for the beautiful food cooked and delivered to her family when she was too ill to do it herself. So she thought, why not offer a service like this to everyone? So good! Told you she’s an inspiration!
Thank you so much Beth for sharing your inspiring fight with the world. I know just how many others you will help through sharing your story. So sit down, snuggle up with a cuppa and read Beth’s experience of saying ‘catch ya later cancer’, in her very own words.
After roughly a month, maybe two, of feeling extremely fatigued and finding things like playing with the kids, carrying groceries and day to day things were puffing me out and getting harder and harder to do, I knew something was up. My initial thought was baby number three but pregnancy tests said otherwise. I decided to book an appointment with my doctor to just check in and see if it was anything to worry about. I had to wait three weeks until I could see her, which I thought didn’t matter at the time. The following week I had a very big wake up call to listen to what my body was trying to tell me. Walking around the lake I struggled, big time! I had to stop multiple times and when an extremely pregnant woman passes you while you are puffing away not knowing you are going to make it around, you know this is not normal. I rang the clinic back and made an appointment to see the duty doctor the next day, I couldn’t wait any longer. Something was up!
The doctor rang me the following day with my results, which were showing an extremely low red blood cell count. For a female my age, the red cell count should be somewhere between 120-140. Mine was 55. I was sent straight to emergency and admitted for a blood transfusion and this began two weeks of back and forth hospital visits for more transfusions and no answers.
No one could tell me why my red cell count kept dropping so dramatically, just that “it was unusual.” I was finally flown to Flinders Hospital in Adelaide after putting my foot down with the local doctors. At this stage I was still completely oblivious to how serious things were, as no one had given me any reason to think anything else. I arrived in Adelaide and was prepared to undergo a bone marrow biopsy to determine what was going on but I wasn’t prepared for what the doctors had to say before the biopsy was even done.
Here I was, sitting alone in a hospital bed with my husband and children back at home being completely oblivious to what I was about to be told. The doctors walked into my room, introduced themselves, discussed the biopsy procedure and dropped a bombshell.
I was told I had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and the biopsy was to determine the extent, WTF!!!! Here I was after two weeks of seeing doctors and hearing, “We are unsure what’s causing this, we’d better do a biopsy to find out,” to meeting a team of doctors for the first time and being told I had cancer before they had even done a biopsy. I was gobsmacked! I felt sick with the fear of telling Nathan and starting to think about the kids seeing Mum sick and explaining to my family another one of their girls has cancer, it was a nightmare!
Fast forward two days and chemotherapy had begun. Nathan and the kids were settled into the caravan park across the road from the hospital and I was ready to fight for my life and there was no way I was going to lose.
My first round of treatment consisted of being infused with chemo 24 hours a day for 7 days. This was a bizarre time, I felt normal, like I was just being infused with the usual fluids, not such a harsh, life saving drug. I was waiting every day to feel some sort of ‘normal’ effect, which I later found out doesn’t generally occur until roughly a week after treatment when your cell counts drop. This is when your body then produces the stereotypical chemo symptoms, vomiting, diarrhoea, temperature spikes, hot and cold shivers and the list goes on.
But for me it was worse, extremely worse! My kids had had the gastro bug two weeks earlier, which I had never caught while we were at home. My body had managed to fight it off but once the chemo was doing its job of killing all the cells, good and bad, in my body the nasty gastro bug managed to thrive. I became extremely unwell and managed to send myself into ICU for two weeks.
My ICU days aren’t something I remember very well or can tell you much about. However, if you ask Nathan or anyone else who saw me while I was there I’m sure they could explain to you just how sick I was. Once I was finally back on the ward I could finally see my kids again, three weeks without seeing them felt like a lifetime and Mum was looking a little different. I was extremely fragile, swollen and my hair was officially gone. I was wheelchair bound as I couldn’t walk very far on my own at all and my body was slowly but surely recovering from a horrific start to treatment.
After six weeks in hospital, I was finally allowed to head home to Mount Gambier with my family and I was in remission! I had ten days home before having to be back for round two of treatment. There were so many emotions coming home for the first time. I was so excited to be finally home with Nathan and the kids but I was also still very fragile and struggled to do anything on my own. I felt like suddenly Nath had three kids to look after. Instead of being a mum and wife, I was a burden. But in true Nathan style he stepped up and took the best care of all three of us when we needed him the most, just like he did for the six weeks while I was in hospital, he nailed it!
After the best time at home with my family it was time to head back to Adelaide and back to hospital to start round two of treatment. To be honest, I was nervous to start round two. I had been so sick after my first round and finally my body was feeling a lot more normal but I was worried how it would handle round two. Turns out the answer was a lot better!
However, we were hit with another bombshell at the start of round two, yes round one had been successful and I was officially in remission and prepared for one more round to finish killing the nasty cells but I was told there could potentially be four more rounds! Not what I wanted to hear! I was devastated, this meant more time away from my kids, which was heartbreaking as we had made the big decision to send them to stay with Nathan’s parents back in Ballarat while I had this round.
Coronavirus had just hit and we made the big decision to keep the kids away while I was having treatment to protect me from catching anything they may pick up, as kids do. I was so upset that I had not only left my kids behind so I could have treatment but the fact I had taken Nathan with me killed me. I felt I had torn our family apart, thankfully their grandparents were thrilled to be able to have their grandkids visit and help us out at the same time. The kids thought they were just having a long holiday at Grammy and Pops so it was smiles all round from them.
Head down, bum up we got into round two and after five days in hospital being infused for three of those five days, I was allowed out but not home. As Nathan and I settled into post chemo lockdown, everyone else was settling into coronavirus lockdown. The world was a strange place for everyone and I felt some comfort in the fact we weren’t missing out on too much ‘normal’ life as everyone else was isolating too.
After an uneventful week, my cell count dropped again and it was back into hospital with the usual post chemo symptoms, high temps, stomach pains, blah blah blah. After a week in hospital on antibiotics while my cell count recovered we were once again allowed to go home back to Mount Gambier. YAY! We couldn’t wait to pick our kids up and spend a week at home as a family band. This time I wasn’t fragile and could enjoy being Mum. Our time home was spent as a family as coronavirus restrictions kept us isolated and from seeing any of our amazing friends, but that didn’t stop them all from dropping off meals and plenty of chocolate (it was Easter weekend). LEGENDS!
Before we knew it, it was time to head back and tackle another round. The kids went back to Ballarat and off to Adelaide we went.
Round three began the same as round two. Five days in hospital recovering the chemotherapy followed by a week of isolation in Adelaide with Nathan, and a week back in hospital with low cell counts with more antibiotics, blood and platelet transfusions. The three week stint went as planned and once I was discharged from hospital I was free to head home for another week with my kids, however things didn’t go that way.
The day we were due to fly home I ended up back in emergency with excruciating stomach pains, these pains were like nothing I had ever had before. After a CT scan showed some markings over my liver I was readmitted into hospital, back on antibiotics and so began a week of being poked and prodded to find what was causing the pains and marks on my liver.
Every day was upsetting as I was told they hadn’t found anything from one scan so I had to do another. And day after day for a week nothing was discovered. This was especially heartbreaking as it was the week we were meant to be spending at home with our kids. Instead we were sitting around waiting for answers.
By the end of the week we were finally allowed to come home. We rushed back to get our kids and spent a short but incredibly precious few days at home before I had to head back to Adelaide for my liver biopsy. The kids went back to Ballarat and back in Adelaide I had my liver biopsy which showed absolutely nothing, thank god!
However the stomach pain continued and it was obvious something wasn’t right. After more days of testing it was discovered that the problem was with my bowel and I needed to have an operation to remove scar tissue. This meant my fourth and final round of treatment was put on hold. After roughly a six hour operation, I woke up in the High Dependency ward in a lot of pain and discomfort.
A long week recovering from surgery and the surgeons giving me the all clear to be discharged and resume chemotherapy meant I only had a few short days out of hospital before I was due back to begin my last round. Nathan and I were able to head home for those few days but made the hard decision to not bring the kids back home with us. We didn’t want to upset their routine at their grandparents and I was still needing time for my body to recover before the next round, THE FINAL ROUND!
THE FINAL ROUND!
Round four was an extremely emotional one. I hadn’t seen my kids for over a month now and the end was so close but also so far away. I felt as if all the emotions that had been bottled up from the first three rounds were released during round four. I was so desperate to get home and back where I belong with my family, and Nathan had also had enough of the hospital life. Five days in hospital having chemo followed by the same old isolation week waiting for my cell count to drop and a fever to spike before being readmitted.
However, this time no fever spiked. I had no stomach pain like previous rounds and it became obvious that the scar tissue that had been removed from my bowel was what had been causing me to become ill once my counts dropped after every round. So this time around, my week with low cell counts was rather different. I was allowed to stay out of hospital but close by, as I still needed routine blood tests and transfusions every second day. It was a bizarre time finishing every day and not ending up back in hospital, knowing my cell counts would start to begin to sneak back up and I may be heading home for good on the original day we had hoped.
Finally my counts were up high enough to return home and I had escaped the last round without the usual hospital readmission. OMG what an amazing feeling. After so many ups and downs around going home in between rounds, my final round had gone exactly to plan and we were finally coming home for longer than a week!
HOME TIME. After a long seven weeks not seeing our kids it was finally time to come home and be a family again. Our kids arrived home, not only to their loving parents, who were beyond excited to see them but to a few special surprises. While we were away, an amazing group of friends worked hard to organise some special things for our kids before they got home. A brand new cubby house was built in the backyard and their bedrooms were transformed into special spaces for them, they were ecstatic and I was beyond emotional. The love and support we received from so many truly amazing people is something we will never forget and will always be extremely grateful for.
Covid definitely made our time away from home a lot harder, as our families weren’t able to visit from interstate and no one was allowed in the hospital to see me after the first two rounds. Covid also made a very scary time even more scary with the added risk of being immunocompromised in the middle of a pandemic. Thankfully we escaped the worst of covid unharmed. For now we are enjoying every precious moment at home as a family and praying it stays this way for a very long time. I feel as though I have recovered very well and I am continuing to feel stronger every day. The treatment plan for now is regular blood tests and biopsies to keep an eye on everything and hopefully, in time, check ups will get further and further apart and this will be completely behind us.
Lastly, a big thank you to all the wonderful people who rushed to donate blood when I was in desperate need for it. If it didn’t come directly to me it would have gone to someone else in need, so thank you. Please continue to donate regularly as you are giving something extremely important to some very vulnerable people, thank you!