Fabulous Flat Out Mum: Amber Whalan September 13 2016 1 Comment
Introducing Amber Whalan, our Fabulous Flat Out Mum. Reading her story will make you stop and appreciate so many things. Your health, the every day moments you share with your kids, as well as your close friendships and support network.
Can you even imagine what it must have like for Amber, who was a healthy young Mum of three little children when she discovered a lump in her breast at just 28 years old?
Amber had had lumps before that turned out to be benign tumours, so in the early months of her third pregnancy when she noticed a lump in her right breast she thought it was just going to be one of those again. Amber did go to the GP and got a referral for an ultra sound, however with her busy life, she said that “the lump was the least of my worries, so I just left it and never got the ultra sound”.
It wasn’t until one year later, in September 2015 when she attended a fundraising event for Pink Hope’s “Bright Pink Lipstick Day” that she once again thought about the lump and finally went to have that ultrasound. A week later, at 28 years old, Amber found out in fact, she did have breast cancer.
With three kids under five years old Amber says it was “extremely difficult to begin with. In the first two weeks alone, I had about 25 tests / appointments”. With no child care for her five month old, she says there was a lot of juggling. This included three separate drop offs before every appointment and then three pick-ups afterwards. "I was physically and mentally exhausted and the hardest bit hadn’t even begun”. On top of all this, their baby continued waking every 2-3 hours during the night throughout her entire treatment. Now that is what you call exhaustion.
Amber and her husband Ben had to also decide how to explain to their children what was going on with their Mum. As the older children were only three and four years old, they had to be very careful. They “thought long and hard about what we would tell the kids and spoke to lots of different people”. In the end they decided to tell them that “mummy was sick and the doctors are giving her special medicine to make her feel better. The special medicine will make mummy very tired so she won’t be able to play with you like she usually can, and she will need to rest on the couch a lot”.
Amber explains that they did find a great children’s picture booked called “My Strong Mummy” by Pamela Schramm, which she says was fantastic to read to her two oldest children. As the book explains a mother’s breast cancer journey to her kids, they found it very helpful.
Amber says the worst part was “not being able to rest when I needed to. As you know young kids are relentless. I remember one day I had all three kids at home with me and it was 5 days after Chemo (so I was terribly ill) I fell asleep on the couch, I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, I woke up 20 minutes later in a panic, the kids were gone. Ollie (my 4 year old) had taken his sister and baby brother into his bedroom and shut the door so mummy could rest. I walked in on them and they were happily playing on the floor together. SERIOUSLY you have no idea how much that made me cry".
Children can be amazingly intuitive and understanding sometimes.
Amber says that "probably the worst was the look in the kids eyes when they wanted me to play with them and I was just too sick. They were too young to understand completely and it broke my heart every single day".
So throughout this horrendous period of her life, who did Amber turn to for support? “My mum and dad and my father and mother in law were exceptional. My mum organised a food roster where friends would bring over meals so I didn’t have to cook. Even my sister who has three young kids herself made me meals and helped with washing and housework. My family came to appointments with me and took notes, it’s pretty much information overload at every appointment and I was so overwhelmed”.
It is during this time that Amber saw her true friendships come to the for. “I realised that family is not always blood. Some of my friends were amazing, and were a constant source of support for me. My best friend Melissa pretty much put her life on hold for six months to help me in any way she could”.
At the same time Amber also admits that not everyone knew what to do or how to acknowledge the turmoil that was happening in her life. “Some of my friends became even more distant than ever before. It was almost like they didn’t know what to say or do, so they chose to say absolutely nothing”. She goes on to say that she has “learnt who I can rely on and that some people are a lot more selfless than others”.
So what does she suggest you can do if you know someone going through cancer treatment? With so many young children Amber found the rostering of others to take her children to childcare was an enormous help. This included the teachers at the children's kindergarten coming to her house at 7am to pick up the kids, and later to return them home. “They went above and beyond their call of duty and it was AMAZING”.
Other practical and very helpful things her family organised for her were when her Mother in Law “organised a group of friends to put in money for a cleaner for me once a week, it was bliss!” Her own Mum also organised a food roster with friends and so her “fridge and freezer was always full of nutritious meals and I didn’t have to worry about cooking”.
It was her best friend though that went wig shopping with Amber. For such a confronting and personal side effect of her treatment she says it was “SOOO good to have the support of someone there. Losing my hair was one of the hardest things for me”.
I asked Amber if we knew someone going through cancer or another illness, what should we say to them and what practical things did you find helped the most?
"This is a really hard question because everyone reacts, copes, deals so differently. So here are a few things that I really did and didn’t like:
- Don’t tell them that everything is going to be alright, just tell them that you’re here for them and their family and they can call on you when every they need. Making meals was just an incredible help. Make meals, drop them off and leave.
- Offer to be a middle man. I had 2 middle men, my mum and my best friend. They were well informed with my progress from day one and if anyone wanted to know how I was I asked them to contact them, not me. It gets exhausting telling the same story over and over again and someone going through treatment for Cancer doesn’t need to be burdened with it.
- NEVER, EVER tell stories about people who they know who died of Cancer…. Seriously people do this and it’s just NOT cool!!!"
How did the support and help of other Mums help at the time?
"I was so incredible lucky to be blessed by some of them most amazing mums from the kids kinder and school. I think as a mum you immediately put yourself in my shoes and you can’t help but need to help. Mums from school would walk Ollie to School for me when I was going through Radiation and pick him up if I had an appointment. Kinder mums were donating money to help us pay for childcare; they were calling Centrelink on my behalf, having the kids on weekends and days when I couldn’t get them into childcare. I couldn’t have done it without them".
So what did Amber miss most (or look forward to having again) throughout her treatment?
"My strength, going from training at the woodshed weekly, running and Pilates twice a week to not even being able to walk to the letter box without wanting to collapse was totally depressing. After Chemo I had a metallic taste in my mouth for a week and I couldn’t taste anything. A definitely missed the taste of a good Shiraz".
"I missed my hair too. Having long hair my whole life then suddenly
being bald was pretty devastating for me".
What do you appreciate more now that you have gone through this experience?
"My husband. He is the rock of this family and I didn’t realise the extent of it until I was diagnosed. He kept it together, kept working, kept the family going when I couldn’t contribute at all. He was amazing the entire time and I most definitely wouldn’t have been able to stay as positive as I did without him by my side".
"I appreciate the local community. I moved to Mentone only a few months before being diagnosed and knew no one, but regardless everyone still banded together and helped me and my family throughout the whole ordeal".
"I appreciate my kids, and realise how amazing and resilient they are".
So what can we learn from Amber's experience?
"The best tip I can give to all women is to know their risk and know their boobies. Pink Hope have a fantastic 'Know your risk online assessment tool', which will help you determine your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer based on your family health history. I highly recommend all women take the 5 minute test here: http://pinkhope.org.au/know-your-risk/
There is also a great initiative called “feel it on the first”, so on the first of every month self-examine your boobs in front of a mirror, familiarise yourself with every single nook, cranny, texture and lump. The more you familiarise yourself with your breast the more likely you are to notice any changes".
Now that Amber has finished treatment, she is helping raise awareness amongst other young women through your involvement with Pink Hope. "They have been there for me throughout my entire journey. They have sent me care pack and books, stayed in touch on social media, and joined me into their online support group, which is an amazing provision. I believe that they are the new generation of breast cancer charities. Their main message is that Men and Woman can actually take charge of their risk and avoid the possibility of cancer all together. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I’ve been through, which is why I am determined to help Pink Hope share this message with the world".
As one of the official faces of Pink Hope's 'Bright pink lipstick day' this year, Amber has collaborated with two other beautiful ladies, Sarah-Jane Young (She is, Sarah-Jane) and Jo French (Shanghai Suzy Lipsticks) and they will be hosting their very own cocktail party in Melbourne on Friday 23rd September.
"It would mean the world to us if your Flat Out Mum followers would get a
group of girlfriends together and purchase tickets to our event".
"The event is a celebration of woman who have had severe mental or physical health issues and not only overcome them but come away inspired, passionate, driven and inspirational. Attitude is everything". Being held at Speakeasy Bar in Chapel Street from 7:30pm, tickets can be purchased here:
Even if you can’t attend, you can still share the message. The motto of this year's Bright Pink Lipstick Day campaign is to “Save Lives with Your Lips”. Everyone should have a conversation regarding their family health history… because with this knowledge they have the power to take control of their health.
You can also donate directly to the online fundraising event page.
Thank you so much to Amber for being a part of our Fabulous Flat Out Mum series. I know you'll be admiring her strength and resilience along with me. Please help Amber to help so many others by coming along to the event if you can, sharing the information from Pink Hope and donating to this amazing cause.