May - September 2005

(Don't forget you can click on most of the following photos to see them bigger)

Our Monarch butterflies project was a huge success!

After all the challenges we experienced as first-timers keeping the caterpillars alive and growing, we ended up with a lot of cocoons - well over 20 or so. By the time they reached the cocoon stage it was late in the season and a cold snap hit. After all our work getting them this far, we really wanted to see our butterflies hatch! I found out (on the web) how to detach the cocoons and hang them inside, which we did, sitting them in a nice sunny spot.

Right: Some of our cocoons basking in the sun, two are darkening and close to hatching.

One by one about 80% of the cocoons hatched and we managed to see quite a few of them do it - amazing as it happens so incredibly quickly! They hung onto their empty cocoons while their wings grew and hardened (over about 10 minutes) and then I got them to crawl onto my finger and took them outside to sit on some Zinnias (yellow flowers) in the sun. They camped there for about a day airing their wings gently up and down. They looked so beautiful! Lydia named each one (the first one was Rose) which was so cute!

On right: One of our butterflies freshly emerged from its cocoon.

This may sound funny but some butterflies seemed to have different personalities - most were very sociable and loved crawling onto the girls' hands, some even explored their clothes and hair! Others (only a few though) preferred to stay on the flowers. They hatched over about 10 days, so we only had 1-4 butterflies hatching each day - which extended the fun. The girls just loved it! We can't wait to do it again this year - the swan plants are out already!




Our bathroom project!
Well this has been a long time coming, but oh boy, it was time for an overhaul! Our existing bathrooms (downstairs rooms in particular) are late 70's/early 80's brown nightmares. The big problem was also that we basically never use the upstairs bathroom, and all use the downstairs one, making it very busy and cluttered! The solution was to move the bath upstairs, and make that the girls bathroom, and claim the downstairs one as our own!

I've spent about 3 months, every spare moment, choosing the various components, working on the floor designs, negotiating with contractors etc. It's a big project, involving all 4 rooms, and every single item in the rooms has changed in the plans at least twice - most 3 times (I kid you not!)! But finally, we came to an agreement, and finalised the contractor to do the whole job. The builder has just started work on the upstairs rooms which is hugely exciting after all this time!

Once upstairs is complete, we'll have a month's break before work commences downstairs.

Stage 1: Upstairs bathroom and WC Stage 2: Downstairs refurbishment

Upstairs level before

Revised layout

Downstairs level before

Revised layout

Nice new bath/shower and wall-hung double vanity, mirror cabinet above and heated towel rails on back wall. While this looks like quite a simple layout change it unfortunately involves some major plumbing gymnastics to make it work - all because we have shallow floor joists which run the wrong direction. Also some big lintel work is required above the vanity to recess in the mirror cabinet.
The separate WC is also upgrading with new hand basin in a recessed alcove.
Goodbye old brown "Beam-me-up-Scottie" shower!
Two rooms become one and new entrance doorway will be cut through the existing hallway wall. The large double shower and WC area will be separated by a new floating tiled wall with glass strips either side for light. The front doors and walls of these areas is all glass with a frosted privacy strip. New matching vanities, wall-hung on opposite walls, with recessed mirror cabinets above.

"The Big C" pays a visit...
So while I was busy with the above and other projects, looking after the girls etc, what I wasn't doing was paying attention to myself (every preschoolers' mums dilemma!). It wasn't until Brent's Birthday (of all days) that a very slight dull pain made me feel my right breast and there was a large, hard and seemingly mobile lump inside pretty much the centre. Needless to say I panicked and assumed the worst (I'd had my last breast check 1.5 years earlier, no mammogram). I saw my doctor the following morning (Tuesday) and was referred on to specialist on the Wednesday for a mammogram and ultrasound. 3 biopsies were taken and I was told not to worry, results due on following Wednesday.
On Friday they called and moved my appointment forward to the Monday - that made me nervous! Monday morning we were told it was cancer, and I'd need a full mastectomy (32 nodes were also to be removed from under my armpit to check for spread). All this was a shock to us, and they told me to go away and come to terms with it, I said "No - I want that lump out now!". I was booked in for the operation on Tuesday afternoon (8 days after I first found the lump). That day and a half between the verdict and the operation was pretty emotional I have to say.

After the operation I was of course very sore but resigned to the new situation and much more positive. I stayed in hospital for 5 days and had the most beautiful hospital room with sweeping views over the city and harbour. I was very happy while staying there, receiving a ton of gifts, cards and wellwishers, and treated very well by the staff. The post-op recovery took a while - about 4 weeks all up till I could say I was comfortable. During that time I had to have an MRI and bone scan to check for cancer elsewhere. Waiting for all the results to come back, I couldn't help but assume the worst at times, so when the results did finally come there was a mix of good news (MRI and bone scans clear = no visible cancer anywhere!!!) and not-so-good news (the cancerous lump had been large and aggressive) and OK'ish news (cancer detected in only 3 of the 32 nodes, so it had started to spread).

For those who want the technical details of my tumor (I have been asked) here they are:
T2, N1, Grade 3, ER-, PR-, HER2-, NPI 5.7. The tumor was 3.5cm in diameter, 1mm away from my chest wall.

Here I am, 5 weeks
after the operation

I was referred on to an oncologist for chemotherapy (approx 6 months) followed by radiation. Excerpts from the oncologists report follow:

"Sonia has a poor prognosis breast cancer with a predicted cancer without systemic adjuvant therapy of 50% or a little less at 10 years. This can be improved by between 10 and 15% by standard AC chemotherapy and a further 5 to 7% by the addition of Taxtotere. There will be no benefit from hormones, as her tumor is receptor negative, but she will need local radiotherapy, because of the size of the tumor and the close deep margin (1mm)"

"The AC chemotherapy is given by a drip over about 2.5 hours on 4 occasions at 3 week intervals. Taxotere will follow, involving another 4 injections at 3 week intervals. The chemotherapy may be associated with side effects which include nausea (usually controlled by anti-emetics), hair loss (which will be complete but temporary), induction of menopause (50% permanent at her age) and, potentially the most significant, the possible development of sepsis at times of neutropenia. The neutropenia will occur about 10 days after each chemotherapy injection and last for 2 or 3 days. Should she develop fever or ill health without fever at this stage, she will need consideration of hospital admission for intravenous antibiotics. The chance of this happening is low (less than 5%) but she has been warned that should it occur it needs to be treated seriously. The side effects of the Taxane therapy include muscular aches and pains for a few days after each treatment, but is less likely to cause nausea. The risk of sepsis at times of neutropenia will persist through the taxane therapy, though it tends to occur a little earlier in the cycle (at about 7 days after each injection)."

"Radiotherapy will follow the complete chemotherapy, starting about a month after it finishes. She will be under regular review during her treatment..."

Treatment begins 19 September 2005. So with all this intervention my chances of still being here in 10 years are approx 70% - I see those as good odds :o) I have elected to take the high road, assume that I am in that 70% group and put my faith in science. I've living for today and for the future, and choose to not immerse myself in the details of what I am dealing with. I'm actually in a very positive place as we enter this new chapter and plan to live and socialise as normal throughout this time. I've already got a gorgeous wig organised that looks very trendy and real - I'm actually looking forward to the new do! I've also ordered some neat hats, caps and scarves with hair fringe bangs etc from a great store in the USA. I plan to do this in style!

Why did I get this? We now have no idea, no indication, no identifiable cause. I fit basically none of the high risk groups identified. Apparently it's the new curse of the modern age and family history plays a surprisingly very small part (there is none in my family). I urge every woman here to please get a mammogram, I'm sure you'll ALL be fine, I drew the short straw, just for my peace of mind. It has been an awful month and I don't want anyone else to go through this. If only we'd found this earlier... I also recommend that you check your health insurance - I was on Southern Cross Ultracare (supposedly the best) and while they paid the surgery costs no problem they are only paying 5% of the chemotherapy bill - that leaves us with a HUGE outstanding bill. While no insurance companies would cover all the cost, some do pay considerably more [This relates to New Zealand, the same drugs are available in Australia free under the public health system, so it seems it's a different story in every country].

Our oncologist recommended that we progress with the bathroom project to give us a distraction during all this, and something positive to look forward to. But our friends are my number one priority from here on. The support I've received from friends and family has been tremendous and has meant the world to me. A huge thanks to all of you for the kind wishes, the yummy meals etc, and everything you have done and continue to do - simply awesome - big hugs to you all :o)

Our girls went through all this so well, with lots of smiles and obligingly going wherever they were taken by our wonderful family, what little darlings. I'm so proud of them! Brent was a great support and worked himself hard around the home to help me convalesce, plus working as much as he could on top of that... Those first few weeks were rough but it could have been much much worse. It was so much easier knowing the girls were happy.

Our beautiful girls!

Lydia started Morning Kindy at the end of July - a big and exciting step for her! She's been amazing us and her teachers with her incredible 3-D creativity. The things she creates using paper, sellotape etc are very impactful and clever. Today was a fish tank (box made by Lydia using cardboard sheets, then fish drawn on paper and cut out then string attached with tape and hung from inside top of box, and tissue paper scrunched up and taped to bottom to look like coral/plants etc) made totally on her own! The best part are the stories that come with them - every component plays a part in an elaborate story.
Shown on right: Another Lydia masterpiece... Hand puppets of all her family members (including grandparents, uncles, cousins etc) stored in a handy puppet stand


The only problem with all this creativity is the huge amount of stuff that she creates none of which can be thrown out! This calls for strategic hiding of older items for three days and then secret disposal - its hard though throwing out such incredible works of art, but most of them are quite large and bulky!?!
Emily is a different child these days, in all the right ways! The changes she's gone through in recent months have been wonderful. She now runs off into creche saying "bye mum!" and has a wonderful time. Bigger kids no longer worry her at all. She's perfectly trained now to partake in group activities handing things back to the teacher when its time etc. She waves and says hello to people as we walk up the road and jumps for joy when they say hello back. Simply adorable - and those who know the Emily of over 6 months ago will appreciate what a change all this is!

She still loves dancing, swinging, jumping, bouncing... a vibrant and active little doll. She's not actually little any more - up until her ear grommits were put in she was typically in the lowest 5% weight for her age - now she's at 50%! Heightwise she's at about 75% so she still looks nice and slim. The grommits are responsible for a lot of her improvements we believe and are so glad we did them!

Ah well, that's all from us for now. Quite a rollercoaster of a few months. Not to worry, we're all happy and moving forward with our lives. Bye now and best wishes to you all until our next update ;o)