Yasmin and Alex

Yasmin shares their love story and her cancer journey

I had just returned home from Turkey celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Gallipoli with my brother who is a current serving defence soldier. This trip will never be forgotten as I was oblivious to what my future held in the way of my health. On my first day back at work, a very close friend Adele, passed me on the way to class saying ‘I have a busy day today but we have to catch up tomorrow, I want to hear all about your trip!’. Tomorrow came, it was the 1st of May and I had a phone call before class started (my job is to organise all classes for absent staff at the school I teach at) from a lady calling on behalf of Adele informing me she had been in an accident on her way to work with a truck. Adele was flown to Liverpool Hospital and sustained extensive injuries from the accident with many broken bones. 

Police reports indicated that neither driver was at fault, that the roads had been incorrectly sealed by council and the wet weather caused the truck to slide and roll over Adele in her car. Once Adele was home from hospital we were on the phone often. For ages prior to her accident she was always at me about being single. She admired that I had achieved so much in my career at such a young age and travelled the world. But as I said to her, it came with the sacrifice of not meeting someone and settling down and starting a family. I always wanted to be a mum, it is why I chose teaching as my career, so I had good working hours to be able to raise my children. So it had always been Adele’s mission to find me someone to date. Prior to the accident, she had found a few men, but the more she looked into them, the more she didn’t approve of them for me.

Until one day. I was driving home from a conference and rang her to check in and see if she needed anything. She got talking about me being single and I was expecting her to say she was starting an online profile that she would manage as she was limited in her activities in the spinal brace at home and that I would just be given a name, date and venue to turn up to for blind dates. I would have agreed to anything if it helped her get through her recovery. But no, this was not what she had in mind. Instead, days earlier she mentioned that through six degrees of separation, (the truck drivers brother worked for Adele’s cousin in Bateman’s Bay) that she had heard the truck driver was struggling with what had happened to her in the accident as he walked away unharmed. So she agreed to meet him for coffee, let him see she was broken, but everything was mendable, so that he could be at peace with what had happened and see that she did not blame him at all. That is was just an accident. When she told me I thought ‘wow, only you would not be able to hold someone accountable, regardless of what the Police report says’. Adele always puts others first and always finds a silver lining. So back to this phone call, she was not telling me about an online profile, but that she had met someone she thinks I should go on a blind date with. My first words were ‘it better not be that truck driver who squashed you!’. Well it was and I was shocked! I tried to get out of it, but she was very persistent that we should meet.

The truck driver’s name is Alex, we both agreed to the blind date for Adele’s sake I think. He was a real gentleman, we went to an Italian restaurant and he ordered from the section of the menu titled salad in Italian. So Alex thought he was ordering beef with a side of salad but instead it was a beef salad. I am a cooking teacher, I love my food, I was hanging for a pasta or steak, but this guy ordered a salad! So I had salad too. Here I was thinking what sort of guy is this salad eating truck driver who squashed my friend?? Well the date went well, we arranged a second and the rest is history, here we are nearly 2 years later. I did get out of him dates later that he didn’t realise it was a salad he was ordering. Thank goodness, life is too short to eat salad.

What makes your relationship special?

I think our relationship is special one because of how it started. We both went out on a limb in a very unusual first date situation and kept an open mind to see if we liked each other. He had just gotten out of a long term relationship that ended very bitterly and I had not committed to much more than dating with anyone for a long time because I guess I never found the one. He wasn’t ready to start dating again but I guess when you meet the right person, you are ready again. Alex suffered from PTSD after the accident and I helped him through that difficult time and now, I am going through my battle with cancer and he is by my side battling that with me. Going into my original procedure we had prepared ourselves with worst case scenario being I would lose an ovary and we would either need help falling pregnant, IVF, eggs frozen or start having kids sooner than planned. Instead all of those options were taken from us. We both wanted children and to have a family together. The night I was diagnosed I offered Alex the chance to leave, meet someone else and have his happily ever after as my future was now in jeopardy. He refused my offer and said he was in this with me. I think making that commitment shows how special our relationship and love for each other is.

What obstacles, loss or hardship have you been faced with?

Since February 2016 I began suffering abdominal pain on and off. At first we put it down to a pulled muscle, needing a liver detox, food allergy etc. All of which I worked through with my GP however, the pain continued to get worse and was in different places at different times. In June Alex had had enough of my complaining (I don’t know where I’d be if he didn’t force me to get it investigated) and pushed for me to have more thorough tests. Well specialists take time to get appointments then bookings for tests take more time. Between June and November I had been to specialists, other GP’s, had 6 scans, endless blood tests and colonoscopy and endoscopy all to tell me nothing was wrong, you just have an upset digestive system. Not able to manage the pain, my GP kept investigating. I was sent for another ultrasound on my gallbladder. I begged with tears in my eyes to the lady doing the scan saying you’re my last chance, if you do not find something I do not know what I will do. She did an ultrasound over my entire abdomen and found a small cyst on my left ovary. Still not explaining the pain I was in at least we had another path to take in the investigation. After being referred to a gynaecologist, he referred me to a Professor in Sydney for an expensive 4D ultra sound. This found that I had adhesions connecting my uterus and bowel. With these results, the Professor and my Gynaecologist assured me it was just a benign tumour and adhesions, that worst case scenario after the surgery, I may lose the left ovary and need to consider a fertility plan if we wish to have children. So 28th of November 2016 I went in for this simple procedure. Upon waking up I was told I was a mess inside, adhesions everywhere but they separated what they could and were able to leave the left ovary. Great I thought, finally this is over.

No it was just the beginning. A few days later while I was still in hospital, on the 1st of December the pathology results were back. The ovary was left because when they went inside, it was like opening Pandora’s box and they were not prepared for what they found. Pathology showed the tumour on my ovary was a secondary cancer. My primary was from the appendix (very rare) and the adhesions I was full of, were actually cancer clusters. I was stage four already and full of cancer. My Gynaecologist handed me over to an Abdo Surgeon at the hospital as he was out of his depth with my results. I remember the new surgeon saying to me I have a decision to make. The cancer was aggressive and already stage 4, did I want to spend what I had left of life in hospital trying to fight it without any guarantees or if I wanted to make the most of what life I have left, not in hospital all the time. Far out! I thought what is he saying? Sell my house and have a party? How can you not tell someone how long they have to live? This is what you see on TV, not real life and not to someone like me? I’m only young. That day was the hardest day of my life, having to call Alex and my family to come to the hospital, to tell them my diagnosis. The nurses made me tell them, they would not. When the doctor told me I did not respond, I don’t think I heard him properly. Then it hit and the tears came. I remember saying to Alex that night before he left me to go home, you don’t have to stay, you have your whole life ahead of you and this does not need to be your journey. You can meet someone else and start again. I would never hate you if you make the decision to leave now. He was adamant that he would not leave me and he loved me. The next day I said ‘how does Vegas sound?’ Let’s elope! It was less than a month since his 30th Birthday and our worlds were turned upside down. His response to eloping was ‘I went home last night and decided I needed to ask your Dad’s permission sooner than I had planned, why are we waiting?’.

The clock was ticking, there were only a number of days until Christmas and we would be in limbo waiting for all of the offices to reopen. I met with three oncologists for their opinions. Everyone lent towards surgery first then chemo, no one had a prognosis. The problem with surgery was, there is only one doctor and one hospital who can deal with the peritonectomy procedure I needed. His name was Prof. David Morris at St George Hospital Sydney, an hour and a half from my home. Problem was, his waiting list was huge!

Meeting with Professor Morris and his Oncologist Professor Liauw helped us make my treatment decision. I would have more tests to see how far spread it was and then be booked in for a Peritonectomy, followed by chemo. The tests showed I was a high priority case. Unfortunately these results came through on the 23rd of December, meaning there was a three week shut down until anything could be done to help me. These were the toughest three weeks. I was told I was not allowed to travel far, definitely not overseas – there went the Vegas idea. Alex would not have the eloping idea anyway, he said now, more than ever, your Dad needs to walk you down the aisle. It was a tough 3 weeks, especially accepting the fact that I needed to wait for life saving surgery because of the time of year it was. I got worse during these three weeks but managed to wait with the assistance of pain relief for the surgery date, my birthday, the 12th of January.

I missed out on my birthday this year, I turned 33 going in for one of the biggest operations possible on the human body. Instead of cakes and candles, my birthday present was a successful surgery resulting in a full hysterectomy, multiple organs removed, two sections of my bowel removed resulting in a stoma and then filled with hot chemo for 100 minutes directly into the peritoneum. My surgery took 11 hours and I ended up with a pulmonary embolism as well.

After 5 days in intensive care and 3 weeks in hospital I had recovered enough to go home, as long as I had someone caring for me 24/7. Once chemo started I was told I could not return to work as a teacher at all throughout my 6 month treatment. That it was too risky an environment to catch bugs that would make me very sick. So as of April I will have exhausted all long service leave and sick leave, resulting in no income. So I have been saving what I can and have savings to access to help in some way when my pay runs out. Sadly, these savings were for starting a family, our wedding, holidays etc.

How do you foresee the future?

I have always been an organised person. Planning, saving and ensuring I was preparing for my retirement already, by paying extra off my mortgage, putting additional into my super etc. Unfortunately the luxury of looking into the future has been stolen from me. One day I had it, the next it was gone. Because my cancer type is so rare, there is very limited research on it with only 25 known cases in Australia. This has made it very hard accessing support, because there isn’t a charity who specialise in it with it being so rare. I can’t even be given a clear diagnosis because of how advanced the cancer was and had spread when it was found it could be anywhere microscopically within my body and unfortunately it goes unseen in blood tests and scans until it is too advance.

So, how do we see the future? We just enjoy every day we have together, especially the days I am not sick and suffering from side effects of both chemo and surgery. We don’t plan too far in advance and fortunately all our friends and family understand that we may need to cancel plans last minute due to my health.

We still talk about the future, but it seems to me more like a dream than a reality. Where we will live, what options are out there to have children seeing I now cannot be pregnant. What holidays we want to enjoy, but reality is, we just don’t know what tomorrow holds. I am strong willed and determined to fight this disease and be the textbook case study that beat all odds, but some days I can only manage a brave face for everyone else, where behind it I am a mess accepting this is how my life has changed. I find this question really hard to answer.

Please describe current patient well being

I am devastated that I have gotten so sick, with something so rare at such a young age. I had just met Alex and we have started our life together. We had dreams of travelling the world, buying property and starting a family. I am struggling the most not being able to have children and on top of that, going into menopause so early, on top of all my other health complications related to the surgery and chemo treatment. I chose my career as a teacher, purely because I wanted to grow up and be a mum. I wanted a family friendly job, where we could still be a two income family and be financially secure. I hope to be able to get back to work when this is all over. I miss my students so much. I have always taught and to now be home, sleeping a lot and only managing small tasks each day, it has been hard to accept.

I have gone through the ‘why me?, this isn’t fair’ comments but they are not productive. I am very determined to stay strong and fight my hardest to get through this and prove people wrong that this will be very hard to beat. If I lose this battle, I want everyone to remember how strong willed and brave I was throughout the process so they can accept my death easier knowing I never gave up (even though some days it is a mask on my face and I do not believe any of the words I say about being ok and everything will work out).

Health wise, I am recovering from the surgery well. I developed a wound infection in hospital, but it is healing well now. I still need needles twice a day for the blood clot in my lung and on a number of meds and pain relief. Before chemo started, due to how rare my cancer type is, the doctors words were ‘we are hedging our bets’ that this is the right chemo treatment. There is no treatment plan for my cancer type because of how rare it is. They just have to guess and hope this choice will work. Unfortunately my 1st chemo dose had me hospitalised for a week with severe nausea and vomiting. I am hopeful we can adjust it in my 2nd dose so that I do not need to end up in hospital again. It is early days with the chemo treatment but we have noticed I have a bad week and a good week. So we are focusing on making the most as a ‘couple’ that on my good weekends we make sure we have a ‘date night’, go for a drive down the coast and spend quality time together. Unfortunately Alex has become my carer and the romance has died because I have been so sick. So I want us to have good cancer free days together and enjoy being in love.

When this charity was shown to me by a friend, I had tears in my eyes. The fact that someone values weddings as much as I do was overwhelming. I have been enjoying our engagement with the idea of a wedding being a dream. Knowing we can’t afford both medical and living expenses if we were to pay for our dream wedding we just accepted to enjoy our engagement as it is all we would have for a long time. Neither of us have been engaged or married before, so it will be very special to both of us. It has been hard watching our friends and family getting married and having children around us when we have to spend our time going to doctor appointments and hospitals. Until this diagnosis, I had never been sick and never spent a night in hospital. This year alone, I have spent as many nights in my own bed as I have a hospital bed.

What are your current medical treatments?

Before I could start chemo I needed surgery to remove the tumours that had developed in my abdomen. Surgery on my birthday, the 12th of January 2017 involved an 11 hour operation. I had a full hysterectomy, my appendix, gallbladder and two sections of my bowel removed with a stoma put in. I had my liver, diaphragm, stomach and peritoneum stripped of the outer layer which was covered in cancer clusters. I then had 100 minutes of hot chemo directly put into the abdomen to kill what cells were left. This would was closed up with 80 staples and a scar from my bust line to my pelvic bone. I had 5 different drains inserted and spent 4 days in intensive care and 3 weeks in hospital.

Due to the pulmonary embolism I am on 3 months of clexane shots, twice a day and have a wonderful pattern of bruises on my thighs from this.

I have just began my 6 month journey of chemo folfox, needing 12 doses in total. So every fortnight I go in to hospital on one day, sit for 5 hours receiving chemo through my port-o-cath and then go home with a portable pump and return for it to be disconnected 2 days later. I am hopeful that my oncologist will be able to alter my supporting medications so that I am not as sick second time round.

YASMIN AND ALEX’S MAGICAL WEDDING DAY 

Wedding suppliers in the Bowral and surrounding areas really swung into action with a wedding valued at over $23,000 – donations poured in the for popular high school teacher with dress, Rolls Royce, venue, and everything in between. Yasmin dearly wanted to marry at the Chevalier College Chapel where she went to school as a child. The ceremony was conducted by the Minister of the Church.

Wish Co-ordinator, Kerry Fury from Sweet Angels ensured everything was perfect for the couple and after the ceremony they partied into the night with the dearest people in their lives.

My Wedding Wish were so honoured to be able to give the gift of love to Yasmin and Alex.

Update: Yasmin lost her battle on 9th February 2019.

The Wedding Wish Suppliers – who generously donated their services to support this amazing couple’s wedding:

Wish Coordinator:

Kerry Fury – Sweet Angels Wedding & Event Management

 

Wedding Venue:

Chevalier College Chapel

Venue:

Southern Highlands Winery

Reception Styling:

Beautiful Weddings Wollongong

Bridal Wear:

Sweet Angels Bridal

Cake:

Linny Macs Cake Designs

Flowers:

Posy Jones Floral Co

Hair:

Attitude Hair and Beauty

Makeup:

Emma McGill Makeup

Wedding Stationery:

White Cherry Invitations

 

Limousine Service:

Highlands Chauffeured Hire Cars

 

Photography:

Captured by Lea – Boutique Portraits

 

Videography:

WGM Wedding Video Productions

Fireworks:

Mr Boom Boom Fireworks

 

Lawn Games Hire:

A Game of Love

Catering:

Ann Coley

Music:

Charlie