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Meet Geena: A young mum shares her breast cancer story

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Did you know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer? This statistic blows me away. Yet at the same time I recognize how easy it is for me to skim over, especially as more and more awareness has spread during recent years. But things change when that one is your friend (or sister or mom or aunt). It suddenly all hits home in a brand new way. Today is Breast Cancer Awareness Day (and October is the “pink” month, I’m sure you all know by now), so I thought it would be a wonderful day to give platform to my friend Geena to share about this important women’s issue from right inside the center of it. Geena is a wife and mom of two young children… and she’s also a brave woman of faith, excited to share her story online for the first time today. It’s such an honor to have her here during 31 Days of Women Empowering Women. Thank you, Geena, for your courage and heart to see other women empowered. You’re an inspiration on so many levels! xo

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Meet Geena: Wife. Mum of two. Survivor. She's sharing her breast cancer story for the first time.

As I enter the waiting room all I can see is pink. Cupboards lined in pink garbage bags, pink balloons cover the ceiling, pink paper cut-outs of “women” hide whatever colour the walls normally are… It’s breast cancer awareness month and I am waiting to have what has become my routine scan. It’s hard to believe that it was two years since I had that first mammogram that later confirmed that the lump I had found in my breast was cancer.

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I was 37 years old, directing a YWAM centre, and mother of a 2.5 year old and an 11 month old baby.  I could not believe this was happening to us!

There is a long wait between those initial tests and getting the results. It was during one of those days of waiting that the Lord spoke to me very clearly that my life was in his hands. Although that’s a really beautiful word, it carried with it no measure of guarantee for my survival. The word brought me great comfort but really what did it mean????

Words like mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, treatment, infertility, invaded every part of our lives. It was Stage 4 Cancer (it had spread to my rib), which is only one stage away from “I am so sorry there is nothing more we can do for you…

When the prognosis is difficult to swallow.

It’s funny the things that run through your mind in times like this, and for the most part it kind of felt like it was not really happening to me. One of my stand-out ridiculous memories of this time is the immediate need I felt that I’d need to find my babies a new mummy.

Hand-in-hand, Chris and I had just walked out of the surgeon’s office and all I could think about was my babies and that I could not trust anyone—not even Chris(!)—to find them a new mummy. Thankfully it was the only time through this whole journey that I thought I was going to die, but I just remember starting to make a mental list in my mind of possibilities. Ahhhhhh, I am so glad those thoughts didn’t last longer than a few minutes!

Geena, a stage 4 breast cancer survivor with her daughter.

The hidden costs of breast cancer.

Some of the hardest moments for me during all of this was being told that I really should not, and probably could not, have any more children. Before I knew what was going on I found myself in an IVF clinic discussing my options. What the! How did I end up here?!

So much of my life had changed and it had only just begun. But yet nothing really had changed. I was the same, my family was the same, and most of all my God had not changed at all!

I had no idea how vain I was until I was confronted with the reality of losing my long, blonde hair. As always, the fear of it was far worse than the reality of it. In the end Chris shaved both his and my hair off, and we sported our bald heads for the next eight months!

Early detection can make all the difference.

People often ask me how I found the lump since I was not in the practice of doing breast examinations at all. (I hope you are doing them but I wasn’t.) I was still breast-feeding my youngest, Will, so lumpy breasts were not uncommon. If it was not for him I am not sure I would have had even noticed. I cannot stress how important early detection is; it really can make all the difference.

Geena, a stage 4 breast cancer survivor with her son.

Back in the pink-filled waiting room I now wait as my veins have never recovered. They will want every nurse to try to find a “good” vein before they resign to the fact that they will need to get a doctor to find a vein they can use via ultrasound, so I sit and wait for the next one-and-a-half hours as several different ladies try their best at making me not feel like a pin cushion!

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How you can help a woman dealing with breast cancer.

When asked what has helped me the most during this time I quickly answer, “a great God a great family and great friends”.  Chemo is not so bad when your friends come with you and give you foot massages throughout it all.

Expressions of love like massages, babysitting, prayer, housecleaning, and shopping trips really made all the difference to me. My kids normalised the whole experience, as they did not understand what cancer was. They just treated me like they always had, and when I could not do things with them or for them I was so grateful for all the aunties that could!! The treatment is grueling and exhausting. I am so thankful for those dear ones that remained active in caring for me after the “crisis” period was over.

If you are the one facing breast cancer.

When the initial crisis subsides, the treatment plan becomes your new norm, and even when the treatment is all finished, it’s really important not to forget!  I believe it takes at least two years to recover from breast cancer treatment like I had – it’s just so invasive and intensive – so it’s hugely important that you (and others) don’t forget too soon as it has long lasting effects.

I was in such a rush for that season to be over that I wanted to throw myself into other things – even get back to my work with leading training schools in YWAM. (And I did – perhaps too soon.) Today I would say do what you need to do to feel better. Give yourself time and space – time to reflect, to recover, and to be restored.

It’s a costly journey and at times you feel like your very identity as a woman has been robbed (breasts, hair, fertility, capacity to give/serve others taken from you almost overnight, etc.). It costs you financially, but more than that it costs you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. So be kind to yourself, don’t be in a hurry. Allow yourself time now so you can dream, play and run again later.

Geena, a stage 4 breast cancer survivor with her husband and children.

Bio: Geena Pettigrove is now a stay-at-home mum of two little darlings, Matilda and Will . Along with her man Chris, they are now in transition from city life to country living in Victoria, Australia. Geena is a social worker and has worked extensively amongst poor communities, with a focus on issues related to women and children. Geena is also currently working on a children’s picture book titled When Your Mummy Gets Sick.

1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Meet Geena. She is the '1' and she's telling her story for the first time.

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Dear friends, it’s hard to imagine being anyone, much less a mom with young babies, and dealing with a stage four breast cancer diagnosis. I’m so inspired by Geena’s story of resilience, humility, and faith in the character of God in the midst of her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery process. I don’t know about you but I also have a renewed conviction about doing regular self breast examinations – not based out of fear, but based out of the desire to take care of myself and my family and to learn from the advice of an experienced friend.

In the comments, please share with Geena one thing you learned, or were inspired by, through her sharing her breast cancer story for the first time online today.

Love, Adriel

 

31 Days of Women Empowering Women at AdrielBooker.com

 

This post is part of a series called 31 Days of Women Empowering Women. See hundreds of incredible #31Days projects here.

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17 Comments

  • Reply Jill Janse van Rensburg 25 October 2013 at 8:49 am

    Geena: Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’ve often thought of you in your process and wondered how you were doing. I will be better at praying for you and your family in this time. Thank you for being real and for your faithfulness to the character and heart of God throughout crazy-hard times. Love you and praying for you. Jill

    • Reply Geena 29 October 2013 at 7:55 pm

      Hi Jill
      So so nice to hear from you 🙂 thank you so much for your prayers and envouragement! How are you? Where are you these days Perth?
      Stay in touch xx

  • Reply Krystle 25 October 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Geena-
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. My mom is just about 15 months out from her diagnosis and in remission with breast cancer and my sweet 28 year old friend and Mom Alisha is only a few months in

    I love what you say about early detection because that is the case with both my mom and friend- and it was so important so thank you for sharing that.

    You’re a brave warrior Mama! And your sharing of your story will make a difference-
    So thank you!

    • Reply Geena 29 October 2013 at 7:57 pm

      Thank you Krystal! Wow sounds like a rough season both mum and friend …. I bet you are a great support to them both:) thanks for your encouragement! It was a little exposing telling my story so your note was great!

  • Reply Lori 25 October 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks Geena for being willing to put your story out there. I never really considered the fact that breast cancer makes you feel like “your very identity as a woman has been robbed.” Very thought-provoking. I have a new perspective on how to support women with breast cancer.

    • Reply Geena 29 October 2013 at 8:04 pm

      Hi lori
      Thanks for your note 🙂 it was probably the hardest thing for me at the time it’s crazy how challenging it was to my identity as a woman! But I am a girly girl! Anyways thanks again for your note xx

  • Reply Adriel 25 October 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Geena, thanks again for sharing your story so bravely. I know it’s not easy to share from the deepest places of our life – they usually encompass such pain and joy and heartache and gratitude all mixed up in there together. It’s messy but filled with so much goodness when we have Jesus to help us see. You’ve gracefully shown an incredible faith through it all – such a testimony to not only God’s goodness, but also to your strength of character. Woman of Valor, you are!

    One thing that really stuck me was the other “costs” that you described. I tend to think of survivors as so “lucky” that it can be easy to forget that it’s not just having your life spared, but it’s all of the rest of the implications that come along with the diagnosis.

    I’m only one year younger than you were at diagnosis, and as you know I also have two small children. If I was confronted with infertility mixed in there with all the hardship of treatment and recovery, it would be so devastating since I, too, want to have more children. It’s heartache, compounded. I’m just so glad you know Jesus and his grace, compounded.

    Thank you again for opening yourself up so that the rest of us can learn and grow. x
    Adriel recently posted..“Don’t you want kids?” | The secret burden of infertilityMy Profile

  • Reply Gwen 25 October 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story Geena. When you said, “the Lord spoke to me very clearly that my life was in his hands. Although that’s a really beautiful word, it carried with it no measure of guarantee for my survival. The word brought me great comfort but really what did it mean????” I thought, yeah, that. I appreciate your transparency and honesty, I love that your husband shaved his head along with you (God had your life in His hands already and proved it by giving you such a supportive husband!), and I love the pictures of you, a joyful and beautiful wife and mom. Bless you!

    • Reply Geena 29 October 2013 at 8:05 pm

      Thanks so much gwen I am so encouraged by your note 🙂

  • Reply Sarah 25 October 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Geena. I can’t wait to hear about your picture book. What a wonderful gift to give other mothers and their children.
    Sarah recently posted..Two Goodies for YouMy Profile

  • Reply Belinda Fronteras 26 October 2013 at 1:08 am

    Geena: I’m so thankful for your openness and honesty in sharing. I especially appreciate the section on what to do if your friend has breast cancer. Now, I will know what may really help those around me who are suffering physical set-backs in their lives. Blessings on you and your brood! Belinda
    (remember LTS in Melbourne?)

    • Reply Geena 29 October 2013 at 8:07 pm

      Hi belinda
      I knew it was you straight up!!!! Unforgettable xx thanks so much for your note. Lots of love xx

  • Reply Bronwyn Lea 26 October 2013 at 1:31 am

    Geena, thank you so much for sharing your story. I just returned from a visit abroad where I stayed with one of my best friends, just two weeks into her first chemo treatment for breast cancer. She has a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a 10 month old. Her hair fell out in the five days I was there: a traumatic and intense time, through which God challenged us all to cling to Him more tightly. It took me some time and lots of tears to process my best friend having cancer (through veils of tears, I recorded my marvel at her testimony here: http://wp.me/p3zH10-7V ), but your piece today has helped me to understand how she is processing it; especially the “it feels like it isn’t happening to me” part. Thank you for your words of wisdom and focus.

  • Reply Eleanor 26 October 2013 at 5:32 am

    Thank you for sharing…..it takes a brave lady to share something like that.
    I love your friends….and the love they showed you. Just highlights just how important our extended Jesus family can be, and how it reflects the love of God, and his care and compassion for us.
    It stirs up a challenge in me….do I shine light to my friends in their dark times, and after the crisis period is over? I think we can forget all too easily.
    Thanks Genna! xx

  • Reply Deborah Wolf 27 October 2013 at 6:22 am

    HeyGeena. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I can really appreciate how the statistcs don’t come alive until you become one of them. My Dad was just diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and it is so very hard on everyone. You will be in my prayers and may God bless those whom you, uniquely, will touch through your openness.

  • Reply Megan 28 October 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Geena. It’a great reminder of how important friendship is – and made me think about who I knew in my life that may be struggling with a diagnosis or difficult health issue and make an intentional effort to connect, support, and drop by dinner and paper plates, even during the “good” times 🙂
    Megan recently posted..5 Tips for a Peaceful Home {Carnival of Natural Parenting}My Profile

  • Reply Pick of the clicks 11/3/13 | bronwyn's corner 4 November 2013 at 6:50 am

    […] After meeting breast cancer earlier this month through my friend Megs, I was as very touched by this guest post over at Adriel Booker’s lovely site: a young mum shares her breast cancer story. […]

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