I am one of the lucky ones
BEING extraordinary is ... turning 31, having three children under five, a partner with bi-polar disorder, a life shattering cancer diagnosis and then bravely sharing your story.
Meet Warwick’s Janelle Fien.
She is a young woman who doesn’t want to be called courageous, yet the adjective fits perfectly. She is alsosomeone who never expected to share her life with strangers.
But hers is a story with the hallmarks of every good read: courage, extreme adversity and that all important element, love. This chapter started last year when she and partner Nic were expecting their third child.
“After torrid morning sickness we found out there were complications with my pregnancy,” Ms Fien said.
“The placenta was blocking the cervix, the baby wasn’t growing.”
When she went into labour the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck and their daughter was born not breathing.
“At the same time I had internal bleeding and I also stopped breathing,” Ms Fien said.
“Nic just remembers being pushed out of the room and watching the nightmare through the window as doctors tried to revive his wife and daughter.”
Hours later the baby, Eleanor, was airlifted to Brisbane.
“It was a traumatic start for her but we got through it and were all home a week later,” Ms Fien said.
Back in Warwick they set about moving house, a daunting prospect for a young mother juggling a tiny baby as well as two children under five.
“I also went back to the doctor because I was still bleeding,” she said.
The GP, concerned about her condition, sent her for a series of blood tests.
“When they called me back in I knew something was wrong but I was so tired and busy I said ‘couldn’t you tell me in two weeks’.”
But the prognosis wasn’t something that couldn’t wait.
She had gestational trophoblastic cancer, an extremely aggressive and potentially terminal cancer affecting one in 800 women.
In most cases this cancer starts after a miscarriage or abnormal pregnancy and, in simple terms, the placenta is retained in the uterus and becomes cancerous.
Initially what confounded medical scientists was the fact Ms Fien had delivered a live baby and still developed the disease.
“You don’t get both with this type of cancer; the only way they can explain it is, initially Eleanor must have had a twin who miscarried,” Ms Fien said.
“She is a miracle baby; she was meant to be here.”
As, her family would add, was her mother.
The life shattering diagnosis was balanced by medical assurances.
“I was told this cancer was treatable, it was curable.”
With the support of Warwick Hospital she was able to start chemotherapy locally and immediately.
“I think I was one of the first women to be able to stay in a regional area for treatment thanks to Warwick Hospital,” she said.
Every second day she turned up in Locke Street to receive a drug, which proved successful in curing 70 percent of gestational trophoblastic cancer.
Devastatingly, the treatment failed Ms Fien.
“To test for this cancer, doctors test your blood for the pregnancy indicator human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) normal is five; at the start I was 2000, then my level rose to 29,000.”
She was forced to take the next step and start a combination treatment through Royal Women’s Hospital in Brisbane.
This means an overnight stay in the state capital every second week and smiling through the horrid side effects of chemotherapy.
She has lost her hair, had mouth ulcers, fatigue, nausea, had flesh-eating chemo drugs into the skin and come to terms with the emotional reality of being too tired to play with her precious children. Despite her ordeal, she smiles about the lessons the disease has taught her and rejects suggestions of courage.
“The really brave people are those who know they have a terminal illness and those who leave their families behind to travel to the city for cancer treatment,” Ms Fien said.
“And the parents who watch their children suffer through the disease.
“I have sat in waiting rooms next to brave people; I’ve heard their stories they are the brave ones. I am one of the lucky ones.”
Today she is five weeks from finishing her treatment. Her HCG levels have returned to normal and the outlook is positive but she won’t deny the ordeal the past year has been.
“Cancer affects you in every way: physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and financially,” Ms Fien said.
“We were struggling before and it’s been hard making ends meet.
“I never thought I would have to ask for help but people have been generous.
“The support of strangers has made the most enormous difference to us being OK.”
There have been positives in the wake of the diagnosis, which she never dreamed possible.
“Nic was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder a few years ago,” Ms Fien said.
“You think the stress and pressure of our situation would have made it worse, but it’s been the opposite.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been. Cancer teaches you what’s important, who’s important.”