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“I know there are a lot of people out there who, if they had to go through the same stuff I have, wouldn’t have coped. But then, there’s a lot who would.
“When it comes down to it, you don’t know your own strength until you’re hit with something hard. You’re only as strong as your biggest challenge.”
Mrs Weir has had more than her fair share of challenges throughout her 45 years, particularly the past three and a half.
On January 15, 2017, her husband, Jason, ended his own life after a long-running, up-and-down battle with depression.
A popular primary school teacher, Mr Weir was known for his fun-loving attitude, storytelling and penchant for ‘dad jokes’.
His death rocked the Horsham community, resulting in an outpouring of support for Mrs Weir and the couple’s four daughters, Jorrdan, now 17, Emmy, 15, Hannah, 14 and Lilly, 12.
The Weirs thought they had experienced their darkest days, but the family was dealt another blow last year, when Mrs Weir was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I knew something was wrong,” she said.
“About a year before I found out, I found a lump under the nipple. It kept coming up as an infection every couple of months.
“I saw two or three doctors and was put on antibiotics – and of course, that cleared it up and I’d be on my way. A few months later it would happen again.
“In June last year it came up really bad, to a point where half the breast was bright red and the lump was halfway between a golf ball and a tennis ball – it was huge.” Mrs Weir saw Dr David Wilson at Lister House Clinic, who referred her for an ultrasound and a mammogram.
“They both came back clear. They said I had fibrocystic changes and obviously an infection as well,” Mrs Weir said.
“Dr Wilson decided enough was enough and we would look at getting the lump removed. So, he sent me to a surgeon, Ruth Bollard, in Ballarat.
“She did a biopsy and it came back clear, but she recommended I go for an MRI.
“At the time – I think the legislation has changed – you had to pay for it and there was no Medicare rebate. Ruth said, ‘A lot of women don’t get it done, but for peace of mind, I think you should’.
“So, I had the MRI done and they actually found that initial lump was fine – but they found another one.”
Mrs Weir was diagnosed with stage-three invasive lobular carcinoma of the right breast.
Within the next month, she had a lumpectomy to remove the tumour. However, the margins were not clear and a fortnight later, she had a mastectomy to remove her right breast.
Four weeks later, Mrs Weir started chemotherapy at Wimmera Cancer Centre in Horsham.
“I did four rounds of AC chemo – it’s classed as the ‘red devil’. It’s nasty,” she said.
“You have it every three weeks, so four doses in 12 weeks. The first two weeks you’re pretty much down and out and then the third week, you recover. Then you get hit again.”
After the initial four rounds, Mrs Weir had 12 weekly infusions of another drug, paclitaxel. She experienced a range of side effects throughout her treatment, from fatigue and exhaustion to nausea and a loss of senses including taste and smell.
“I nearly cried the day I couldn’t taste bacon,” Mrs Weir said.
“The fatigue was worse. I was used to being on my feet for 10-hour shifts and I was always active.
Suddenly, having a shower was the most exertion I could take some days. But the hardest part was being away from the girls during radiation in Ballarat. I would travel down for the start of treatment and then come home on weekends.”
Mrs Weir was due to start four weeks of radiation therapy – the final step – when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Doctors pushed back her treatment to 12 weeks post-chemotheraphy, but she finally rang the bell to signal the end of six months of active treatment on May 26.
Mrs Weir said after 16 rounds of chemotheraphy and 15 of radiation, she was ready for ‘life to begin’ again.
“I pretty much finished treatment and went straight back into lockdown, which was hard, because I was ready to see people,” she said.
Mrs Weir said despite her situation, she needed to find
“You see a lot of people get a cancer diagnosis and it’s like their world ends,” she said.
“It wasn’t like that for me. It was like, okay, this is what we’ve got to deal with. There is no other option, so let’s get it fixed, get on with treatment and get back to life.”
‘Kick in the guts’
Mrs Weir said although she knew something was wrong, it was still ‘a kick in the guts’ to hear the words ‘you have breast cancer’.
“I was pretty emotional that afternoon, because I had to ring up my family and say what was going on, and sit down and tell my girls,” she said.
“After what they went through, that was hard. Looking at their faces was one of the hardest things I had to do.
“I remember Emmy saying to me at one stage, ‘Mum, if we can get through losing Dad, we can get over this. And yeah, I do think that what we went through – losing Jason – gave me more strength to deal with this.
“Had it had happened differently, I don’t know if I would have reacted the same. I think you have to take it as it comes.
“For me, my girls are my strength.”
Mrs Weir said the bond between herself and her daughters had strengthened even further in the past few years.
She said although they saw professional counsellors after Mr Weir’s death, they preferred to talk to each other.
“Sometimes we sit down and talk for hours. I’d like to think that my girls tell me everything, but especially when it’s related to their emotions and when they’re upset,” she said.
“They have probably pulled away from doing that a little bit over the past 12 months, but that’s probably because it’s got a lot to do with me.
“But they’ve found others to talk to in that sense. They know who to find when they need them. They’re really good that way.”
Mrs Weir said it was important to speak to someone – professional or otherwise – when you were down or in need of support.
Following her husband’s death, she spoke openly about depression, anxiety and suicide, in an attempt to reduce stigma and encourage people who were struggling to speak up.
“Jason had depression and anxiety for 18 years,” Mrs Weir said.
“He always had it over winter, but that last year, with medication changes, he was doing really well until October. Then, it was like a light switch flicked and he was on a downward spiral we just could not get him out of.
“It was definitely a tough time. Nothing we could have done would have stopped what happened. The girls and I have talked about it a lot.”
Mrs Weir said throughout the past year she had been forced to learn how to accept help from others.
Her cousin, Michelle Wilde, set up a ‘Trude’s Journey’ Facebook page to co-ordinate offers of assistance and to allow people to stay up-to-date with her treatment and recovery.
“People asked to help after Jase died and I said no,” Mrs Weir said.
“But Michelle wasn’t taking no for an answer and set up a roster for meals. There were people I didn’t even know dropping off meals.
“I have been very lucky to have so much support, but there were also times I felt guilty, because I wasn’t capable of getting up to cook food for my own kids.
“There were times I felt totally helpless. But the generosity of those people has been amazing – they have no idea what they have done for me.”
Mrs Weir said her cancer served as a reminder that people sometimes needed to slow down, step back and stop taking on so many responsibilities.
“I was only saying to the girls at the start of last year that I needed them to start helping out around the house a bit more,” she said.
“I had so much going on that I needed to pull back a bit and start looking after myself a bit more. I probably should have done it earlier, but as a mum, you do forget about yourself. Your children are your number-one priority.”
Mrs Weir said she looked forward to going back to work – she manages Best and Less at Horsham Plaza – although it would be a slow process.
“I miss work – I miss the people,” she said.
“It will take me a while to get back to full-time, but I am looking forward to doing a few hours. The company has been amazing and I’m grateful for that.”
Mrs Weir also paid tribute to her parents for being her ‘rocks’, particularly throughout the past three and a half years, along with her new partner, Leigh.
“Leigh and I are another long, complicated story, but basically we reconnected as friends before realising there was something more,” she said.
“We kept things quiet for a while, because I was worried about what other people might think. I still sometimes worry about people’s opinions, but I need to learn not to give two hoots about them.
“When I’m reflecting on everything that’s happened, I can’t not acknowledge Leigh and how he has been there for me and the girls.
“So, despite everything that’s happened, I have a lot to be grateful for and a lot to look forward to.”
Mrs Weir is still getting used to her mastectomy, which she said she imagined would take some time.
She said while she might consider reconstructive surgery, it was not high on her agenda.
“I’ll wait five years, at least, in case something goes wrong with the other side and then reassess,” she said.
“Losing a breast changes everything, from what you wear to how you feel about yourself, so I am just taking time to heal.” Mrs Weir said although some days were harder than others, she would remain positive.
“Even though I obviously would never have wished to have cancer, I wouldn’t change what I’ve been through,” she said.
“The girls and I are firm believers that everything we go through makes us who we are.
“Every bad day we have makes a good day better and I think you need to have your sad days and bad days to really appreciate the good ones.
“I still consider myself as very lucky, despite what I have been through.”
• If you or someone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, MensLine on 1300 789 978 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. People can visit beyondblue.org.au for more information and resources about anxiety, depression and suicide. In an emergency, call triple zero.
The entire June 24, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
The entire June 24, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!