Eleni has been a part of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse community since early 2016 after discovering a lump on her neck while taking her two-month old daughter Charlotte for a walk. She had been feeling out of sorts for several months before her pregnancy but tests found nothing unusual. Despite also developing a persistent cough during pregnancy, she brushed it off. “I thought it was just part of pregnancy and having a person growing inside of you”, she says.
It took a series of operations and tests before Eleni was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of cancer, adenocarcinoma of the thymus. After her diagnosis, Eleni was immediately referred to Professor Michael Boyer AM at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, who quickly got her onto an intensive treatment plan involving multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She says, “Professor Boyer knows that I’ve got 50 questions every time I go in. Even though he’s so busy, he always takes the time to respond to all of them.”
Even with the dedicated care of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse team, the experience was still tough. Living in Camden meant a 120km return journey for Eleni every day to get to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. “Every Monday I had five hours of chemo, I then had to drive almost four hours every day for radiation. By the end of the week, I didn’t want to get in the car, but when you’re in the middle of it, you do what needs to be done.”
Then the devastating news came that the cancer had metastasized to her brain. Making matters worse, she says, “The brain tumour had ruptured, so I had massive headaches and I just didn’t know what to do. I honestly didn’t think that I would be alive – the statistics were not pretty.” Weeks before Charlotte’s first birthday, Eleni faced the terrifying prospect of neurosurgery but she found comfort under the care and guidance of her neurosurgeon, Dr Brindha Shivalingam. She recalled, “Dr Shivalingam has such a good bedside manner– she’s very compassionate and actually made us feel comfortable about the surgery.”
Thanks to the wonderful generosity of our donor community we were able to purchase the BrainLab Neuronavigation System that was used in Eleni’s surgery. This equipment allows neurosurgeons to navigate the brain’s twists and turns with greater precision and confidence than ever before. Eleni was amazed at how well she felt and how few physical scars she had from the surgery.
Eleni has hit the ground running post treatment and is back at work on a part-time basis. She was also a zombie extra in the recent 2019 flick Little Monsters, an experience her daughter is very excited about. She is enjoying life with her family and is grateful every day for that opportunity. She still visits Chris O’Brien Lifehouse for regular check-ups with her doctors, an ongoing commute she is happy to make, “Like many others, I may never be cancer-free, and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse will always be part of my life. Because of the people and facilities, I feel like it is a second home. Certainly not what I had in mind, but I am lucky to have it. There is life after cancer and that is thanks to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse”
You can support patients with cancer at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse by choosing to walk, run, skate or swim this August.
Register now at www.gothedistance.org.au.