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Saturday 10 October 2009

Rachel's story: "My cancer struggle"

Posted in: True Stories
By Matt Akersten - 15th June 2009

"I had noticed some discomfort in my abdomen over the past few months… [the Doctor] examined me briefly then anxiously told me to make my way directly to radiology.

"My ovarian tumour measured 280 mm x 120 mm and was larger than the radiologist's screen, which she bluntly me informed about. 'This thing is the size of a seven and a half month fetus!' she exclaimed in an almost excitable tone. So life for me, my loved ones and any unborn child changed forever in that moment." - Rachel Deane

A survivor: Rachel Deane
As a single 32-year-old gay woman, Rachel Deane thought she had plenty of time to decide whether or not to have children. But a shock diagnosis - her ovarian tumour was huge and would soon led to excruciating pain - meant she needed urgent surgery to remove both her ovaries and uterus.

Modern gynaecology offered up a few options - ovarian tissue slices can be cryogenically preserved, or IVF treatment may produce a fertilised egg or embryo which a surrogate could carry to term.

As a lesbian, Rachel tells that her situation is different from most others. "The choices around having children were harder purely because of my sexuality. I'm not saying that as a single straight woman the process is easy, because from what I understand, the process is very complex, expensive and takes a long time. But I was made aware by the fertility experts I consulted with that being gay meant I had zero choices of registered donors - at the time none would agree to donating to a gay woman. Surrogacy and medical ethics approval around that was unprecedented and therefore highly unlikely."

In New Zealand's history, a gay woman has never been granted surrogacy, perhaps due to perceptions around them being 'unsuitable' to raise a child, Rachel points out. "Family law in this country - and most others - does not reflect the importance of these things. I hope that this changes, so I would be in favour of legislative reform in this regard.

"I could point out multiple cases reported in the papers around the country every day of parenting that leaves a lot to be desired, I could give you my professional bio and put a case forward for being a great parent on paper, but when all is said and done, good parenting isn't contingent upon how many University degrees I have, how much money I make, where I live and whom I share my life with... to me good parenting comes from the heart, it's so many things but a willingness to share love and joy is a fundamental key. "


Jodie & Rachel
Recovering from Ovarian Cancer has been pretty challenging and sometimes harrowing, on many levels, both physically, emotionally and certainly spiritually, explains Rachel. "This sort of experience is so pervasive that it has felt like a curse and a blessing - luckily for me due to early intervention, more of a blessing."

Her diagnosis and surgery was four and a half years ago, and while Rachel now describes her health as "excellent", she still gets the occasional brief period of illness due to ongoing endocrinology challenges. But that hasn't stopped her getting on with life - she's been travelling and working as an audiologist and is currently visiting India, developing business concepts.

"In December this year I will be out of remission officially," she says, letting out a cheer. "I've started riding again but enjoy running more now, actually distance running, for the first time. I ran the marathon in Rotorua last year, which I really enjoyed. There are still hormonal imbalances to correct and keep on top of, though, and that's very difficult sometimes. But I refuse to let it stop me from doing what I love."

Having children is now actually on the cards for Rachel. "I am currently in a very happy relationship with a beautiful woman I met nine years ago, and with whom we are considering having a child. But it's amazing how life presents colour and richness in the most diverse ways - last week my partner Jodie and I were asked to be the guardians for our friends' two young boys, for which we feel completely blessed. So now we have 3-year-old Luke and 13-month-old Max very much in our lives. We both experience an extraordinary feeling of love."


Rachel and her brother Ben both wrote about their experiences for a new book, Sharing the Journey – NZ Women share their gynaecological cancer stories, launched in Christchurch recently by writer Kate de Goldi, for the Silver Ribbon Foundation - an organisation which supports Kiwi women with gynaecological cancer.

"On average, one woman dies every single day in NZ from gynaecological cancer," Rachel tells us. "Raising awareness saves lives because early intervention means that survival rates are extremely high.

"Therefore, in deciding to tell my story I did fear being judged, but that quickly subsided when I considered the positive impact on others' lives should they seek professional advice and treatment early.

"Since cancer I am closer to my family, especially my brother Ben who now lives back in Napier with his wife Fiona, as he was my primary caregiver. I still laugh when he recalls how from the many gynaenocology appointments he attended with me in Auckland - he says he knows way more than a guy should about the female body!"

It's been a hard road but Rachel says she's been blessed. "I'm thankful that I have come out bigger, better, faster, stronger - but for many other women it's a very different tale."

More information about the Silver Ribbon Foundation and the book Sharing the Journey is available on the Foundation's website.

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Matt Akersten - 15th June 2009