Wendy Bell gives her friend Maria Fernance a hug at a visit at her home.Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
Wendy Bell gives her friend Maria Fernance a hug at a visit at her home.Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner Adam Hourigan

Maria's a true fighter, taking on cancer round after round

SHE lay in a hospital bed. Alone. Unable to take visitors.

Her non-existent immune system struggling to fight off infection, a side effect of another round of chemotherapy from her second bout with breast cancer.  

Maria Fernance typed her thoughts into her well-used Facebook account.  

"My goodness I can't win a bloody trick. Cant get the antibiotics through because my veins keep collapsing.

I am not going to have another bloody cannula I am already up to my fifth.

Another downfall of having your lymph nodesremoved.

Can't use my rightarm for blood tests etc. I'm tough but even I have a breaking point.

Just get me out of here please."  

Another day in her healing process, just a bad day.  

"I'd have my moments, the poor me, poor me and have a tear - and that's okay," Maria said.

 "But you can either curl up into a ball and think 'why me?', or just get on and deal with it."  

And with another flick of her phone, she decided to find the positive in her predicament.  

The first battle

MARIA was first diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago at the age of 42.

With a family history of breast cancer, Maria and her mother went for a mammogram and ultrasound.

"The first time was a bit surreal," Maria said.   

"Mum and I went for the check together, mum walked out of the room and I stayed in."  

The mammogram had been clear, but the ultrasound picked up a grade two cancer.

They'd caught it early and she was booked in for a lumpectomy to remove the growth, and six weeks of radiation.  

"When they did the biopsy and was called back to the doctors I just didn't believe it - it was a bit of a shock," she said.  

"It was pretty hard, and I had to go away to the Gold Coast for radiation treatment and come home on the weekends.  

"But I'm a big believer in tell me what's wrong, and tell me how to fix it, and we'll do it.

After the treatment I was given the all clear."  

Maria continued to have check-ups every year, and had been back to her regular life with husband Bill and children for seven years in remission.


The second fight  

"IT was a shock the second time, I really didn't think it would come back," Maria said.  

"But I had a bit of a sixth sense on the morning of the test; a funny feeling something was going to happen."  

Again, Maria's mammogram was clear, but watching the ultrasound technician, she knew there was a problem.  

"This one was a little more aggressive - a stage three but again caught in the early stages," she said.  

"Even my surgeon was surprised. He thought it might be linked to the first one but it was a new tumour.

 "And this time I didn't have a choice. It was a full mastectomy and then several rounds of chemotherapy."

Her treatment was handled through the Grafton oncology ward, and it was here that Maria met with the local McGrath Foundation nurse, who took her through the procedures of the operation and treatment after, something Maria says was a vast improvement over her first experience.

"When you have the mastectomy, it's a big psychological thing as a woman," Maria said.   

"So to have that information from the nurses, and to be able to be treated locally with the wonderful oncology unit, it was a huge help to our family."  

And the treatment began.

First the surgery, followed by rounds of chemotherapy, each bringing its own side effects.

Hair falling out, constant sickness and, towards the end, a long bout in hospital isolation, as the poisonous treatment all but decimated her immune system.  

"I was sitting in that bed in hospital, looking at Facebook, when something came across my screen about raising money for breast cancer research," she said.

"And I signed up, and put a post on Facebook that when my treatment was finished, we were going to have a breakfast to raise some money."  

Finding the positive   WITHIN a week of the post, offers of support had flooded to her husband Bill at their business, Xtreme Cycle and Skate in Yamba.

"We hadn't approached a single business, yet already there were more than 30 different prizes donated to the cause - I said to Bill that we'd have to hold a raffle now," she said.  

"And other people were ringing offering to help in any way.

Cooking for a cake stall, donations, it all happened in the one week."  

And two weeks after her last treatment, the breakfast went ahead to a bustling main street on the Yamba Rod Run weekend.  

Combined with money raised from the GoFundMe page she signed up to, the breakfast raised more than $5000, split between the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Jane McGrath Foundation.

"It's not bad for a week's work," Maria laughed.  

"But that's the community we live in - evenwhen people don't have a lot of money they're always willing to help others out."  

And while Maria says that  the event made her personal journey public knowledge, she says the awareness created is just as important as the money raised.  

"In both my cases, it wasthe ultrasound that picked it up, so don't thinkjust the mammogram will find everything," she said.

 "If I can prompt one person to get checked out, it's a good thing."


The aftermath  

DESPITE her medical clean bill of health, the road to true recovery is still long for Maria.   "I'm getting back on track," she said. 

"With chemo, it's the worst kind of sickness, and now it's just tiredness I deal with.  

"But I want to get back to work, to get back to normal as soon as possible and forget about what we went through."   And while Maria's illness was hers to fight physically, she says  the support of family and friends has helped her through.  

"My dear friend Wendy Bell has been with me since day one," she said.  

She's been a really strong presence and helped me keep a positive attitude."   

"But I don't think people realise that it's just as hard on your partner, and Bill has probably been through more than I have.  

"Through everything he's supported me and my decisions and stuck by me and I can't give him enough credit.  

"Now we'll get on with life, and embrace every day we're here."  

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