Development Diaries: Survival Party

Valesca Lehmann is hosting a 'Survival Party' at the Imperial Hotel – Basement on 10 September from 7pm. Read her incredibly personal story behind this idea.

 © Roberto Duran

© Roberto Duran

My journey with cancer continues, thank you for being by my side!

This party means a lot to me. It is a celebration of my health, and a reminder of my illness. And a memorial to those special ladies who have not survived breast cancer, but survive in our memories as precious gifts. 

For Christmas 2010 I found out I had advanced breast cancer. I was alone and scared, only days before I had separated from my childhood sweetheart of 25 years. Reluctant to break both pieces of shocking news to my parents, sister and young children at this time of peace and celebration, I put on a brave face and privately endured appointment after appointment, scan after blood test after biopsy. The specialists had grave faces themselves- the cancer had been misdiagnosed for over two years and was a particularly aggressive type. Ductal and lobular. Triple positive. Stage three. Grade three. It had spread to 14 of my 17 lymph nodes- any more than two constitutes a very high risk. They waited to see if it had found a new home- this alien part of my own self- in my bone, brain, liver or lungs. How weird to feel so well but be so close to death. Surreal. But as much a normal life experience as any. Each test bit by bit came back clear. My chances of survival had gone from zero to 50%. "But no one survives life" I told the surgeon. "What does 50% mean?". 50% chance of seeing the end of the next year was the reply. I started breaking the news.

Given possibly no more than a year to live whilst undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a full mastectomy meant a big shift in my plans and lifestyle. My Masters research was put on hold. I worked when I could but no more that two or three days a week. I moved out of the family home into a spacious, bright, low maintenance BKH home down the road; three spotless toilets (for the inevitable vomiting). I furnished it within weeks before the sickness of the chemo set in, filled it with flowers and musical instruments, and engaged a housekeeper, handyman and groundsman. I partied. Boy did I party! Parties for the kids, parties for birthdays, cocktail parties, theme parties. Live music and dance, chatting and laughter filled my home night and day. My wig collection grew. I relished the new experiences, and the love and support around me.

And I survived! I have beaten the odds. "How?" I asked the oncologist? "Your survival is not reflected in any statistics" he replied. "Women with your type of cancer only survive two years without treatment. And you certainly had it for over two years before diagnosis. So we can't use evidence to explain your survival. Perhaps you have a variant of the cancer, a slow growing form, or your immune system may be remarkable" he replied.

I am now a cancer survivor and not a victim. I have survived the pain, fear, illness and depression that this disease brings. And I have had a crack survival team holding me up: my medical team from the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse and PoWH (breast care nurses, cancer psychologist, surgeons, oncologists, radiotherapists, oncology nurses, GP; exercise physiologist; dietitian, pathologists, yoga instructor); fantastic friends; supportive colleagues; and loving family.

One in eight women get breast cancer, so this isn’t just my journey. Please join me in a celebration of life to fundraise for the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse. One evening, one night of disco (!!!) can help change the world.