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Mum of two thankful for the PA

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Having lost her brother to cancer, Elaine Harriott was fearful when she learned she had a rare cancer known as Myxoid Liposarcoma, but the mum of two became determined to beat her diagnosis with the help of the PA Hospital.

Thinking pain in her hamstring was an injury from overdoing exercise as she prepared for a charity run, and busy with home-schooling her children Caitlyn, 10, and Mitchell, 8, due to Covid-19, she initially dismissed what would become a growing lump in her leg.

Having to take Mitchell to the doctor for an ear infection, thankfully she asked her GP about the pain in her right leg. Two ultrasounds, a specialist and an MRI later and Elaine's worst fears were confirmed.

"I went for my second specialist appointment on 11 June, this time, it felt strange. My husband came with me to the appointment (something in the back of his mind was telling him that this was a bit more serious)," she said.

"We walked into the doctor's room with the MRI pictures of my rather large egg-shaped tumour on the computer screen. It was a shocking and terrifying scene. I couldn't believe how big it was, starring back at me from the screen.

"Another specialist came in and told me it was "not good news", "you have a sarcoma, a rare cancer".

"Immediately tears well up in my eyes. Those were words I was never expecting to hear. I don't remember much else of what was said other than I had to have a blood test and referral to the PA Hospital in Brisbane for a multidisciplinary team to care for me."

Learning the pain and growing lump in her leg was a rare form of cancer left Elaine feeling isolated and afraid of what it might mean for her young family, but she said the support and care of PAH's Radiation Oncology department, which provided her with hope.

Complicating Elaine's treatment is the fact to receive treatment at the PA she has had to negotiate Covid-19 protocols and rules to attend appointments from her home in the Tweed Heads suburb of Terranora which is just over the NSW border.

"I was scared at first as I had never heard of sarcoma before. As women, we are told to check our breasts for lumps, no-one had ever said to check your limbs for lumps too," Elaine said.

"My children know I have a lump in my leg and that I had to travel to the PA for six weeks to have my leg 'zapped' but I've never used the word cancer with them. I don't want them to associate my brother's cancer and his passing away from it with my diagnosis, as our cancers are very different, and my outlook is positive.

"I talk openly about the lump in my leg with them and if they have questions, I answer them as honestly as possible but I just don't use the word 'cancer'."

Since her initial diagnosis Elaine has now been 'zapped' (treated with radiation) 28 times at the PAH and remains full of praise for the care and support of her treatment team. She is scheduled to have surgery on her leg, at the PAH on 29 September.

"After meeting the wonderful team at the PA, I knew I was in good hands. Elizabeth Knox, the dedicated sarcoma nurse, has been an amazing support throughout this journey. Nothing is ever too much trouble for her, she returns your calls and checks in on how you are progressing, she really makes you feel cared for," Elaine says.

"I have ongoing treatment at the PA as it is a sarcoma speciality centre. I've had 28 rounds of radiation with the radiation oncology team, PET scan, full body MRI scan and my surgical appointments. I'll have ongoing treatment at the PA for many years to come, I am lucky I am able to have my treatment there."

"The radiation oncology team from PA6 were amazing. I like to be fully aware and have as much knowledge about what's going on during my treatment and every dayI had different questions for them about my treatment and the linear accelerator (the machine delivering the radiation). They were all extremely professional and knowledgeable.

With Mitchell, Caitlyn, and husband Thane by her side, Elaine remains upbeat, knowing that she has highly skilled and caring staff with her every step of the way, and has a simple message to anyone considering supporting cancer research through donations.

"You never know when you will hear those dreaded words; "you have cancer". You never want to feel scared, helpless, or have your death running through your mind, you never want to feel scared for your children and family who will be saddened to learn about your diagnosis," she said.

"Cancer research is imperative to find a cure for this dreadful disease, what if your child was diagnosed with cancer, your partner, your parent, or you, wouldn't you want to have a cure for a diagnosis such as this?

"If someone you love was diagnosed with cancer, you'd like to remember the times you donated to cancer research, to feel as though even though it might not seem like a lot of money, that you contributed to finding a cure or better treatment."

Donate to cancer research here.