Real Life

My husband discovered my cancer

A magazine article prompted the Auckland Dad to have a serious talk with his wife

When new friends ask Vinnie Meleisea and his wife Kirsten about the age gap between their beautiful children, Dylan (14), Luca (8), and Ellee (2), they’re often left gobsmacked after hearing their remarkable story.

“Eventually, Kirsten’s breast cancer comes up, and they just sit there with their jaw to the ground,” Vinnie explains. “They think I’m telling lies because it’s so unbelievable.”

Kirsten’s now 40, but at the age of 27, when she was first diagnosed, breast checks were the farthest thing from her mind. It was Vinnie who brought the subject up in bed one night.

“He told me how he’d read an article on breast cancer and how often lumps were on the side of the breast and around the arm,” recalls Kirsten. “He then, literally, just put his hand straight on a lump!“

Vinnie (39) had picked up a women’s magazine in the work lunch room that day, and the article jumped out at him. When he brought breast examination up with Kirsten that night, he had no idea it would prove to be life-saving.

“I’m not an expert at finding lumps,“ he laughs. “It’s freaky, and I can’t explain it, but I’m thankful for it every day.“Kirsten’s also very grateful. “Looking back now, I wonder how long it would have gone on before I found it myself. Who knows? It might have been too late,“ she confesses.

While the doctor who checked Kirsten’s lump told her she had nothing to worry about, she insisted on being put on a waiting list to be fully checked out. A month later, a biopsy and ultrasound revealed she had cancer, and 11 days later, she had a partial mastectomy.

One of the hardest things for the couple was being told it was unlikely they’d be able to conceive a sibling for their 15-month-old son Dylan. Hormone injections would send Kirsten into early menopause and, combined with the chemotherapy, which she was told could damage her eggs, her chances were slim.

After two years, the couple decided to give it a shot and Kirsten went off her medication.Six months and six cycles of the ovulation stimulating drug Clomiphene later, she was pregnant with Luca.

“There’s differing thoughts about how pregnancy hormones can affect someone with cancer, but my doctor was supportive.

I went back on hormone therapy for another two years after I had Luca as I didn’t want to turn my back on conventional medication,“ she explains.

Cancer also gave Kirsten the push she needed to fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher, but was dealt another blow to her health when an ultrasound revealed she had an ovarian cyst. While it wasn’t cancerous, it was wrapped around a Fallopian tube, which had to be removed along with her ovary.

Because Kirsten had used fertility treatment to become a mother, she made peace with the fact she wouldn’t have any more children and concentrated on her new career. But then a small miracle!

“I’d started a new teaching job and I got that awful tired feeling you get,” she recalls.

“I was 38 by then – and there was our wee surprise!“ She admits being a mother of a toddler at the age of 40 was daunting, but Vinnie was over the moon, and they’re both thankful to have their gorgeous little girl Ellee.

While Kirsten knows not everyone is so lucky, she hopes her story will inspire others who are faced with fertility concerns after cancer not to give up hope. All three of her miracles are constant reminders to make the most of life every day.

“Sometimes I have down times, but I look back and give myself a slap and think ‘Just be grateful you’re here and think about what’s important and what’s not,’” she says. As for Vinnie, his wife’s new lease on life inspired him to leave his engineering job and become a firefighter. “I saved her and she saved me,” he says. “We both appreciate every day as it comes.”

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