Incase you’re not familiar with Elle Halliwell’s story, two years ago, the journalist, TV personality and good friend of Amodrn was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)—a rare from of blood cancer. Just 48 hours later, Elle found out she was pregnant.
Her two options at that stage were to either terminate the pregnancy (as the medication required to save her life could at the same time, put her unborn baby at risk) or, continue with the pregnancy, forgo that particular medication and hope the cancer wouldn’t spread before she gave birth.
“You can’t explain the heartbreak of hearing doctors tell you to terminate your pregnancy. I couldn’t quite accept it, and so my husband Nick and I turned to Professor Tim Hughes [one of Australia’s leading CML researchers]—hoping for another option. His advice ended up saving my life, and that of my baby,” Elle says.
Fast forward to now and Elle and husband Nick have a gorgeous, healthy baby boy named Tor and admits that her cancer diagnosis forced her to reclaim a positive mindset and ironically, helped manage her anxiety.
“I feel as though I’ve connected to my true self, and can now block out the white noise of unimportant urgencies much more easily than before,” Elle tells Amodrn.
Ahead of Daffodil Day (August 24), Elle shares with us what she’s learnt throughout her journey as a woman, a mother and a cancer survivor—and it is nothing short of inspiring.
Can you take us through the time of your diagnosis—did you have any signs or symptoms?
I was a little bit tired, but put that down to being an overworked, stressed out thirty-year-old! That’s why it took me by surprise, the lack of symptoms. It was just fortunate that a stomach bug from a bad steak tartare had sparked a trip to my GP for a doctor’s certificate.
My initial blood tests were taken so I could make sure my vitamin D and folate levels were okay, as I was hoping to start trying for a baby later that year. The tests turned up a high platelet reading, which my GP initially thought was a response to the stomach bug I’d had. The next blood test showed even higher platelets which was why I was then referred to a haematologist, who, after more thorough tests, discovered I had CML.
Out of all the lessons you’ve learnt throughout your experience—what is one you want to pass down to your son?
That during moments of adversity you find out who you truly are, and that even the worst moments of your life can bring the greatest lessons, and sometimes the greatest blessings.
In what ways has this entire experience changed your life and the person you are today?
I’m so much more attuned to my values and purpose, and I’m no longer striving to achieve things that satisfy my ego (which let’s be honest, will never be satisfied!). It seems ironic, but cancer has been the most effective treatment for my anxiety, as it forced mindfulness upon me. It’s a daily challenge to stay in this mindset, but with daily meditation, clean eating and practicing gratitude, I’m doing pretty well and am a much calmer, happier and content person than I was before my diagnosis.
How does this compare to how you lived life in your 20s? What would you say to your younger self?
My life was work, work, work, and despite acheiving so many things I wanted to, I never felt content or happy. It led to a quarter life crisis of sorts. I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do to feel happy, despite all the wonderful things in my life. I now realise that it was my desire for things—money, pretty clothes, status, approval and external validation which was the problem.
“It seems ironic, but cancer has been the most effective treatment for my anxiety, as it forced mindfulness upon me.”
My happiness depended on other people, and outside events. I would hesitate to give advice to my younger self, as I feel that you need to learn this in your own time, through failure, in order to really understand. But if I had to, I’d say ‘don’t make decisions based on how other people will perceive you. Stay true to your values and be kind and true to yourself and life will be beautiful’.
What was the best piece of advice you received throughout your journey and what would you share with others who may find themselves in a similar situation?
That waking up every day, taking a deep breath, and being alive is a true gift. Be gentle on yourself and live life from a place of love, because no amount of kale smoothies and yoga poses can make up for a toxic mindset.
What stage are you at with your treatment/recovery and what do you credit your inner strength to?
I’m still undergoing [TKI] treatment, and every day has its challenges, but I think about how lucky I am that I was diagnosed at a time where effective treatment is available to me, as the cancer I have—chronic myeloid leukaemia, was considered a death sentence until the discovery of TKI drugs in the late 90s.
“Being a mum has made me even more passionate about finding a cure for cancer. I want my son to grow up not fearing this illness.”
My numbers are getting better and better, and I’m hopeful that in the next year I’ll get to see the magic number—0.0000—in my results. but I’m so happy I can now look into my future and see a bright one, filled with love, family and the possibility of a bigger brood!
Cancer is such a scary word and you are proof there is hope. What are some things you misunderstood about the illness before being faced with it yourself?
I think many people’s first thought after diagnosis is ‘I’m going to die’. Fortunately, so many people are now beating this disease thanks to medical breakthroughs—which are possible thanks in part to generous public donations and support for initiatives such as Cancer Council’s Daffodil Day.
Tell us about your involvement in Daffodil Day and what you hope to achieve as an ambassador.
I feel so blessed to be able to give back to an organisation which supported me through some of my toughest moments. I’m proof that buying a Daffodil on August 24 can save a life, as my future would look a lot different had researchers not found a way to treat my chronic blood cancer. I first shared my story on a whim on Daffodil Day 2016 in the hope of helping to raise money for cancer research.
In the past five years Cancer Council and its research partners have invested more than $265 million in the hope of improving the outcomes for cancer patients, and I hope that Australia continues to support an organisation which has helped so many. Visit www.daffodilday.com.au for more. You can purchase Elle’s personal memoir, ‘A Mother’s Choice’ here.