When Michele Librizzi learnt she had ovarian cancer, she spent many angry days asking: ‘Why me?’ But when she saw the faces of her three beautiful children, she knew she’d have to stay strong for them.
And that’s the attitude that got her through a roller-coaster of treatment and recovery that began at the end of 2008. Suffering a bloated tummy, heartburn and a stomach upset, Michele, 39, admits she was slow to seek help at first.
‘I was a busy mum and worked full-time – I didn’t have time to be ill,’ recalls Michele, who lives in Marangaroo, WA, with husband Tony, 49, and their kids Adam, 19, Rachel, 17, and Joseph, 14.
When she finally sought treatment, doctors found a tumour. ‘I still remember the fog I felt after that meeting. I came out to my car and thought about phoning Tony, but I didn’t think it was fair to break such news over the phone.’
Instead, she drove home in a daze, then found the words to tell her husband. ‘He just held me so tight. He told me I was beautiful and that he loved me. They were the only things I needed to hear.’
With the tumour weighing half a kilo and measuring 16cm wide, doctors decided to remove her ovaries in March 2009. Tests then showed the lump was cancer, and she started chemo soon after.
By August, after being told she was free of cancer, Michele began picking up the pieces. But a routine breast screen in April 2010 put an end to that, detecting cancerous cysts. ‘It was even worse knowing it had come back,’ she says.
‘I knew the battle ahead of me. I’d been there before.’
Given the option of a lumpectomy or a double mastectomy, Michele chose to have her breasts removed.
‘Losing my breasts was a big thing,’ she says. ‘Every time I have a shower, there’s a reminder of my cancer. Because my ovaries were removed I went into early menopause too. I’ll never be free from the scarring of my journey.’
In November 2010, Michele had reconstructive surgery. She has now been cancer-free for nearly 17 months, celebrating her one-year anniversary with a party.
‘In my darkest moments I always felt safe lying in bed at night with Tony holding me tightly,’ she says. ‘Knowing how much he loved me really did carry me through it all. I’d hate for the cancer to return a third time but
I know I’d have the strength to battle it all over again. I love my kids too much to give up.’
Photos: Frances Andrijich