Milli Weaver was about to embark on her final year of high school when her world was turned upside down.
The teen was faced with the devastating prospect of losing her best friend, after her mum Shani was diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer in 2015.
“It all happened really quickly. Within the space of a week I went from a normal girl doing exams, to someone who was faced with this idea that their best friend might not be here in a month,” Milli, now 21, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“Mum and I are, and always have been, best friends, she is the person I go to for everything.”
A devastating diagnosis
Milli, who is originally from Perth, was just finishing up Year 11, and her younger sister about to start high school, when their mother became unwell and found lumps in different areas of her body.
“We didn’t know how far it had spread, but within a week she had surgery and they found it had spread to some of her lymph nodes and down the side of her stomach muscles,” Milli remembers of the moment the devastating news was shared with the family.
Doctors said the cancer had been developing for some time and as Shani commenced intensive treatment, Milli saw herself go from a young adult working out what she wanted to do in life, to taking on the role of her mother’s carer.
From 2015-2017 Shani underwent extensive surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, with doctors revealing if they had left things even a month longer her diagnosis could have been terminal.
Milli’s mum in palliative care
During this time, Milli was her primary carer, as her father travelled a lot for work. Milli even lived in the palliative ward of the hospital with her after her surgery.
“It was tough,” she tells us.
“They hadn’t accounted for how severe the surgery was going to be, so they had to keep her in palliative care instead of the short term ward.
“So you’re going to school with your friends who are talking about exams and relationships, and then you leave but you’re going to the hospital to a very un-well mum in a ward where people are dying.”
Milli admits the harsh reality of having to become aware of death so young saw her struggle to cope.
“I wanted to drop out of school, my friends didn’t get it, and the work was too much,” she says, remembering how a nurse at the hospital told her about CanTeen, a support service for young people impacted by cancer.
“They helped me get through school,” she says, adding, “It was never an option for mum that I drop out.”
While finishing school, Milli also found herself driving her mum to and from appointments, staying with her during her chemo sessions, looking after her at home, and helping where she could with cleaning.
“It was never ending; from surgery to chemo, to another surgery, to radiotherapy,” she tells us.
Doctors threw everything they had at Shani’s cancer and despite the almost-terminal diagnosis initially, Milli’s mum went into radical remission in 2017.
But because of the severity of the disease at diagnosis she needs to remain on maintenance treatment until 2025 before getting any kind of ‘all clear’.
“Chemo was pretty awful but once that finished we slowly started to see more of mum. Over about a year she came back to us,” Milli says, recounting Shani’s follow up procedures and preventative surgeries as “little things”.
“In someone else’s life they might not be but compared to what we’ve been through as a family we can manage,” she adds.
Now Milli says her mum is living her best life, which is a huge relief for the uni student currently living in Sydney, who can now focus on her law degree.
“I never take my mum for granted now, I’m so lucky to have a happy healthy mum in my life,” she says.
“I’ve definitely learned about ‘strength in the face of adversity’. Never once did she give up, every day she put on a brave face and took on everything the world threw at her. And I try and live like that in my life now no matter what is going on.”
She also says for anyone else who may be faced with a similar ‘life-changing’ situation, to remember there is always help.
“There is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel, your life may not be the same but it’s up to you to shape this adversity. It may feel like no one around you gets it ,but there are support services out there like CanTeen.”
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