05 Jul Cancer diagnosis no reason to stop living
“I know I have the big C, but I’m a positive person and I’m living for the now. I’m not going to sit at home and feel sorry for myself…‘live life and love’ – that’s what I’ve always said.”
It’s a remarkably upbeat attitude that typifies Lesley Togni’s personality. She’s young at heart, kind in spirit and genuine to the core.
For anyone else a cancer diagnosis might put an end, or at least a pause, on their work as a palliative care volunteer in the community – but not Lesley. “I’ll do that as long as I’m able to,” she declares.
Her doctors would prefer she hit pause on her partiality for a glass of champagne as well, but not yet. “I want to live for the now and part of that is to continue to enjoy a bubble or two with family and friends,” she said.
The Timboon resident was diagnosed last year with multiple myeloma – a blood cancer that over time spreads throughout the bone marrow. It’s stage one and she’s in a waiting game to see how fast it progresses and when treatment might start. That may involve chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant – the future is unknown.
“I might be dealing with that a bit different to most, but I’m dealing with it and I can still help others, I can still raise awareness and I’m thankful for that,” she said.
“I’ve been so lucky. I have my husband Francis, my five beautiful grown-up children and amazing supportive friends if I need anything or feel a bit down.
“I do have my moments, and I hate that, because I feel guilty that I’m feeling sorry for myself when there are other young people who have cancer and haven’t had the chance I’ve had to live life.”
Lesley said her COVID-19 vaccination had triggered a series of events that led to her early diagnosis. Without that jab, the cancer may have gone unnoticed for much longer.
“It was nothing to do with the jab of course, but I just had a bad reaction…I got sick and passed out when I got home and eventually went to see Warwick (Dr Rouse at the Timboon Clinic),” she said.
“He took a blood test and all of a sudden we were talking about plasma and white blood cells and going to the cancer centre.
“My white, and red, blood cell counts were very low, I was anemic and my paraprotein was high which is also an indicator that you have multiple myeloma.
“I had a bone marrow biopsy, which was very very painful, a CT scan and then a one-hour MRI. Then I had cancer.
“I got a bit of an initial shock, and I wasn’t going to tell anyone at first, but I turned that around, found my positivity and decided to get on with living.”
Lesley said she had all the support she needed, but always went to her appointments alone to keep in control and manage it her way. “The kids always want to come to the doctors with me, which is nice of course, but it’s my body, my life and I want to tell them what I want them to know,” she said.
“I can’t say I never get down because I do – but not for long. I’m very spiritual, nature is my God, I do a lot of meditation and I’m okay, I really am.”
Lesley combined her previous work, helping young people in schools as an integration aide, with palliative care training and then volunteering to help individuals and families cope with death.
“I didn’t think I could do it, but the training helps. It’s hard, but it’s also very rewarding. I stay to the end, when people pass, and I’m always thankful to be there. I grieve and take it home with me, of course you do, but I get far more back from doing it.
“As for me, I don’t have a prognosis… it’s a waiting game, but I’ll keep being a palliative care volunteer as long as I can and I’ll keep living life until then too.”
Myeloma affects multiple (hence multiple myeloma) places in the body where bone marrow is normally active in adults, i.e. within the bones of the spine, skull, pelvis, the rib cage, and the areas around the shoulders and hips. Myeloma Australia’s Information and Support Groups are currently being held as a combination of face-to-face and Zoom video conferencing. For more information, you can visit Myeloma Australia at https://myeloma.org.au/ or contact them on 1800 693 566 or you can contact our Timboon Clinic on 5558 6088 to make an appointment with one of our GPs.
Dry July is a fundraiser that encourages going alcohol-free in July to raise funds for people affected by cancer. Since 2008, Dry July has inspired more than 290,200 Aussies to go dry, raising over $73 million for people affected by cancer, and funding projects at more than 80 cancer organisations across Australia. Participants can also select their preferred beneficiary when signing up to Dry July. For more information or to register please visit https://www.dryjuly.com/