Beating BRCA2 – How it has Affected My Life

I have had my own challenges while the World’s focus has been on the Coronavirus. This is a personal account of how the BRCA2 gene mutation has affected my life.

While the World Has Been Focused on the Coronavirus, I’ve Been Beating Cancer

The World around us changed dramatically between my birthday and my best friend’s birthday three days later. We spent the weekend together with our husbands, the four of us celebrating by staying in a resort and drinking, eating and laughing together. After we went home the restrictions started suddenly so that it would no longer be possible to socialise in that way. Our last weekend together from 20-22 March is the last time we could eat out at a restaurant or cafe, drink in a hotel or even spend time together. It seems like the distant past now.

We still can’t eat out at restaurants together, although restrictions in our State have begun to be lifted. We are unable to cross the border to visit my family who live just an hour south. Social isolation has added another layer to my own health battles that began to unfold this year.

BRCA2 Gene Mutation and Cancer Risk

I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene mutation in March. You may have heard about Angelina Jolie having BRCA1 and undergoing bilateral prophylactic mastectomies and a total abdominal hysterectomy a number of years ago. BRCA2 is similar – it increases my risk for breast and ovarian cancer dramatically. It’s a case of not if I develop these cancers, but when.

I knew there was a chance of inheriting this gene about 10 years ago when I nursed my cousin who told me she has the gene. I had genetic counseling back then but it was not very obvious that the gene was on my side of the family as there wasn’t a high number of family members with cancer, especially breast and ovarian cancer. The genetic counselor thought my cousin probably inherited it from her father (no blood relation to me). Consequently, I didn’t get tested and opted for more stringent screening instead.

I’m a huge advocate for screening. I have been having early mammograms and ultrasounds for the last 10 years. Every six months I get my skin checked. My son’s melanoma was picked up during a routine skin test. This was possible because I starting taking my sons for skin checks from a very young age. My son’s melanoma was diagnosed when it was just a stage 1 cancer. Many people ignore things until they’re advanced but that’s not me. I get every little bump checked out because I’ve seen too many invasive cancers as a nurse.

Stage 1 melanoma on the hand of a 24 year old male
My Son’s Melanoma – He was Only 24 Years Old when it was diagnosed. It was a stage 1 melanoma. Surgery completely cured him

The last few years have produced more cases of cancer in our family – my son, brother and sister have all had melanoma and my father had prostate and pancreatic cancer. It was always in the back of my mind that I should probably get tested for BRCA2. I went back to the genetic counselor to be tested. Results showed I did have the BRCA2 gene mutation. I inherited it from dad – I had a 50% chance of having it and my sons then had a 50% chance of inheriting it from me. My first reaction was not for myself, but rather for my sons – “I’ve given them a death sentence”.

BRCA2 Affects Males Too

Telling them was difficult. It would have implications for when they want to start a family, and it might even be a deal-breaker for some women who wouldn’t want to have the risk of having children with a genetic disorder. They surprised me with their reaction, however. Their response was that they’d rather know if they had the gene or not. They were now aware of screening and get any changes in their bodies checked out early. They underwent genetic counseling and were tested for the BRCA2 gene mutation. The results came back negative. We were surprised and ecstatic at the results. Even my son who had a melanoma was clear which is even more surprising).

Risk Reducing Surgery

My first response to finding out I have BRCA2 was to swiftly decide to have prophylactic risk-reducing surgeries. That involves removing the organs most at risk of developing cancer – ovaries (I have a 20-40% chance of getting ovarian cancer) and breasts (60-80% chance). Having nursed women with ovarian and breast cancer for most of my nursing career, I know how devastating those cancers are and I want to avoid them as much as possible.

I had the first surgery on March 30th – a laparoscopic bilateral oophrectomy (keyhole surgery to remove my ovaries). This surgery is low-risk and most people bounce back quickly, with very little complications. Then there’s me. I seem to have the worst luck when it comes to complications to procedures – I went into complete heart block after an angiogram and required CPR. One medication landed me in hospital from a severe allergy. So to have complications after this small operation, while not surprising for me, was a shock to the system all the same.

Complications

I bruised. My abdomen became extremely distended. A lot of pain and nausea. But the worst thing – I couldn’t pass urine. I ended up going home with an indwelling catheter and it unearthed a problem with my bladder that’s probably been there for a long time but wasn’t apparent until I had pelvic surgery. I had follow-up surgery to fix it last week. While there was an improvement, there will be ongoing issues for a long time because my kidney and bladder have been damaged. All my back pain was from my kidney, not my spine after all.

BRCA2 Gene Mutation.  While the world has been focused on the Coronovirus pandemic, I have been battling my own health dramas

My next challenge is Bilateral Prophylactic Mastectomies

This week I will undergo my biggest challenge yet – a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. After my previous operations I’m scared of having this surgery. I’m more scared of breast cancer though. Someone said to me that I’m brave to do this – I don’t feel brave. In fact I feel just the opposite. The women who have breast cancer are brave. Imagine going through this operation as well as radiotherapy, chemotherapy and medications for life. That’s brave to me.

I feel like I’m cheating cancer by doing these surgeries, but there’s still the risk of getting a different type of cancer because of this gene mutation. BRCA2 causes pancreatic, prostate and renal cancer as well as melanoma so I’ll still have to remain vigilant. Of course I can’t get prostate cancer, but pancreatic cancer is hard to detect. My dad’s was too far advanced to have any treatment. Pancreatic cancer ravaged his body. He only lasted for 7 months after it was diagnosed. Poor bugger, it was a horrible way to die.

How the Coronavirus Has Impacted Me

Attention has been on my own health issues while the world has been focused on coronavirus. I have found it hard to cope at times because it has restricted my ability to interact with the people who are my confidantes and support system. Talking on the phone is not the same. Even when I was in hospital I could only nominate one visitor for the whole hospital stay. My husband was sent away from the hospital and could only visit for 2 hours once a day. Going through mastectomies will be daunting without him there for my support. The thought of it upsets me a great deal. I won’t be able to have my sons and best friend visit at all.

Elective surgeries were cancelled in March. I feel really lucky that I knew the surgeons personally and my first operation was pulled forward. Any later it would have been impossible. I feel a little guilty that I could get this preferential treatment but there has to be some perks for nursing alongside these doctors for the last 20-30 years.

Other Concerns

Having to tell my brothers and nephews over the phone and Messenger that they too have a 50% chance of inheriting this really sucks. Social distancing sucks when you have to have these very full-on conversations. Worrying that I may get the coronavirus affects my health too, because I have co-morbidities that would mean I’d be one of the cases most likely to end up really sick from it. It’s been a very stressful time, and I’ll be glad when this is all over and we’re out the other side. The world will be a changed place when this pandemic is over.

Beating BRCA2.  While the world has focused on the Coronavirus, I have been beating cancer.  BRCA2 gene mutation increases my risk of breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer.

Note to my followers: I’ll be out of action for a while due to my surgery this week. I may be able to post short updates via my mobile phone but my usual blog posts will be on hold for a few weeks. Thank you all for your support, I really appreciate it.

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Mixed Feelings on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day has always been a day of mixed feelings for me. My mum passed away from cancer when I was 24. She was 54, the exact age I am now. A lifetime without my mum has been hard to bear at times, especially those times when your mum would be present for you, like the birth of your children.

Mum and I, about 6 months before she died of cancer. We didn’t know she had cancer until 2 months before she died

When I became a mother, it was a time of immense joy tinged with grief. My mum had only passed away 18 months before so I was still grieving. I had post-natal depression after my first baby, and really struggled with motherhood. My baby had colic and screamed a lot, his poor tummy visibly rippling with the pain of bowel spasms. My mum would have been there quietly supporting me and giving me advice gently. Her firstborn had also suffered colic so her advice would have helped me so much.

You never get over losing your mum. 30 years later, I still miss her and wish she was still here. She was the best role model for motherhood I could have had. She guided her family with a soft hand, never raised her voice or hand, yet instilled respect and compliance from us.

Before she passed away I spent a few days sitting by her hospital bed. That time with her I hold dear because she talked about mitherhood and advised me on how to bring up my children using the same gentle approach as she. I have never forgotten the advice she gave me and used it as a basis for my own approach to bringing up my children.

Being a mother has been one of my life’s joys. As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a mother. I had trouble getting pregnant and my pregnancies weren’t easy, but it was all worth it. That intense love you feel when you hold your baby for the first time is like no other.

I have always felt very emotional on Mother’s Day. Some years I’ve been really sad because it’s a reminder that I can’t give my mum cards, presents and a warm embrace. A few years ago I decided to do something to honour my mum’s memory so I joined in the Mother’s Day Classic which is held in memory of loved ones and raises money for breast cancer research. By doing that I changed an emotional sad day into something positive.

My husband Phil, our dog Banjo and I walked 6km for the Mother’s Day Classic which raises money for breast cancer research

In honour of mum my husband and I are walking 5km today. It’s a virtual walk because of social distancing laws, which means we can’t join with other participants but the online community is very supportive of each other.

If you would like to donate the link to my fundraising page is below (click on the picture). All money raised goes to breast cancer research.

To all the mothers, Happy Mother’s Day.

https://fundraise.mothersdayclassic.com.au/fundraisers/christinahenry/mothers-day-classic-2020

Click here to go to my fundraising page. Thank you!

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Empowered Beauties With Brains – Guest Interview

I was featured on the Empowered Beauties With Brains website. This is a community organisation that aims to help, support, motivate, inspire, uplift and empower women. The website showcases women from all works of life. It was an honour to be interviewed by Tiya Gorain, the founder, who is an entrepreneur and a wellness & empowerment coach based in Sydney, Australia.

Here is the link to my interview

An excerpt:

“My goals in life were to bring up my children to be the people they’re meant to be, to make a positive impact on others’ lives, and to create a life of peace and joy for myself and my family… Your health is your most important asset. Don’t neglect it. Find some way to fit it into your schedule”.

You can follow the organisation on the following social media accounts:

Facebook

Instagram

Originally Published on April 24, 2020 by empoweredbeautieswithbrains

We are a women empowerment community organisation. We believe that every woman has beauty, brains & power within. She just needs to recognise it within herself. Our intention is to help, support, motivate, inspire, uplift & empower women. We implement various programs, workshops, events, training and coaching sessions for the benefit of women in Australia, Singapore and India.”

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Why Anzac Day Means so Much to Me

The last week has been pretty hard for me. I moved my website to another website host and, to cut a long story short, I lost most of Midlifestylist.com. Six months of work down the drain.

It’s really devastating and I felt like giving up, but my son gave me a pep talk last night which encouraged me to keep going. He’s a musician, music and video editor and music technician and he’s had his full share of devastating losses like this – one of his hard-drives burnt out and he lost a whole year of work a few years ago. I feel terrible because people who clicked on a link to my site got an error message, I apologise for this if it has happened to you.

The good news is, I have been able to move my website back to the original place and it seems to have been restored just the way I had it before! Enormous relief.

Anyway, I wanted to commemorate Anzac Day today. Anzac Day is a Public Holiday in Australia and New Zealand to remember our Service men and women who served in the Armed Forces. With great respect we hold dawn vigils and ceremonies in honour of these amazing people. This year was different because of Covid-19 – social distancing meant that we couldn’t gather at ceremonies so we stood on our driveways with a candle instead.

In honour of my grandfather who served in World War One, I published his story in my blog about my family history, This is Who We Are. You can read it here. It is his memoirs of his time spent serving in France for the British Army – he went to war at age 18 and spent 5 years in the front lines in Ypres, Somme and Maubeuge in many of the bloodiest battles of World War One.


Harold Norris, Private 16471 of the 18th King’s Liverpool Regiment of the British Army from 1914 – 1919. Served in WW1 in Somme, Ypres and Maubeuge in France

I also Honour my Father-in-Law Ces Henry who served with the Australian Army in Korea. He doesn’t like to talk about his time spent overseas serving our country, but we know that he was on the front lines there and conditions were particularly horrendous for them.


Cecil Henry, my father-in-law with Gwen, my mother-in-law. Cec served in the Australian Army in Korea and other overseas posts including in Japan after the war.

My sister’s son Xavier is carrying on the family tradition and is serving with the Australian Army at the present time. I’m very proud of him – his mother unfortunately passed away after years of being unwell so he overcame a lot growing up. He was deployed in Iraq for some time last year.


Xavier my nephew (far left) who serves in the Australian Army

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,

At the going down of the the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

Lest we forget

Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen, September 1914

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Living the Healthiest Version of Your Life

I was asked to contribute a guest post by Sue Loncaric for her Website Sizzling toward sixty. Sue’s passion is “helping and encouraging women in midlife to reach their full potential living a healthy & active lifestyle”. I encourage my readers to have a look at her website because it has so many resources for women in their midlife. It aims to inspire and guide them to live a healthy life. Sue lives on the Gold Coast like me. We’ve never met in person but I look forward to having a coffee and a chat with her when we are no longer social distancing.

This was my first guest post. I feel very honoured to have been invited to take part in her series Aging Well Living Well. I talked about some of the challenges I have faced in my life and how I overcame them to arrive at this point in my life. Here is an excerpt:

I want my remaining years to be as healthy as possible so I strive to overcome my health issues and live the healthiest version of my life as I canNo matter what your issues are, whether they are physical or mental, a lack of money or support, it is possible to live the healthiest version of yourself. Do what you can rather than focusing on what you can’t.

Christina Henry 2020

Take a look at my guest post at this link:

Living the Healthiest Version of Your Life

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Letter to myself – aged 17

I have been thinking of my parents a lot lately, especially when I was writing my last two blog posts. Reflecting on what skills I learned from my parents, I realised that I didn’t appreciate it at that age. I was a bit of a handful for my parents, rebelling against their strict rules. I was able to rebuild my relationship with them in time, but I really wish I’d listened to their advice more.

This isn’t an original idea – I have seen other people write letters to their younger selves. Oprah wrote a powerful one and asked 17 well-known people to write letters as well – they’re on her website. There’s even a Grammy-award winning song by Brad Paisley:

If I could write a letter to me
And send it back in time to myself at seventeen

After reflecting on the things I wish I knew when I was 17, I decided to write a similar letter to myself:

A photo of the author, Christina Henry, aged 17
Me at aged 17

My Letter to Myself, Aged 17

Dear Christina,

I am writing to tell you that you need to appreciate your parents more. They really love you and only want what’s best for you. Their rules are there to protect you, even if they are strict and old-fashioned.

Learn as much as you can from your mum. She’s a beautiful person who gives her whole life to you – appreciate her, because she won’t be there when you really need her. She’ll be at your wedding, but 4 months later she’ll pass away from cancer. You will miss her for the rest of your life but you’ll be so grateful that you learnt a lot about cooking and homemaking from her. You’ll draw on your memories of your mother when you have your own children, and you’ll appreciate the advice she give you in her last few weeks about bringing up children. Memories like that will be treasures.

You will grow to appreciate your father, but not until you have your own children. Then you’ll realise how hard it is to give them a private education, holidays overseas and a nice house. You’ll come to terms with the type of man he is and that he was very much a product of the times when men were chauvinistic and had little to do with child rearing. You may never want to rely on a man, and you will always be strong willed and independent. You’ll eventually be on much better terms with him, but it’s not until his deathbed that he’ll tell you you’re a good daughter.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. It doesn’t agree with your body, and will play havoc with your mood and mental state. It won’t help at all when you’re grieving. You’ll make some pretty awful decisions under the influence, for which you’ll be regretful. Definitely don’t take drugs because the affect they have on family members will be devastating. Keep an eye on your sister – her spiral downwards in mental health will eventually have a diagnosis but not for 10 years. Step in and get her help when she has her first psychotic episode – she needs medical attention so don’t hold back from seeking it.

Learn to walk away from people and situations before they start affecting your mental and physical health. You will try to help so many people who will hate you for it, and it won’t be until years later that you learn boundaries. Find help with being assertive and only let people into your life who are authentic and care for your well-being. Even if that means having fewer friends – quality is better than quantity.

The author with her best friend Paula, aged 17
Me with my best friend Paula, aged 17

Don’t try to be a people pleaser. People will walk all over you until you learn to listen to your own inner voice and stand up for what is right. Don’t ever be a doormat. Your shyness will hold you back, and it will become so bad you’ll develop social anxiety. Seek help for it because there is treatment that will help. There will be one person who is strong enough to help you and will always have your back – you won’t meet him till you’re in your 40’s but when you do, there’ll be an instant connection and you’ll know you’re with the right person. Life won’t always be easy, but he’s the one you’ll be able to grow old with.

Protect your back. Back pain will be the defining feature of your later years. Nursing is a wonderful career which you will love, but it will take a toll on your health. Don’t stay in a job that causes too much stress. It’s not worth it and there’s better jobs out there.

Appreciate your healthy body. Look after it and don’t take it for granted. You’re in for a lifetime of health related issues so appreciate your youthful body. Get your teeth fixed while you’re young – your confidence and self esteem will improve. Investigate your migraines and palpitations – the underlying cause will shock you but you’ll be on a better pathway towards a healthier you. Watch out for weight gain – you’ll discover that more of a plant based diet is the answer to maintaining your weight and well-being.

Travel as much as you can when you’re young. The world will change so much and your health will limit how much you can travel.

The author aged 17 - she looks so shy and insecure in this photo
Myself at 17 – I look so shy and insecure

I don’t need to tell you that motherhood will be the most rewarding role you’ll have in life. You already know you will be a mother, even if it takes you years to have children. You will guide them in the way you wish your parents had guided you – with strong communication, mutual respect, and appreciation of the unique creative people they are. They will give you so much joy and fulfillment.

Don’t ever stop writing and reading. It will give you untold joy and satisfaction. You’ll always want to learn something new, and you’ll throw yourself into new projects with passion – don’t ever stop doing that!

Above all, keep believing that there’s a higher reason for all of this. We’re spiritual beings in human form and our goal is to learn as much as we can in our lifetime. Your life will throw you many curve-balls, and at times you’ll struggle with the weight of so much burden on your shoulders, but you’ll always get through each challenge. Care for yourself, make sure you take time out for yourself. Enjoy your life,

Love Christina, aged 53

No Regrets

I don’t regret much – my life has been a learning curve and I’ve probably dealt with more situations than some people. Some I’ve dealt with well, many not so well. I’ve learnt to accept myself with all the traits, good and bad, that I have. Some inherited, some learnt as I’ve traveled through life. I enjoyed writing this letter to myself as an exercise in self reflection.

What would you tell yourself at 17? Please comment below.

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The Skills I Learned from my Parents That I Still Use Today

The Importance of Skills I Learned From My Parents

As parents we hope that our proteges take after us in some way. We try to teach them important skills and values as we raise them. I reflected on this very thing and realised that there are some important skills I learned from my parents that I still use today. It was not until I had my own children that I appreciated that I had been given these skills and values. I regard these skills as a vital part of my life and I value them more as I age.

How Old-Fashioned Skills are Helping Me Now

In my previous post, I explained that I am investigating self-sufficiency as a prospect for a sustainable future. We plan to supply most of our own basic needs, including growing our own food. My parents taught me some important skills as I was growing up, most of which I took for granted and have not used in my adult life. As I am heading into my later years, I am realising that those old-fashioned skills are relevant now.

If we are to supply our own food, we will need to be able to preserve food that we have grown ourselves, so that we have a steady supply during the months that our garden isn’t producing. Plants grown in season are more easily grown – you don’t need to provide an artificial environment (such as a green-house or water sprinkling system) to keep them alive. This means you harvest a large quantity at one time. Learning how to preserve some of the crop is essential.

My sister and I in 1977 with our mum - holding a 9 lb trout.  Our love of fishing and the outdoors stems from our parents.  We always had a boat for fishing on the many lakes around Rotorua, New Zealand
My sister and I in 1977 with our mum – holding a 9 lb trout. Our love of fishing and the outdoors stems from our parents. We always had a boat for fishing on the many lakes around Rotorua, New Zealand

The most useful skills I learned from my parents

My mother was a down-to-earth, practical and savvy woman. She was a stay-at-home mum of four kids under 5. The skills I learned from her were:

  • Budgeting – she took full advantage of using discount coupons, bought in bulk, never racked up a debt, and seemed to be able to stretch her money so that we never went without;
  • Sewing – mum made all her own clothes. She taught my sister and I to sew and knit. Mum also had a spinning wheel and made her own wool out of sheeps’ fleece;
  • Gardening – my parents were avid gardeners and grew most of our vegetables. They researched alternative growing methods and put them to use through having a greenhouse and hydroponic set-up which could produce out-of-season food in a cold climate. We also learned composting from them. Their green thumb has passed on to the rest of the family and we all enjoy growing our own produce;
  • Cooking – we rarely ate out, and mum cooked all our food. She baked cakes and biscuits, made icecream and other desserts. My dad cooked every Sunday for a house full of guests – he loved to experiment with food and entertain our guests. We all love cooking, and especially love to experiment with new flavours and techniques.
  • Preserving food – My mum used to make chutneys, jam, and preserved fruit. Dad made brawn – preserved meat. These skills are ones I now want to learn as a skill that will be needed for self-sufficiency. I have made pickles and chutneys, but only in small quantities. I am going to learn about bottling food so that it can be stored safely for future use;
  • Smoking food – we have a smoker so we can make smoked fish and meat. I know this has been used successfully to preserve food so we will learn how to do this as well;
  • Fishing – my husband and I both grew up in families that loved fishing. My parents owned a boat and we used to go trout fishing on one of the many fresh water lakes around our city. My husband’s father took him sea fishing and they still enjoy that now on their boat.
  • Health promotion- my mum was into natural therapies throughout her life. She knew every natural remedy known to man! Mum preferred to promote health by having a healthy diet and supplements. She practiced yoga and meditation as part of her philosophy of self-care.
  • Housekeeping and house maintenance – my parents did all their own cleaning, yard work and maintenance. I learned many skills from them and still struggle to hand those tasks over to anyone else. I prefer to do all my own cleaning, and my husband does everything he can in the garden and around the house. We are only able to hire someone else when we acknowledge that the skill required is outside our limits, or would take us too long to finish. As we get older we are realising our bodies aren’t up to doing hard work and sometimes it’s better to hire someone to do it;
  • Researching – my parents passed on their love of reading. They used to research all different things, and that love has passed on to me. My other hobby was genealogy which I learned from my mother – I was able to use her research as a basis for my own. I have another blog, This Is Who We Are about our family history
My father and his tomatoes - grown in New Zealand during the winter in a greenhouse.
My father and his tomatoes – grown in New Zealand during the winter in a greenhouse.

I guess I was like any other teenager and did not really appreciate my parents until I left home and had my own family. My mum passed away when I was 24. I really missed her presence in my life – it was very hard bringing up my sons without my mother to advise and help me. In a way I was lucky that she was such a wonderful parent and I learned so many skills from her as I was growing up. I was able to draw on that knowledge throughout my life. I certainly don’t take it for granted and really appreciate everything my parents taught me.

My sister working in the hydroponic greenhouse my father set up in the mid-80s.  It was the first hydroponic garden in New Zealand and used to attract tourists from all over the world
My sister working in the hydroponic greenhouse my father set up in the mid-80s. It was the first hydroponic garden in New Zealand and used to attract tourists from all over the world

Many of the skills I learned like preserving food will be necessary as we aim towards self-sufficiency. In the next few years I will be researching different skills in order to be able to live a self-sufficient lifestyle.

10 Skills my Parents Taught Me that I Still Use Today
10 Skills my Parents Taught Me that I Still Use Today

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The Half-Empty Nest

The Half Empty Nest

When a Child Moves Out it Feels Like Grief

A week ago my son moved out of home. I knew it was coming – he’s nearly 25, but it still caused an upheaval in my life all the same. I have my other son at home still, so the nest is only half-empty. Despite this I’m feeling a sense of loss akin to grief that only another mother could relate to. Empty Nest Syndrome, while being a cliche, is very real.

This is the son who I bonded with immediately after birth when he latched on in the delivery suite. It was complete love at first sight with my second baby. My first baby had been born three years earlier when I was mourning the death of my mother. This meant my bonding with him was affected by post natal depression and anxiety. And from not having the one person there for me – my mum, whose presence would have made such a difference to a new mother. He had colic as well so he cried a lot. In contrast, my second baby was a calm, relaxed and cuddly child, and I was a more experienced and confident mum.

The Close Mother-Son Bond

For years my second son was my shadow and clung to me. Our bond was strengthened by our similar sense of humour as he grew older. We enjoyed banter where we fed off each other, talking about diverse subjects at great length. This was often to the bemusement of the rest of the family who didn’t really ‘get’ us. Our mutual love of animals and our taste in music, our enjoyment of cooking together, and our daily walks with the dogs meant that we spent a lot of time together over the years.

My son went through a period of depression a few years back and he dropped out of university. 18 months later he decided to re-enroll in a different course in another university. I told him I would be keeping a close eye on him to make sure his mental state didn’t suffer by taking on another course of study. Our conversations became more in depth as I didn’t hold back with communication. I needed to make sure he was OK this time around, and that the pressure of studying, working and internships didn’t impact his mental health.

To my absolute joy he thrived under pressure, and was able to take on a heavy study load while working full-time and doing two internships at the same time. He was more motivated to accomplish his goals when his schedule was full. He completed his degree in communications, public relations and journalism in just over two years.

Coping With Disappointment

My son applied for jobs all over Australia in his chosen fields. He was keen to start his new career and leave the crappy retail position he’d held since the age of 14. He struggled to get so much as a reply to his application. The few interviews that he attended did not even bother to let him know he’d been unsuccessful. After six months of knock-backs we were both disheartened and incredibly disappointed. For me as a mother, it was like a stab in the heart to watch him go through this.

Honestly, I do not know what is wrong with employers these days. They do not even send out an email to let applicants know they’ve been unsuccessful. No wonder young people struggle to find a job, and when they do, there’s not the sense of loyalty that we had to our employers. I’m disgusted by how rude it is. The least they could do is send out a polite email thanking them for their application and telling them they have been unsuccessful.

So my son stayed in his retail position, stayed living at home and gave up on applying for jobs. My husband and I went on holiday. While we were there my son rang me to tell me he’d quit his job. He couldn’t work there anymore – it was making him ill, both physically and mentally. He was getting migraines nearly every day and spiraling into depression again. Of course this caused alarm and I begged him to reconsider. His employers met with him and pleaded with him to stay as he is a hard worker and reliable employee. He dropped back to casual and took on another job (retail as well!).

Then he decided to go back to university and do his Masters Degree in Secondary Education. He’d be able to teach high-school English and History. I wrote about it in my last blog post Don’t Hold Back . He was all set to start university this month then out of the blue he decided to move out of home and take on a full time position in his new workplace. Just when I thought he was set on one path, he did a 360 turn. He has now put off going back to university just so he could move out of home.

The Turmoil Caused by a Child Leaving Home

Our household has been in turmoil for the last few weeks. Quite a few deep discussions have occurred between my son and I as I attempt to persuade him to reconsider this decision. But he was set on this path and has now moved out. My main concern is that he’ll regret this down the track, and he won’t be fulfilled in his current job. I know it won’t be challenging enough for him mentally. He needs a job that will stimulate him intellectually for his own well-being. He acknowledges that but is still keen to spread his wings and become a fully functioning adult by cutting the apron strings.

I was fine until I drove toward our house the evening before he was due to move out. I realised it would be the last time our family of four would sleep in the same house together. The floodgates opened and I couldn’t control the tears for the next 12 hours until I had to show up for work again. It felt like I was grieving for my father again – he’d passed away 18 months prior. That’s understandable because a partial empty nest is a loss, just like all the other losses I’d experienced. I’d had the same reaction when my mother and sister had passed away, and when I separated from my ex-husband. No-one died obviously but I was losing a massive part of myself all the same.

The bedroom my son left behind is now my new writing space.  This has eased the feeling of an empty nest slightly.
The bedroom my son left behind is now my new writing space. This has eased the feeling of an empty nest slightly.

Close Bond Reinforced Through Shared Experiences

I was prepared to be emotional because my son and I had been together during several of the hardest periods of my life. Despite his youth, he had proved to be an incredibly resilient person and very supportive, emotionally mature and caring. When my father was suffering from cancer and spent the last few months in and out of hospital, it was my son who came with me to New Zealand to see him.

I leaned on him more than what a mother would normally do with their son. His strength of character showed that he could handle this. He did it willingly and generously, not holding back from seeing the brutality of his grandfather dying from pancreatic cancer. We grew even closer from that shared experience. We both felt honoured to have spent that time with my father, who, despite being in pain and hallucinating from his condition, displayed utter peace at being so close to dying. He was praying that God would take him and he had incredible faith right until his last breath.

If my son had moved out a year ago I would not have coped as well as what I have, because I was still grieving my father. For anyone who has lost someone that close, you know that the acute stage of grief varies. It has been different for each person I’ve lost – my mum when I was 24, my sister when I was 45 and my dad when I was 52. But eventually it becomes easier to bear. So in no way do I feel that my son moving out is in any way as bad as losing someone who has died. I still see my son as he’s only 20 minutes drive away. But it won’t be the same without our daily walks, cooking sessions and nightly banter at the dinner table.

My pets keep me company as I write
My pets keep me company as I write

How Has Your Empty Nest Impacted You?

I’d love to hear from you, my readers – how was the empty nest for you? What helped you to adjust to the gap left in your life? Do you still miss your children or are you enjoying the freedom of not having dependents at home? My immediate way to adjust was to clean out his room and turn it into a study for me. A space where I can write freely without interruption, and decorate it according to my taste, in soothing colours. I write surrounded by my pets who are great company.

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Don’t Hold Back

My motto for this year is Don’t Hold Back


My motto for this year is don’t hold back. For years I’ve left things on hold because of lack of self confidence. Last year I finally started my blog after having it on hold for 6 years! My confidence last year was inspired by my weight loss and new zest for life because I had more energy and felt good about myself. Once I had started writing, it just flowed. I have written in journals all my life but finally I am writing for other people! I’m learning new skills and connecting with other people who have a passion for a healthy lifestyle.

Once I could see the possibilities open up to me, it flowed on to other aspects of my life. I’ve been a nurse for over 30 years but I’ve held myself back in my career even though I’ve studied and obtained other qualifications. Whenever a career opportunity has come up I’ve always said to myself that I can’t apply because I don’t have those skills or experience in a particular area. I’ve decided the best way to fix it is to get those skills!

Learn New Skills to Improve Your Career Prospects

This is the year I’m finally going to give myself permission to learn new skills so that I can go for those jobs. If it means stepping out of my comfort zone then so be it. By learning new skills I’ll be opening myself up to working in areas that are much more suited to my stage of life – that being someone with chronic back pain who can’t work a day without it causing severe pain, and insomnia so bad that the shift work I do is intolerable.

My older son has always had a dream to be a film editor. He got the nickname “Steven Spielburg” when he was only very young because he was always filming on our home video camera. He’s been slowly building up his portfolio of work by doing free work for his niche industry (music and tour videos for bands). His goal is to be an editor and he’s been planning to go back to University to study towards this. He said to me a couple of days ago that next year he would start applying for editing jobs and if he doesn’t get one by the end of next year he will go back to studying. I said to him, “Why not do that now? You’re ready for it. This is the year we should all decide that we’re going to go for it. If we’ve had a dream to do something for years, then this is the year we will do it. What have I got to lose? I’m 54 this year and if I don’t do it now I probably never will.”

With that I could see the light-bulb moment shine in his eyes and he said, “You know what? You’re right! What have I got to lose? I’ll bring my plans forward to this year and start applying for editing jobs”. I’m glad my influence can inspire someone else to follow their dreams.

When Your Dream Job Doesn’t Materialise – Act On Plan B

My other son finished a degree in journalism and communications a bit over a year ago. He applied for many jobs but was pretty let down by the lack of response and his dream was shattered. Mid last year he decided to look into going back to university and studying teaching. He’s had the dream of teaching since he was a child. I can remember him telling me that when he was at Primary school himself. It was always “Plan B” and something to do when his writing career was stagnating or he was settling down to married life and had a family. So he looked into university courses and decided to apply for a Masters course to become an English and history teacher- not some time in the future, but now, this year! It meant taking a few more history subjects at university last year but if he’d waited till this year it would have been one more year before he’d been able to start his Masters.

Don't Hold Back from achieving your dreams.  Shows woman holding a large egg timer
Don’t Hold Back From Achieving Your Dreams

Stop Procrastinating, What Have You Got To Lose?

So this year is going to be the year that we don’t hold back. No more procrastination or self-doubt. Just go for it and give it a go. What have we got to lose? Nothing! But if we let self-doubt hold us back, then our dreams will be on hold for another year and another. My message today is – If anything’s been holding you back, figure out why? What is it that you lack? If it’s skills or experience, then study or find a mentor. Volunteer or work freelance, or work for free to get some experience. Do a course or just learn it from books at the library or Youtube videos or online courses. Whatever it is, don’t hold yourself back. What have you got to lose?

Shared at the following Link-up: https://www.denysewhelan.com.au/denyse-blogs/kindness-in-covid19-times-24-51-lifethisweek-48-2020/

Update to Post 23 September 2020

Eight months ago, when I wrote this post, the world was a different place. That was pre-Covid-19. For myself and my family, we have been through perhaps one of the most challenging periods we’ve ever had to deal with. A month after I wrote this I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene mutation. You can read about it in this post. I’ve had five surgeries this year and have been unable to work for the majority of 2020.

My sons have moved out of home. My younger son did return to university, to start his Masters in Communication. He just landed his first job in the field so won’t be studying teaching now. My older son has moved to Brisbane, and was transferred to another branch of his company. He is yet to return to studying.

Even though our plans for the year were shattered, we feel lucky that we haven’t been affected personally by Covid-19. My health has been challenged but I haven’t contracted the disease. Our family is well, even though I can’t see my brothers and nephew who live over the border.

There’s still time to realise those dreams, they’re on hold for now. My message is still the same – if you have a dream, work towards it. Covid-19 may have messed up our plans but we can still dream of a better world.

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My Top Posts of 2019

My healthy lifestyle blog has been my biggest achievement this year (apart from losing 17kg!). I’ve really enjoyed writing about a topic that I’m passionate about. The hardest part is the self promotion which goes against my introverted nature but it’s vital to gain followers if I want people to read my articles. I would like to share my top posts 2019 with my readers.

MY TOP 9 POSTS of 2019


In order, they were:
1 How to make goals that will stick,
2 Why your waist measurement matters,
3 My Weight-loss Journey,
4 Slow and Steady wins the race,
5 13+ ways to get more colour in your diet,
6 Gifts that Inspire a Healthy Lifestyle,
7 How to keep on track with your health goals during the holiday season,
8 Just change one habit at a time and
9 Losing weight is a marathon not a sprint.

Read them now to gain some inspiration! Live your healthiest year in 2020.


Thanks to everyone who has read, followed, liked and shared my posts across WordPress, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter! I really appreciate your support and all the comments, likes and shares. It keeps me motivated to write more. Please let me know what your favourite article was.

A collage of the top posts of 2019 on the Midlifestylist blog.
The top posts on Midlifestylist.com for 2019
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