Making Memories

2016 was shaping up to be a good year for the Iannas. Baxton had settled into preschool, London arrived in April and was proving to be a joy to the family and Trevor was cruising along happily in life with his gorgeous family. Just before London was 6 months old, Rowena went to the doctor with a lump under her arm. As she was still breast feeding, the doctor wasn’t overly concerned. He sent Rowena for an ultrasound thinking it was an infected gland. At the follow up appointment Rowena’s world shifted on its axis.

The lump was cancer and there was more than one. There were 2 tumours under her left arm and another 2 in her left breast. Her world started spinning faster.

Rowena started a particularly potent round of chemotherapy in early November. By the middle of November, she was in hospital with an infection. She did manage to get out of hospital for a few hours for Baxton’s 4th birthday party – but she had to wear a mask and had already lost her hair.

The second type of chemo started in February. It didn’t make Rowena sick, so much as sapped her energy. With a preschooler and a baby to look after life was challenging so Rowena’s mum became a long term visitor to the Ianna house as she lived five hours away and was not able to just ‘pop over’ when needed.

In May, Rowena had surgery to remove the tumours and reconstruct her breasts. As she was unable to lift things for 6 weeks after surgery, Rowena’s mum took both children to Singleton to look after them in her home. This was tough on all concerned.

The next stop was radiation. As it turns out the treatment that Rowena needed was not available in Canberra, but was available in Newcastle. So Rowena also packed up and went to stay with her mum in Singleton, travelling 150km round trip each day for 6 weeks to Newcastle for treatment.

After the family settled back in Canberra, it seemed that the final part of the journey was to begin, Rowena was to begin a different type of chemo that would destroy any remaining cancer cells-just to make sure. Unfortunately this was not a smooth journey either. Rowena developed a heart condition. Rowena did her best to manage it and finally, after 18 months off, she went back to work in September of 2017. Life was manageable, but as with most things that have happened in this story, Rowena’s world was to shift once again.

Her heart condition was taking its toll and in November Rowena was ordered to bed rest. As December approached, she was determined that Baxton’s birthday this year would be a more joyous occasion and she started planning a party. On 2 December, the family enjoyed a super fun birthday party for Baxton with his preschool friends.

On Thursday 7 December, the day before Baxton’s 5th birthday, Rowena was rushed to hospital with a suspected stroke. It wasn't a stroke. Test results delivered the horrifying news of a brain tumour.

In addition to the news, Rowena was crushed that she was not allowed out of hospital to wake up at home with Baxton on the morning of his birthday.

On Wednesday 13 December, Rowena had a PET scan to check her whole body for cancer. Fortunately, the scan came back that there is no visible signs of cancer below her neck. This was the best possible outcome for that scan. Unfortunately she had a seizure whilst getting onto the scanning bed, but that is a side effect of the tumour in her brain.

Surgery was Thursday 15 December. The whole ordeal took a little longer than expected as she had to have an emergency CT in recovery as they were worried about swelling, but this turned out to be ‘ok.’ Surgery went well and they believe they got everything out that they needed to.

In the couple of days post surgery, Rowena’s speech was quite sloppy and she had very limited use of her left hand (bear in mind she is left-handed). She was determined to push herself to recover and would use her left hand to do tasks like eating (luckily she has a sense of humour because getting that spoon to her mouth was a pretty sloppy process at times!) even though she can use her right hand.

Over the next few months, there was Radiation, a chemo trial, many scans and in June (two weeks before the school holidays), she went back to work, 4 days a week! In the holidays she had the luxury of sleep-but she fitted that around organising her new classroom and MORE tests. The tests brought great news...CANCER FREE!

As the new term got underway, she threw herself back into work. She was exhausted and started to get a sore shoulder. She went to physio, and the Dr and was trying to deal with potentially something pulled or strained along with the lasting effects of previous surgeries.

When the October school holidays rolled around, Nanny and Poppy had the kids for a holiday so that Rowena could catch up on sleep, have routine medical appointments and celebrate her tenth wedding anniversary with Trevor.

Some of the tests needed clarification, so there were more tests. The new term started and the follow up appointments continued.

Tuesday 23 October she got the result of a PET scan she had on the previous Friday to look at some inflamed lymph nodes in her inner chest. The oncologist wasn’t overly concerned and just wanted to see if anything could explain the hideous shoulder pain she'd been having. Turns out there’s a reason for the shoulder pain. There’s a tumour in the muscle under her shoulder blade. It also turns out the inflamed lymph nodes that may have gone up with a recent cough are cancerous too as is a lymph node in her axilla - lymph node from breast on the other side.

They are inoperable, there are too many to radiate and location too dangerous, she has exhausted almost all chemo options and what's left is weak and won’t kill this sucker.

She was told she has ‘months, not years to live’ and to resign from work and spend time with her own kids and not other people’s.

She now has to try to fit into a few months, the things she thought she had a lifetime to do with her kids. Trying to create and address a bucket list with limited time and resources is hard. Making memories to last a lifetime for 2 kids is hard. Finding the funds to do this is hard. Losing a friend/relative/sister/daughter/wife/mother is hard.

Most of their friends and family want to help, but many don’t know how to assist. The help with meals, childcare, home help etc. are greatly appreciated, but the financial well is getting pretty dry. If you were thinking about giving flowers or chocolates, maybe you could contribute that amount to this fund to help with general household expenses or to ticking some things of Rowena's bucket list. Or if you just want to help out a family in need, please do.
  • Emily McKenzie-Kay 
    • $100 
    • 31 mos
  • Alison Gray 
    • $100 
    • 31 mos
  • Kristy Gay 
    • $300 
    • 31 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 33 mos
  • Giang Malcher 
    • $100 
    • 33 mos
See all


Felicity Flis Ainsworth 
Kambah ACT
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