Selena Dewar’s serenity in the face of serious health issues is both extraordinary and inspiring. Despite having to face lupus, shingles and three different lymphoma diagnoses, the Auckland mother-of-one remains the picture of forward looking positivity.
“My approach has always been to just carry on with life as best you can. I don’t look back very often. I feel things have played out well.”
What most people would consider mind-blowing courage is to Selena just a pragmatic approach to getting on with life.
“I was diagnosed with lupus when I was about seventeen so I got used to living with an auto-immune disease and its symptoms including arthritis, hair-loss and just general pain and fatigue.”
Selena says it was that experience that helped her deal with her first lymphoma diagnosis thirteen years later.
“I was used to attending appointments, receiving hard news and dealing with pain and tests. I think for me it probably wasn’t as much of a shock as it might be for some others. I felt I rolled with it pretty well actually.”
Selena says it was almost harder dealing with an inexact diagnosis than with the fact she had a blood cancer.
“They knew it was a type of lymphoma, but they weren’t able to work out exactly what type, so I was treated with immune suppressant drugs. The lump reduced andwe just crossed our fingers and carried on.”
Three years later, Selena received her second lymphoma diagnosis.
A biopsy revealed it was marginal zone non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Selena says that while it was a relief to get an exact diagnosis, the fact that she was thirty three years-old and would have to undergo chemotherapy meant she had to seriously consider whether she wanted children.
“It was strange being forced into a position where I really had to think about it and make a decision. I’d only been with my new partner for three years and suddenly we had to work out if we were going to have children.”
“It felt a little unfair to be pushed into making these decisions outside of the natural course of growing up. Fortunately we were in a position where it was fine to make that decision but I can imagine that it must be extremely difficult for some people.”
Selena decided to undergo IVF to have eggs extracted before beginning her chemotherapy. After six rounds of treatment the tumour came back and she was advised to begin radiation therapy.
“It was a really scary moment when they told me the chemotherapy hadn’t worked and we had to try radiation. There was that panic moment when I thought what if that doesn’t work, what’s next? For the first time the fear started to creep in.”
Fortunately, the radiation treatment did work and three months later Selena and her partner decided they’d try for a family.
“My partner and I had an agreement that we’d give it three months to get pregnant naturally before using IVF. But I got pregnant straight away. It was lovely. I had a great pregnancy and labour with no problems.”
Selena describes her son Fox as a “dream child”.
“He’s a cool kid. Relaxed and calm. He’s barely had a cold, sleeps through the night and is really healthy.”
But Selena’s own health was still an issue and a year ago she received the news of her third lymphoma re-occurrence.
“It was much harder this time because I had a small child whereas before it was just me. You start to wonder what will happen if I don’t make it through. I was forced to think about my own mortality.”
Because of these concerns Selena decided to go straight on to the stronger of the chemotherapy treatments available. And her body responded.
“I had my last treatment in December. I’m looking at maintenance treatment because it seems to keep coming back. The thing that is new is that the treatment isn’t funded so that’s a new challenge.”
But if ever there was someone who was going to conquer a new challenge, it would surely be Selena.
“You can’t stop life. There will always be difficulties. You just have to take them on and make them a part of your life.”
“Sometimes it is difficult to not see things that are thrown at you as unfair. But if you’re able to look at them as just a new part of your life, then there’s no reason why they should stop you living life.”