She felt like a total fraud. Waiting in the emergency department on a busy Saturday afternoon, Amy Kinnane had a weird story to tell the doctor - all she had was a slight bump on her chest and a feeling she was being a hypochondriac.
‘I’d had the strangest reaction to a few sips of beer,’ the 37- year-old mum tells New Idea. ‘I got this deep, throbbing pain all through my arms, chest and back. I could hardly breathe and, at one point, I thought I was having a heart attack.’ As Amy held her chest in agony, she also noticed a lump just below her collarbone.
‘I wasn’t sure if it had been there for ages or I’d pulled something,’ she says.
Within the hour, her husband Anthony had taken her to hospital but, embarrassingly, by the time they arrived Amy says the pain had gone.
‘I felt so silly,’ she remembers. ‘I was breastfeeding my eight- week-old, so I felt a bit awkward even admitting to half a glass of beer and I didn’t think they’d take me very seriously.’
Incredibly, the triage doctor went above and beyond what most overworked medics would do, and his shocking findings went on to save Amy’s life.
‘He said he’d done some Google research and there were a couple of cases in the UK where a reaction to alcohol had been due to cancer,’ she says.
‘He told me there was a one- in-four-million chance that was my problem, but he wanted to check it with a CT scan.’
With baby Indi in her arms and her husband beside her, the wait for the results was terrifying.
‘I had this bad feeling,’ Amy says. ‘I told Anthony to prepare himself. I really felt like this was it.’
But of course, having 10 minutes to prepare for the worst news of your life was never going to be enough and, when it came, Amy and Anthony were like rabbits caught in headlights.
‘He said I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma – the cancer had consumed my chest, breastbone, collarbones, heart sack and some of my lung. It had also entered my bone marrow,’ Amy explains. ‘I asked if I was going to die, but he couldn’t look at me and a nurse started crying. I think at that point, I only had months left.’
On holiday on the Sunshine Coast with her parents, daughter Indi and two-year-old son Kai, Amy was instructed to leave immediately and go to Brisbane hospital, where she needed to start treatment.
‘There wasn’t even time to go back to the apartment,’ she says.
‘I called Mum and it was the hardest conversation of my life. I had to leave Kai with her and Dad, while Anthony, Indi and I raced home.’
Stopping briefly at her house, Amy desperately wanted to feel a sense of normality after the life-altering news she’d just had.
‘But suddenly, everything looked different,’ she says. ‘I was in no doubt that I was going to die and Anthony and I lay on our bed and we just sobbed.’
At 2.30am on December 4, 2016, Amy was admitted to Brisbane hospital, where she stayed for the first of her fortnightly chemo treatments.
She missed her son, she had to wean her breastfeeding daughter in a day, and while everyone else was celebrating Christmas, Amy’s hair was falling out in handfuls. But doctors were hopeful chemo would work – until two months in, when Amy developed a cough.
‘I needed a chest X-ray, as it meant the cancer might have spread,’ Amy says. ‘Waiting for the results I was again convinced it was my death sentence, and then I got the call. The doctor said the cancer was gone. I was in remission. Oh my God! Suddenly, I could breathe again. I had hope. I had a life. It was the most amazing moment.’
She still needed to complete the six-month course of treatment, and despite the initial feeling of elation doubt continued to haunt her.
‘I worried it would come back. I couldn’t plan for the future because I knew it still might not include me. It was almost a more challenging time than diagnosis,’ she says.
A year on, Amy started seeing her experience as a blessing.
‘I have this secret others don’t have,’ she says. ‘I look at life differently now – cancer could come back or I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, and knowing that I live life to the fullest.’
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!