Life has dealt Charmain Walker-Caunt bigger blows than most.
In 2011 she began experiencing bouts of uncontrollable vomiting, losing 20kg in one nine-day period.
Finally, four years and 20 doctors later, she was diagnosed with a rare condition, gastroparesis.
‘My stomach, from the oesophagus to the bowel, was paralysed,’ says the 36-year-old from Wollongong. ‘Food just sat in my stomach, rotting. That’s why I vomited.’
To stop her starving to death she had a nasal-gastric tube inserted that pumped a special nutrient-rich paste into her stomach.
‘There were days when I just craved a hamburger,’ Charmain tells New Idea.
‘But if I ate even a piece of toast I’d pay for it by vomiting continuously for the next week.’
Husband Brendan became her carer, fitting in whatever work he could get to pay for Charmain’s medication.
In 2016, after selling everything she owned to pay medical expenses, Charmain went public about her grim condition and made headlines around the world.
She campaigned for gastroparesis medication to be put on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in NSW, as it was in other states.
She started counselling other sufferers on-line too.
Now, she’s been hit with yet another crushing blow.
‘I discovered a large lump in my left breast,’ she says. ‘It was aggressive stage three breast cancer.
‘I was devastated and had a bit of a breakdown for a few weeks. I couldn’t believe how I could be so unlucky.’
She started chemotherapy but had to stop after five sessions.
‘My body had been so ravaged by gastroparesis I was too weak to take any more chemo,’ she says.
Doctors removed one tumour in Charmain’s breast but have found another.
She’s currently undergoing more tests and will soon start radiation.
The long-term prognosis is still uncertain.
‘I’ve got the fight of my life on my hands,’ she says. ‘But if there’s one thing gastroparesis has taught me over the years it’s how to fight. I didn’t give up then and I’m not giving up now either.’