Toni Essen has just hit her 50s. She currently lives in Hobart through Housing Choices Australia, where she has been living for close to 12 months.
It is a well-used cliché but cancer doesn’t discriminate. There would be very few people reading this profile whose lives haven’t been impacted in some way by one of the 20th century’s most perplexing and deadliest illnesses.
When HousingWORKS caught up with Toni Essen from Hobart, we found her in the middle of her latest round of energy sapping, mentally taxing and emotionally demanding chemotherapy in a bid to thwart stage four lung cancer.
“I tell you, at the moment I feel like I’m on hyperdrive today,” Toni says. “I mean, I’m tired but, I’m on so many steroids and antibiotics and puffers, my head’s buzzing. I’ve got dishes I want to wash, I’ve got food I want to cook – doing everything – but I’m so tired. It’s just one of those days I’ve got to stop and breathe and take it one step at a time.”
Toni’s battle with cancer officially dates back to Father’s Day of 2016 but she suspects, like the case with so many other patients just like her, the rot – for lack of a better word – may have set in long before science was able to identify it.
“It was the morning of Father’s Day,” explains Toni. “September fourth. I stood up to go to the toilet and I had no feeling from the waist down and I ended up on the floor. It took the ambos two and a half hours to get me off the floor onto the bed. So that’s how it started.”
Sadly, the diagnosis confirmed Toni’s suspicions that ‘something’ wasn’t right: “For months, I’d been saying to my doctor there was something wrong because my knees would just buckle and I’d fall over. I had a whooshing sensation in my legs and I was told, ‘You’re working all right, don’t be silly. You’re okay, there’s nothing wrong with you’.”
But, after requesting x-rays, the diagnosis was exactly what she was hoping not to discover – four lung cancers had metastasised and two had gone through to Toni’s spine. “And that’s why I’m in the wheelchair now,” she says in equal parts resignation and irritation.
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