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Dr Cat’s News Update April 2022

Hola from Mexico, where I’m in the last few hours of my time away. I’ve been attempting to give my body the best chance to adjust to Tamoxifen, the estrogen-blocking medication I’m supposed to take for the next five years to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back. 

I’ve been visiting my mum in the beach town of Zipolite, on the Southwestern Coast, in the Oaxaca region. When I saw my mum for the first time a few weeks ago, it had been more than two years since I had seen her – a timeframe that included my breast cancer recurrence journey, fibroid surgery and breast reconstruction surgery. Despite almost daily video calls and a fabulous support team of friends looking after me, it had been really tough for Mum not being able to come visit me in NZ and support me through my surgical journey, so when I walked up the hill towards her after stepping from the taxi, we both burst into tears! 

When I took Tamoxifen with my first breast cancer journey in 2020, I experienced extreme fatigue, brain fog, loss of joy, and – after taking it for just two months – rage. None of these emotions fit with my usual bubbly, positive ‘energiser bunny’ personality, and I really struggled, despite reducing my working hours.  

I want to be clear that a lot of people tolerate Tamoxifen well – our CEO, Dee, took it for 10 years – and it is a well-proven medicine with a long history of being the key medication used to prevent hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer from coming back. Some people really struggle with it though, and for some reason it seems to affect me especially badly. 

The sunsets in Zipolite are so stunning and relaxing.
There are amazing eateries along the beach.

Knowing how valuable it is as a preventive medication with the type of cancer I had – especially as I experienced a cancer recurrence after stopping Tamoxifen – I wanted to give myself the absolute best chance of tolerating it so I could take it for the recommended five years. I had been told that the first six months are usually the hardest, so I decided to take 6-12 months off work after my mastectomy and reconstruction on 15 November. I’m fortunate to have good health insurance to support me in the process. Recovery from the surgery is two to three months, and so I started Tamoxifen again on the 15th February, exactly three months after my surgery, to give myself the maximum chance of healing and recovery.  

I popped into work for just a few hours to do some training for our injecting team, and realised the only way I would be able give myself the proper time and space to adjust was to go overseas. To really give myself the best chance of adjusting, I decided to fly to where my mum was staying in Zipolite – which is a super chill hippie-style community, and also happens to be the only public nudist beach in Mexico – and have my mum look after me. 

I arrived in Zipolite in early March and was already starting to experience the effects of Tamoxifen. Mum started to get worried about me as I withdrew, unable to speak or communicate effectively, as I just felt sad and numb. For the first couple of weeks I was bursting into tears for no reason, and barely came out of my room, except for the occasional kundalini yoga class (kundalini at Golden Yogi in Takapuna was a huge part of helping me with my energy the last time I took Tamoxifen), and the nightly walk along the beach to watch the sunset with Mum and David.  

When I got so down that I started having suicidal thoughts, it was a real wakeup call and I realised I needed to contact my oncologist. She immediately told me to stop taking it. I had lasted a month on Tamoxifen, despite giving myself the best possible chance of adjusting this time. Again, my mood started getting better within a week of stopping Tamoxifen – I no longer felt sad, numb and suicidal – but my energy and brain focus are still only slowly coming back. Despite doing very little, I tend to hit the wall at about 8.30-9pm most nights, and if I push myself too hard, I hit the wall earlier. I’m catching up with my oncologist soon (in New Zealand soon) to discuss the best path forward post-Tamoxifen.

As I’m reaching the end of my time here, I’m only just starting to be able to enjoy being on a beach in Mexico. I’ve been getting up to catch the sunrise and meditate on the beach, occasionally doing gentle yoga or dance when my body feels up to it. It’s a very simple life here, with friendly people and incredible food. Mum and my stepdad David are amazing cooks and passionate foodies, and the fresh Mexican food here is exceptional.  

Fish tacos on the beach – it doesn’t get much better!
I love the freshness and flavours of Mexican food.

In the last week or so we have visited the Turtle Sanctuary in the neighbouring town of Mazunte, along with the crocodile eco-tourismo just a little further out in Ventanillo Lagoon. My Spanish is slowly improving, although still really limited as my brain tried to wake up again, and life feels a lot better than it did in the first few weeks here. 

I was given a baby turtle to release into the water during one of the turtle releases (usually they give them to kids to release), and one night I had a wonderful time chasing giant soap bubbles down the beach with the kids, while the sun set behind them. I’ve seen sunrises and sunsets and looked up at the stars, which really helps to put life into perspective. And I’ve stopped. I’ve danced. I’ve done nothing for long periods. I’ve needed to the time to process and to heal. Just now as I write, I realise it’s been absolutely perfect. 

Sea turtles are magnificent and I got to release a baby one back into the ocean.
Visiting crocodiles at an eco-tourism sanctuary.

One of my big fears going into mastectomy and reconstruction surgery was feeling like I would lose my sexiness and femininity. It has been incredibly healing to be able to walk topless down the beach, with no left nipple and big scars on my left breast and tummy, and feel fully accepted. People here don’t even look or ask about it. I’ve been comfortable sharing my experience with those who ask, and that has also been healing for me. 

Sharing my journey on social media has been a big part of my healing process, especially as I’ve had a lot of people reach out to say that it really helped them (or their friend/sister/girlfriend/wife) while going through a similar journey. I recognise that every journey is different, but I hope that by sharing mine, I can show that it’s not always a death sentence, and that we can learn and grow from the experience in positive ways. I’ll continue to reflect over the next few months, but I really feel that this journey has given me a lot of gifts, alongside the challenges. 

I’ve been off social media for most of the time here – firstly because it’s patchy and unreliable in this part of the world, but also because I didn’t have the energy and wanted to give myself the time and space to heal. As I get back into NZ over the next week, I’ll try to share some of my experiences and photos. 

I have another surgery planned for 30 May, and as my energy and concentration are still limited, until my surgery, I’ll be using the hours that I’m allowed to work on training some of the incredible experienced doctors and nurses who have recently joined our injecting team. I’ll chat more about them in next month’s newsletter, but I’m excited about the incredible team coming together, along with Marjorie coming back from maternity leave in early May! 

I’m so grateful to our wonderful team for holding the business steady while NZ went through the Omicron outbreak, crazy wild weather, some internal turbulence within the team as some people moved into new spaces in their lives, and a few of us being away on health or maternity leave. I truly appreciate your patience and understanding as we have been adjusting and accommodating all the changes in the rules and the team. We love you and appreciate your support. I’m hoping to slowly come back with some limited injecting hours once I have recovered from my next surgery (they will create a nipple for me, add an implant to the breast to make it more even, and do some fat transfer to soften the dips and hollows, giving a more even breast). I’m hopeful that stopping Tamoxifen after a month means I will recover my energy more quickly this time. I’m excited to be able to finally get back to seeing patients, so we will keep you informed with our monthly newsletter and social media. 

Thank you again for all your love and support on this crazy journey. I hope that life is starting to become easier for you too as the restrictions start to lift and we all start to live again. 

Sending love, hope and blessings, 

Dr Cat 😻💗🙏✨ 

Dr Catherine Stone

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Takapuna Car Park

Toka Puia AT Carpark has just opened at 15 Northcroft Street and we recommend this as the closest under cover option. This is Pay by Plate and can be paid at the machine or via the AT Parking app - it's $1.50 per hour.

We also suggest parking on Northcroft Street or Anzac Street using AT Pay & Display.

Anzac Street Carpark offers Pay & Display parking as well as monthly parking leases with casual parking from $1.

Street Parking (Northcroft Street)

First 2 hours – $1 per hour
Hours thereafter – $2 per hour

Monday – Saturday 6pm – 8am No Charge
Sunday and Public Holidays- No Charge
Motorcycle and Mobility parking P180 – No Charge

Britomart Car Park

Currently this car park is offering 2 hours' free parking with a receipt of $50 or more from a Britomart store (such as The Face Place). We also recommend using the valet parking option at Britomart Car Park.

The Central Valet drop-off point is located on the corner of Gore and Tyler Streets, opposite Takutai Square. Drive in via the entrance on Gore Street, where you’ll be greeted by a friendly valet concierge. Just leave your engine running, take your ticket and off you go. Cars dropped here will be valet parked for you at Britomart Car Park. You can retrieve your car at any time by taking your valet ticket to Britomart Car Park Reception on the corner of Britomart Place and Scene Lane.

Valet parking is $20* for two hours (includes parking charges) $5 each additional half-hour to a daily maximum of $45 (to midnight). You just drop off your car and pick up a ticket, without the hassle of finding a parking space. It is available from 10am-8pm.

If you wish to park longer than two hours, until the end of June 2022 there is also special offer of half-price parking booked through www.mycarpark.co.nz which is available by using the special code on the landing page.

We’re also right beside Britomart Train Station and public transport is 50% off until the end of August 2022.