WHEN doctors told Sally Kilner cancer could take away her voice, she recorded herself telling her children she loved them.
"I couldn't bear the thought that they would never hear me say that again,” she said.
Sal's an extrovert.
Someone who loves having a chat, is normally on the phone for much of a day running her family's livestock transport company, and
has a thick Scottish accent and infectious laugh that makes her easily identifiable in her small Moree community.
But a persistent cancer, which has returned for the third time and resulted in her having her tongue surgically removed, threatened to change everything.
Last week, the mother of two was left overwhelmed when Moree residents organised a charity fun day to support her family. Hundreds turned up and a substantial kitty was raised.
Her husband, Baz, will have to step away from work to help raise their two children, Lucy and Matilda, as chemo, radiation and long trips to Brisbane become, again, part of Sal's daily life.
This week, Sal opened up to the Rural Weekly, explaining her cancer battle and what the journey ahead looks like. She also shed some light on how an adventurous young Scottish woman, who used to brag that one day she would be sitting behind a "big
oak desk” on a million-dollar salary, ended up working
in the livestock industry
and loving every minute of it.
What made you decide Australia was to be your home?
My dream after graduating from uni was to take a gap year backpacking the world before settling into a real job.
Australia was my main destination and I loved the fact that there was so much of it to explore.
Are your friends and
family amazed you have made a living trucking Aussie cattle?
Absolutely! Considering I had always imagined, and vocalised, that I would be working behind a big oak desk with a team of people earning a million a year. And now, instead of the city and shiny wooden desks, I have the red dust, old half broken down cattle yards and the working dogs greeting me with a lick or a jump.
When did you receive your cancer diagnosis?
I received my first diagnosis whilst on holidays in Byron Bay in September 2014, then, had an operation to remove part of my tongue, 26 lymph nodes in my neck and had six weeks of radiation.
Then, just shy of two years in recovery the cancer returned and I had more of my tongue cut out and a reconstruction done using a piece of my forearm, I managed to be cancer free for about nine months when it appeared again, this time the rest of my remaining tongue was removed and my thigh was used as part of reconstruction.
So I now have arm and leg as my tongue.
What it's like to receive that sort of diagnosis? What runs through your mind?
It's devastating - especially considering I lost my mum at the age of 19 to breast cancer. With two young children (five and seven during the first diagnosis) I was petrified of not being able to watch them grow up, and more importantly, guide them.
To wonder if my husband would be able to step up to being a mum and dad, and also the panic of if something were to happen to my husband, what would happen to the children?
Death is the initial thought, then shock and then realisation it's not a nightmare, it's bloody real and it's happening to me.
So, I thought, better grab the bull by the horns and give it all I have got.
Where is your treatment at now?
I have just had my tongue removed and a "flap” inserted using a piece of subcutaneous tissue from my upper thigh (my scar runs from my knee to my hip).
I have my tracheotomy out now and am doing tongue exercises every hour to try and strengthen the piece of muscle in my mouth to allow me to swallow liquid and try to speak.
I start chemo and radiation treatment next week, which I have been told will knock me around severely.
What it's like to be told you may lose your voice?
When I was told this I obviously got very upset. I recorded myself telling my children and husband that I loved them because I couldn't bear the thought that they would never hear me say that again.
Every night before the op I would look the kids in the face and told them to watch me tell them I loved them because they may never hear those words come out my mouth again, and we giggled because I would make a few moans, and said "well, that might be the new I love you”.
From being quite an extrovert and social person who enjoys other people's company, to thinking I would be sitting silently in the corner depressed me big time.
Do you feel there needs to be more awareness raised about the type of cancer you have faced?
I do, once at the head and neck clinic where you undergo all the meetings with specialists and learn about treatments etcetera, you realise how many people suffer from this, and it's frightening. My own diagnosis was missed on four occasions, I was brushed off with antibiotics four times until I sought a different opinion from a dentist friend of mine, he referred me immediately to a guy in Brisbane the very next day, and its history from there.
I am angry that my pain and symptoms were not listened to and sometimes wonder if I would be in the same predicament now. However, I am here now and we can't change history, so I will just keep fighting.
The Moree community rallied behind you last Saturday - what does that feel like?
Very overwhelming, humbling, confronting... but once you get over that you realise it reflects the love
the community has for one of its members, and that is great.
The fundraising Facebook page is called "Live Life Like Sal” - how would you say you live your life?
I have always said "work like you don't need the money, love like you've never been hurt and dance like nobody is watching”. I would say that sums me up.
Pass on a smile, it's a beautiful gift to a stranger.
Search Live Life Like Sal on Facebook to find out how you can Sally's family.
Moree family fun day
THE Moree Rugby Club became a wonderland for young and old when residents rallied for a good cause, and had a great day out to boot.
Last Saturday's Live Life Like Sal Family Fun Day, which started at 3pm, raised vital funds for the Kilner family while also providing plenty of fun and socialising for the townsfolk.
Kids enjoyed jumping castles and face painting, while adults had a treat of tasty food, a bar and entrainment from local singing duo, sisters Jac Lillyman and Stevie Jean.
To keep up to date with the fundraiser, search "Live Life Like Sal” on Facebook.