17 April 2019
Loxton resident Keran Villis was just 43 when she was diagnosed with aggressive Stage 4 bone cancer. Now a Cancer Council SA Ambassador, she considers herself one of the lucky ones to be able to share her experience and inspire others to support a service that helped her.
Keran first noticed something was wrong when she felt a dull ache in her sitting bone. Just a few months later, it had escalated into an intense pain.
At her first x-ray, doctors could see that there was a large mass growing near her hip. They told her that the worst case scenario could be osteosarcoma—but that meant bone cancer, and was highly unlikely.
“When I went under the knife, they found a piece of rotting flesh the size of a man’s fist. The actual tumour was the size of a golf ball wrapped around my sciatic nerve.”
Only then did the results come in: aggressive osteosarcoma.
“I was given four or five years with treatment. Without, it would be terminal.”
Keran underwent five months of chemotherapy before she was to have her hip replacement surgery that would remove the rest of the tumour.
But mid-way through, surgeons decided it was too dangerous to continue.
That’s when the next blow came. They were going to have to amputate Keran’s leg.
“That moment was devastating. It hit home when I asked him, ‘How long do I have now?’ ‘....Terminal’, he said. I burst in to tears. All I could think of was my kids and that I had to survive. I couldn’t leave them yet—how would they cope on their own?”
The night after the surgery, Keran woke from a nightmare.
“Alarms were going off, my heart was beating so hard it hurt and I couldn’t breathe. Medics were everywhere. The fear of dying alone was overwhelming. I didn’t want to be alone that night. A nurse ended up sitting next to me for quite a while. I spent few days in ICU and they were really painful—it felt like boiling water was being poured over the leg that was no longer there.”
Every time Keran tried physiotherapy, the phantom pain was excruciating. Amazingly, she was able to keep going, and learned to walk again in just three weeks.
Two months later, Keran agreed to trial a new six-month protocol: five different types of chemotherapy at the highest concentration. It meant that the two weeks on was intense, but that she had three weeks off in between to go home and be with family. This was a stark contrast to the previous routine of three weeks in hospital and one week home, like the first five months of her treatment.
But money was tight, and it cost a lot to travel back and forth.
Luckily for Keran, a Cancer Council Social Worker came to visit while she was in hospital, and introduced her to the Financial Assistance Grant program.
“Upon hearing how my teenaged kids were in school and apprenticeships, and that I was struggling to pay bills, groceries and fuel so my 17-year-old son could drive the six-hour round trip to take me to and from hospital, she suggested that Cancer Council could assist financially.”
“I’m so grateful to Cancer Council SA for paying for my quarterly bills at that time. Money was tight, and it meant that I could afford to travel home to be with my family.”
“I looked forward to every visit—I was like a little child. It meant everything to me to be able to get home to my kids; they were my life. And importantly, it gave all of us a sense of normalcy.
It meant I could help my daughter with driving lessons, support the kids through any school and apprenticeship hiccups. It gave me a feeling of still being needed.
It also gave me the courage to make goals, short and long term. I planned out milestone birthdays, proms and sporting events. For each goal I reached, I felt stronger. Everyone who visited made me never give up hope.”
Thankfully, after six months of this high-dose chemotherapy treatment, Keran’s condition has vastly improved. She’s now on six-monthly check-ups—stable, with no tumours.
“I’m one of the lucky ones to be here, after being told I only had five years. That’s why I’m choosing to share my story as an Ambassador, and helping to raise money for the service that helped me when I really needed it.”