It’s been three years since Sydney journalist Elle Halliwell’s life was turned upside down after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. Two days after receiving the devastating news, Halliwell, now 33, found out she was four weeks pregnant, and had to decide whether she would go ahead with the pregnancy, potentially risking her own health, and that of her unborn child.
“Yeah, that was a rough week,” says Elle, with trademark candour. “I felt really robbed. Because in your mind you have this idea of this perfect announcement, and everyone giving you hugs.
“I still got hugs, but they were the, ‘I’m so sorry’ kind. And seeing the look of pity on people’s faces when we told them the news, that was quite devastating.”
It was an understandably tough time. But Halliwell, who recently wrote ‘A Mother’s Choice’, about her experiences, says there was an unexpected upside to receiving her awful cancer diagnosis.
“It was a really hard thing to do [coming to terms with the diagnosis AND the pregnancy],” she tells Raw Talk. “But at the same time, after I told people about my illness, my close friends and family, I was kind of put into a bubble.”
Halliwell says that she was cocooned by family and friends, all determined to help block out the background noise to help her focus on her health and well-being - her anxiety all but disappeared.
“It was great, because I didn’t have to worry about anything outside of keeping myself and my baby healthy,” she says.
“I had my husband taking care of bills, and my amazing co-workers [at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper] holding the fort with the job, and saying, ‘Don’t worry about that.’ So I really didn’t have to worry about anything.”
Halliwell says having worked so hard for so long, she suffered from chronic anxiety.
“Once that was taken away, and I didn’t have to worry about any of those elements, I felt so free. And free of anxiety as well,” she explains.
“It was manageable - surprisingly more manageable than if I had found out I was pregnant and still had all that drama that was going on in my life, generally.”
She says her anxiety all but disappeared in the months following the diagnosis, “Which was weird,” she adds. “And while I was still so scared - and there was a lot of worry - there wasn’t that chest-tightening stress and anxiety, which I think was really beneficial for my health at that time.”
Halliwell says she got through the testing time with the help of her friends, close family, and husband, Nick Biasotto, 38.
Seven months after that devastating week, the couple welcomed their first child, a beautiful, healthy boy called Tor (who was induced a month early after Halliwell’s cancer levels increased).
In December last year, Halliwell officially found out her cancer was now undetectable.
She says writing her book has gone a ways to helping her come to terms with her experience - helping her reflect on how fortunate she is to have such great support around her.
“It was very cathartic for me - and well overdue,” she says of the mental unburdening of writing. “There were a lot of tears shed on that keyboard.”
Listen to the entire Raw Talks conversation between Elle Halliwell and Keshnee Kemp on Raw Talks below.