Newly pregnant with her first child, Elle Halliwell faced an impossible choice: save her own life or that of her baby. In the space of 48 hours, the popular Australian fashion journalist had received both the worst and best news imaginable … she had Leukaemia AND was expecting her first child. Elle bravely chose to delay her cancer treatment to give her unborn baby a chance at life. Now two years on, she has her hands full with a busy toddler and has penned her journey in her book, A Mother’s Choice. The Delivery speaks to Elle about life since that heartbreaking diagnosis … and the woman it has made her today.
Your book is very powerful, what message do you hope women and families take from it?
I want women to know they significantly underestimate their own strength. It’s there, and I hope that knowledge will help prepare for any adversity and tragedy that might lay ahead. I also want to them to know the importance of being kind, grateful and giving.
How do you reflect on the past two years?
Writing the book was tough emotionally because the whole ordeal was still so fresh. But it was a great way to release all those pent up emotions; it was very cathartic.
How are you managing the cancer now and deal with the side effects that come with treatment?
The side effects are mainly fatigue and bone pain now. My skin, which developed rashes at first, has normalised and I’m tolerating the drugs (a tyrosine kinase inhibitor/oral chemo therapy) which is great. I’m hoping the next test will come back showing the cancer is undetectable, but unless a miracle occurs or the medicine develops a new treatment I will always have the abnormal Philadelphia chromosome which produces the cancer cells. Im grateful I can get up every morning and raise a small child despite my treatment, so I have to keep it in perspective when I’m having rough days. I’m lucky to be alive, and don’t want to take this for granted.
“I’m much more aligned to my personal values now…I know who I am, what I want, what’s important and why I’m here. I feel sorry for the girl I used to be, in a way, but I’m glad the universe gave her such a dramatic wake-up call.”
How has this experience changed your relationship with your body and outlook on life?
I really took my health and body for granted. I thought having a few vegetables for dinner was being healthy but now I know it’s not just about diet. You need a healthy mind and spirit, too. Whereas before I would obsess over my physical flaws, now I’m completely in awe of our bodies’ resilience and functionality, even more so since I began studying anatomy and physiology. Our bodies are miraculous, and I feel a bit guilty about the terrible things I subjected it to as a stressed out twenty something who liked a drink, the odd cigarette and a Sunday morning McDonalds run! These days I try to eat foods which I love but also nourish my body. It’s a work in progress but building a lot of little, healthy habits has really helped with that.
Can you describe the woman you were before the diagnosis & motherhood, and the woman you are now?
I’m a much more authentic person, I think. I have let down my guard a lot, and have started to wear my heart on my sleeve again, something I tried so hard to avoid when I was trying to fit in in the cutthroat world of print journalism. I’m much more aligned to my personal values now, which has helped give me more strength in my convictions. I say ‘no’ a lot more now than I used to. People pleasing and external validation is not a priority any more; I’ve realised it’s bad for my mental and physical health and I just refuse to let that take priority over my wellbeing.I know who I am, what I want, what’s important and why I’m here. I feel sorry for the girl I used to be, in a way, but I’m glad the universe gave her such a dramatic wake-up call. She desperately needed it.
Please tell us a little about Tor…
He’s a very sweet little boy. He has the energy and social skills of his dad, but is a bit of a softie like me. It’s amazing watching him grow into a little boy. Every day he’s saying new words and discovering ways to communicate with us. He also loves rearranging our house if I turn my back for longer than two seconds.
What are your favourite things to do with him?
My girlfriend gave me a picnic blanket for my baby shower with a card that read “if all else fails, go outside”. I didn’t understand it at the time, but being outside – whether it’s at the local park, the beach or just walking the streets – has always settled Tor and put a smile on his face. Our new ritual is going to the nearby construction site to watch the ‘diggies’ and the tractors. He could watch them working for hours!
The greatest lesson motherhood has taught you?
If you had to give another new mother one golden piece of advice what would it be?
It’s hard; don’t feel like you need to do everything perfectly. Every first time Mum looks back and wishes they did something differently or knew better. Your best is enough.
What does an average day look like for you?
If I’m working, it will involve organising photo shoots, conducting interviews, and writing stories for the paper. I also do a lot of speaking events and emcee work so some days involve attending these events, and I’m also studying naturopathy and health coaching which takes up most of my nights.
“I wanted him to know my story, and where he came from, as I think that’s very important. I wish I knew more about my parents and grandparents, but how often do any of us sit down with them and ask them about their childhood?”
Do you have any rituals?
I try to have a bath a few times a week, with essential oils and Epsom salts. I also love the ritual of tea, and will have a herbal tea and chai a couple of times a day, and change up the herbs depending on how I’m feeling and what I need to feel balanced.
What’s your approach to juggling family, career and your health?
It’s a work in progress and I’m pretty sure I will never find the perfect balance. A designer friend of mine gave me great advice however, and that was to be completely present when I’m with Tor (I.e no phone and emails), and not feel guilty when I’m working as it’s not productive. It’s helped me a lot.
What will you tell Tor about your life one day?
That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. I wanted him to know my story, and where he came from, as I think that’s very important. I wish I knew more about my parents and grandparents, but how often do any of us sit down with them and ask them about their childhood? Interviewing my parents for my book was so eye opening and emotional. I think everyone would benefit from doing this; it really brought me closer to them both.
A fine balance, by Rohintan Mistry and L’arte de la simplicite by Dominique Loreau.
Ted Talk / Podcast recommendation?
The Minimalists podcast and the podcast of the late Dr Wayne W Dyer – his podcast and books got me through the toughest days following my diagnosis (he also had Leukaemia).