Fresh-faced and rarely seen without a smile, it's hard to comprehend what a rollercoaster ride the last 12 months have been for Sydney-based media personality, fashion journalist and young mum, Elle Halliwell.
Last May, Elle found out she and her husband, Nick Biasotto, were expecting their first child. It should have been a moment of pure happiness - but at the time it was just another blow in what was shaping up to be the worst week in the couple's life. You see, just 48 hours earlier, Elle had been diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML), a rare and at this stage incurable blood cancer. "I had so many balls in the air, and that week I just remember that every single ball fell to the ground in one go," recalls Elle.
Pregnant and faced with her own mortality and that of the little life growing inside her, Elle and Nick had to make another heart-wrenching decision - terminate the pregnancy and start Elle's treatment immediately as advised by doctors, or put off the treatment and go through with the pregnancy. "It was scary", says Elle. "But I think one of the biggest factors that cemented my decision [to go through with the pregnancy] is knowing that the cancer I had wasn’t hereditary. If there was a guarantee that he was going to get what I had, I probably would have considered termination because I couldn’t think of putting another living thing through that. I'm amazed I could grow something when my body was so sick, but it just proves the incredible resilience of the human body."
In fact, "resilience" is a common theme in Elle's truly inspiring story. In a situation where perhaps it would have been easier to retreat from the public eye (and understandably so!), Elle has instead chosen to use her situation to raise awareness for CML. She explains, "I think working in the media you realise the impact that someone’s story can have on other people, and I feel almost obligated to raise awareness for an illness that has been almost forgotten in terms of general cancer publicity. I thought if I am in a position to explain to people what it is and tell people that research into rare cancers is so important then I have an obligation to do that. I just feel like that this hardship I am going through, there has to be a reason for it."
We recently caught up with Elle to chat about life one year on from her diagnosis, being a mum to now five-month-old Tor, and how this life-changing experience has given her new perspective and purpose.
Since our chat, Elle has released her memoir called A Mother's Choice, detailing all the things she had to confront taking on motherhood with cancer. You can order it here.
How did it feel to celebrate Mother’s Day this year? Is Tor keeping you on your toes?
He is! He’s such a sweet little kid. He’s beautiful and everyday he wakes up and does something new and it just fills me with joy and awe. I felt like such a long wait to have my baby, so this Mother’s Day was really special for any mother celebrating their first, but for me it was also a relief - we got to this point.
Last Mother’s Day was certainly a very different situation to the one I experienced this time. That one was full of worry and anxiety and trepidation, but this one was full of excitement and wonder.