Discovering she was pregnant just four weeks after the diagnosis of a life-threatening cancer was a bitter sweet pill to swallow for celebrity fashion journalist, Elle Halliwell. In unchartered territory, Elle made the brave, life-threatening decision to delay the most effective form of treatment available to give her pregnancy the best chance of going full term and save the life of her unborn.
Words LISA O'ROURKE
Elle’s health is her top priority. This is apparent at the onset, when our first interview is postponed due to her low immunity and need for rest. When we finally chat, she is as warm and generous as her media profile projects. She radiates an enigmatic charm offering authentic and raw accounts of her cancer experience and the pathway to surviving her illness for the sake of her unborn baby and the ongoing management of her incurable cancer.
“I don’t have the health that I used to, and I just want to get back to ‘normal’”, Elle says, “These last two weeks I was really sick, so I can’t push.”
Suffering chronic anxiety throughout her twenties, and at the prime of her career, Elle had missed the warning signs that her health was in decline.
Suffering chronic anxiety throughout her twenties, and at the prime of her career, Elle had missed the warning signs that her health was in decline, “with it reaching a crescendo that was almost like I was being tickled with a leaf and then all of sudden the tree fell,” she recalls.
In the May of 2016, having only just informed her family of her Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (C.M.L.) diagnosis, Elle chose not to share the news of her pregnancy to give her time to research the prognosis of her baby and his chance of survival. What followed was a whirlwind few weeks consulting specialists and attempting, with no luck, to find similar cases around the world with a diagnosis so early in pregnancy.
Elle explains, “With C.M.L. there is a translocation of two chromosomes. Chromosome nine and twenty-two have broken off and switched, resulting in the production of cancer cells that can lie dormant.”
While this decision did not take long to make, Elle still feels guilt-ridden with the idea she even contemplated termination.
Elle’s passion and interest in fashion was a saviour of sorts throughout her harrowing health journey. At her first biopsy at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Elle cinched her gown to add some shape. “Fashion in its most simple terms is a way to express yourself, wearing things to make you happy,” Elle says, deciding if she was going to take on cancer, she wasn’t going to do it looking “like a dag”.
Elle’s family were a great support throughout the pregnancy with her mum particularly “stoic”. Elle later realised this was a façade for her benefit, as her mother really “wasn’t coping well with my health tragedy,” she reflects.
Healthy and beautiful, bouncing baby boy Tor was born on December 17, 2016, four weeks premature. Elle’s good health five weeks postpartum was another blessing, enabling her to delay treatment to breastfeed Tor and pump sufficient milk supplies for nourishment in his early days.
Elle says, “I pumped like a dairy cow to store milk for Tor. I completely filled up the freezer on a mission. It was exhausting but really wonderful giving him that nourishment.”
“Psychologically, this time was wonderful, allowing me to experience motherhood before having to deal with commencing the treatment.”
When he is old enough, Elle plans to tell Tor about their triumphant journey to, “normalise the illness and so that he knows having cancer is not a death sentence.
“I am living proof there are some amazing developments in cancer research,” she says.
Not certain of what her future health journey holds Elle says, “Telling Tor will probably be a good thing because if something happens, it is a good way to prepare him.”
As she continues to battle her incurable illness, Elle has struggled at times with a dissonance between the superficiality of fashion and this raw and life-threatening experience.
Elle reflects, “There is so much more to life than fashion.”
"Psychologically, this time was wonderful, allowing me to experience motherhood before having to deal with commencing the treatment."
As a means of processing and coping with this unimaginable predicament, a friend suggested Elle document her unique journey. Her journal and letters to her unborn baby scaffold her recently released book, A Mother’s Choice, which documents her journey to save her unborn child developing in her “sick body”.
Writing the book provided Elle and her loved ones with a difficult yet cathartic opportunity to work through their experiences and “offload their emotions”.
Elle still battles with the side effects of her treatment which, “aren’t fun but manageable”.
She is trying to empower herself by providing her family with the, “best shot at a healthy life” by focussing on self-care.
“Conventional medicine is so cut and dry. I want to give myself the knowledge to take my health destiny into my own hands. I really don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all for how bodies work,” reflects Elle who has just graduated as a Health Coach and is currently studying an Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy.
Elle’s health regime includes a good diet, meditation, baths, massages, steams, acupuncture and yoga to battle fatigue, low immunity, skin rashes and, when her phosphorous is low, “wacky blood”.
"Conventional medicine is so cut and dry. I want to give myself the knowledge to take my health destiny into my own hands. I really don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all for how bodies work."
While Elle feels she may have “outgrown fashion”, she has recently developed a “renewed interest and excitement” in the industry, focussing instead on ethical brands which are making a real difference in the world. Those with transparent supply chains and “celebrating themes that really benefit the world,” she says.
Elle truly is a remarkable and inspirational woman, her tenacity and strength is unwavering. She selflessly chooses life, enduring the ups and downs of her incurable illness and the side effects of her life sustaining treatment, to live her life to the fullest for Tor and her family.