This is a story of courage and the power of having a positive outlook on life – no matter what it throws at you. And while the ending isn’t the one hoped and prayed for, Maxine’s family believe that by sharing her story, other women going through similar situations may gain something to help their own journey. This is a truly inspiring story.
The Pink Finss Charity would like to thank Maxine’s husband Garry and daughter Cassandra, for taking the time to share this story with us and for being so open. The depth of their loss was evident throughout our discussion, but so too was their pride in Maxine’s determination and their compassion for other families facing similar circumstances.
In early 2000, Maxine McCracken was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Fortunately, the surgery to remove the cancer and her thyroid was a success and her prognosis was extremely positive. As a 37 year old mother of 3, with the youngest just 3 at the time, Maxine was obviously very relieved. She was ready to get on with her life and put this brief brush with cancer behind her.
Then on May 14 2003, Maxine felt a lump in her left breast. A mammogram showed a mass that turned out to be a very aggressive form of breast cancer known as Her2 positive. (The Her2 marker is present in about 20% of cases and is more quick-growing and aggressive than other types of breast cancer.) The prognosis was no longer good, but Maxine was determined to stay positive, make the most out of every day she had with her family and do whatever she possibly could to fight this terrible disease.
Her mastectomy was followed by a very intense course of chemotherapy but still the cancer metastasised to her liver. Ironically, because the cancer had now reached secondary stage and she was Her2 positive, she was able to start on what was then a relatively new drug called Herceptin. (Fortunately now, because of the success with the drug, women who are Her2 positive can go on Herceptin right after diagnoses.)
For months, Maxine would make the weekly journey to Nepean Hospital to spend 3-4 hours getting the treatment she needed. Maxine’s mother would often take her to the treatment sessions where they would talk and laugh about a lot of things and then return home. It’s difficult for those of us who have never had to go through something like this to understand the toll the treatment takes on a woman. While the treatment itself is directed at the patient’s physical body, they also need to manage it mentally, emotionally, and even just in terms of the time that must be allocated to treatment and the impact that can have on their family life. But throughout it all, Maxine managed to keep her sense of humour and would not allow others to waste their time or energy worrying.
Always very involved in her own treatment, Maxine would discuss things at length with her doctors and specialists, and they would come to a decision together on the next course of treatment. After one such discussion, they changed the time consuming weekly treatments to a larger dose every three weeks. Much later, this was then replaced with another drug called Tykerb which was administered by oral tablets. This allowed Maxine and the whole family to get back to a more normal lifestyle.
According to Garry, the Herceptin appeared to be working and everything was going well from 2004 to late 2005. Then in early 2006 things took a turn for the worse when they discovered secondary tumours in her brain. At one point while Maxine was out of the room, the Specialist told Garry she had a prognosis of 4 months. But Maxine, unaware of this comment, was determined to stay positive and do whatever she could to fight. Because the metastasises were too big, they were unable to operate at the time. Instead she underwent radio therapy on her whole brain as well as the more specifically focused stereotactic therapy which successfully shrunk the tumours quite dramatically. She also developed a pain in her femur at this time.
Throughout this entire journey, Maxine faced up to her situation and continued to research her options. This research led her to The Moss Report which provides a detailed, yet understandable explanation of a patient’s particular cancer diagnosis. It also includes recommendations of the most successful treatments in North America and Europe, as well as innovative therapies given at cancer centres around the world. After a lengthy conversation with the author Dr Ralph Moss, Maxine decided to fly to Germany and undergo alternative treatment at the Hufeland Klinik.
This clinic specialises in Holistic Immunobiological Therapy. In the six weeks she spent there, she received a variety of different treatments including high dosage vitamin infusions, hyperthermy, fever therapy, brainlight, auto hormone therapy, chromotherapy, kneipp therapy, magnetic field therapy and more specialised treatments. While Garry does not actually advocate these forms of treatment, he does feel certain that they prolonged Maxine’s life.
After returning to Australia they discovered a tumour in her femur. An orthopaedic surgeon operated and had to insert a 14 inch nail to prevent the bone from fracturing. This was followed by radiation and finally the bone grew back which was a very positive outcome. With the brain tumours settling down, Maxine met with surgeon Mark Dexter at Westmead Private Hospital who decided to operate in early 2008 and over 2 days he took three tumours out of her brain. And when the tumours reappeared in 2009, Mark Dexter was able to operate again and remove 1 more.
Despite the intense battle she was undergoing, Maxine was fairly healthy for the majority of the time. In February 2010 Maxine went to the Taylor Swift concert with daughter Cassie, something she will cherish for the rest of her life. It was just in the last 12 months that issues with her balance developed and she lost all her peripheral vision on the right side leaving her unable to drive.
In late February 2010, Maxine underwent surgery to remove another tumour; she also had smaller tumours that had branched out and spread throughout her brain, into her spine and spinal fluid. She was able to hang on for another 10 weeks after this point but in May 2010 Maxine McCracken passed away.
Garry speaks of all her doctors with enormous respect and said that they were all very proactive with her treatments. Even at the end, they tried to make it easier and were very open and caring about what was happening.
Maxine was an amazing woman who fought a very courageous battle. Having a supportive husband and family with her every step of the way gave her more confidence to do what she needed to do. In the end, the cancer was just too much for her body to deal with, but she sure made the most of the time she had, and fought an admirable fight. She left no stone unturned.
For more information on some of the alternative options Maxine pursued, go to