Claire Groot didn’t think her battle with cancer could get any worse.
That was until her husband Aaron was diagnosed with late-stage melanoma and was thrown headlong into treatment while she was still going through hers.
The devastating double diagnosis leaves the parents clinging to the hope of defeating the insidious disease so they can watch their daughters, Evelyn, 7, and Natalie, 5, grow up.
The family’s horrific cancer journey began in 2019, shortly after the birth of their second daughter.
Claire, now 40, was breastfeeding when she felt a lump and, mindful of her health, went straight to the doctor, where her worst fears were confirmed.
Claire Groot has been fighting cancer for five years; Now her husband Aaron is facing the disease
Aaron was always Claire’s support person, both when she was diagnosed with cancer and every time it came back.
“Natalie was getting restless on that side, so I switched her, which means that side was very flat,” he explained.
“That made it very easy to feel, it was a small, hard lump. At first I thought it might be mastitis, but Aaron, who is now 41, agreed I should get it checked just in case.”
At the end of that week, the doctor called her to tell her that Claire had triple-positive breast cancer.
“I was stunned because I had always done the right thing. “Eat right, exercise, breastfeed, avoid underwire bras, all the things you should do,” she said.
The mother discovered a lump in her breast when her second daughter was breastfeeding, as she had rejected the affected breast.
Now each couple has the task of defeating the disease so they can be there for their daughters Evelyn, 7, and Natalie, 5.
The devastating diagnosis would be delivered two more times, the first time 12 months after treatment the first time. The second, ten months after the treatment of the second.
‘Right now I’m taking drugs to keep it at bay. Technically they can’t get rid of it, but these medications have a limit and might stop working. Then we just try the next one and the next until we have no options,” he said.
The mother accepted her endless doctor’s appointments and treatment fatigue and figured out how to manage her home and care for the children while working through her treatment.
But nothing could prepare the young family for what was to come in July 2023.
Claire refuses to see defeat as an option and wants to travel abroad to achieve cancer-free status, something doctors have ruled out being able to do in Australia.
The doting father had been the key support person in his wife’s battle with cancer, taking over at home and with his children.
Claire couldn’t believe it: in a cruel twist of fate, her support person was taken away from her and their roles were reversed. She now had to help him through his grueling treatment, while she continued with hers.
“Things have changed. I feel like my support has been taken away from me and I have been put in the role of caregiver,” she said, admitting that she has low moments.
‘For a few moments I was upset or angry. I thought she wasn’t ready to be a caregiver; I’m still sick.’
Aaron, pictured, underwent some surgeries to try to get rid of melanoma that started when a suspect had a mole on his face.
Aaron’s diagnosis came months after he first went to a skin clinic to question a growth on his face.
They kept sending him home.
Her mother, who had had melanoma, kept telling her she didn’t like it, but since she had been to the clinic over and over again, she didn’t know what else to do about it.
In the end the father decided to cut it, a mere ‘vanity’ procedure, because it got caught when he shaved.
The young father was told that the mole was benign; He did not trust that opinion and returned to his clinic three times to be sent home.
‘They kept telling him that it was a benign mole and that there was nothing to worry about. “He had been very proactive, even when we moved from Victoria to Queensland, sending his topo map to the clinic,” Claire said.
Days later the family received the news.
Further investigation revealed that the cancer had already spread, making his prognosis much worse and the treatment much more brutal.
“I think people need to trust their instincts, because if they had cut it six or eight months earlier, when he asked, it probably would have been the end,” he said.
Instead, eight months later, the father is recovering at Chris Obrien Lifehouse in Sydney.
“He had quite an invasive surgery, I went in to see him and it was very confrontational,” Claire said.
Aaron, who once prided himself on his physical condition, lay in the hospital bed with no muscle in his upper leg.
Claire, pictured mid-treatment, wants people to trust themselves and get opinions from different doctors if they don’t like the one they’ve been prescribed.
The meat had been used to repair his face and throat after doctors removed all the cancer they could find.
The surgery followed rounds of invasive treatments aimed at eliminating stage 3b disease.
“Aaron is going to need a lot of care,” she said.
The parents have allowed the family to share their story on Go finance me and on social media, as neither of them has the ability to fully support their family financially.
At the time of writing, more than $88,000 had been raised, giving Claire hope for a miracle.
The mother added that she hopes to travel abroad to try to get rid of the cancer forever.
“I can’t stop getting over this, I can’t even think about what would happen if I didn’t; it’s just not an option,” she said.
“I still take care of myself and consider my treatment my top priority.”
Claire shares her story in the hope that other people will “get a second or third opinion.”
“Don’t go back to the same doctor, trust your gut,” he said.
Claire is lucky to be “symptom-free” at this stage of her cancer journey, but as the cancer has reached her spine, she realizes this could change at any time.
The couple’s children have not been very aware of their mother’s treatments; They just know that sometimes she goes to the doctor and they consider the port on her chest to be “normal.”
But they noticed that their typically active father slowed down and started asking questions, which broke Claire’s heart.
The couple were high school sweethearts and Claire says their love has remained strong for more than 20 years, helping them face cancer head-on.