An Interview With: Megan Bedford
Fashion and beauty editor, mum to Riley and fiancée to Ross, the wonderful Megan spent some time with Laura to share some incredibly honest words about her journey the past few years, hospital-hacks and the solace in sharing experiences.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
I’m a fashion and beauty journalist currently creating the beauty content for Fashion Quarterly Magazine, Miss FQ and Australian Women’s Weekly magazines at a company called Bauer Media. I do that four days a week, and I also have a son, Riley who’s almost four, so Fridays I spend with him.
You first came into my life when I was spending most days at the hospital, and I found solace in your snaps that someone else was experiencing that very-removed world. Can you tell us a little bit about what put you there?
My fiancé Ross and I had our son on NYE 2013. In August 2015 when he was 20 months old he was diagnosed with cancer - specifically a soft tissue tumour in the muscle in the top of his right leg. He completed almost a year of chemo treatments as well as major surgery to remove some of the affected muscles. I left work one day for a normal weekend and didn't return for over a year after his sudden diagnosis. Although we managed to do most of his treatment as outpatients, with Riley and I making often daily visits to Starship, there were periods of weeks where Ross or I would stay with Riley in the blood & cancer ward. Although I was pretty careful to never show Riley on social media where he was in an unwell or vulnerable state I did share some of my surroundings and what we were up to, and often I’d try and find the upside of it. I guess that’s how I came to be connected with you Laura!
He’s now doing great, back into somewhat normal life, but having MRI scans and X-Rays every 3 months to check for any signs of cancer recurring. There’s been nothing so far, but there's no guarantees, as with any cancer survivor and it’s not rare to return. We feel so lucky to have had amazing care from the public health system and a positive outcome and we try hard to get on with things, even though we often deal with anxiety about him getting sick again.
I remember the diagnosis was around the same time as fashion week, which is normally a big time for you. Was it weird watching everyone there while you experienced such a different reality?
It was really weird, but I think those first couple of weeks I was both absolutely devastated and also in kind of an out-of-body state as it had been so sudden and suddenly all-immersive, dealing with this new reality of caring for a child with a life-threatening situation that needed to be isolated from everyone to keep him safe while he was immunocompromised. So I kept kind of switched on to Fashion Week through social media, and it was (as fashion and entertainment often is) a bit of an escape for me when my brain couldn't process the stressful things happening around me. I managed to even attend one show, for Ruby, the day after we’d been discharged for the first time to go home. It was great to be around friends and colleagues that gave me a lot of love, but it was also extremely jarring going from a paediatric hospital ward 24/7 to a fashion show! I don't know if it was the right thing to do but who knows what even is?
Brené Brown talks about breaking the dig deep button, the place you go when you are just so bone-tired. Do you feel like you had one of those moments?
I think in a way every day was a dig deep moment, but I had a wee face to focus on and there was no way I was going to let him down so I just kept going. In saying that, I definitely crumbled when he was in pain or had upsetting moments, I found that incredibly hard to dig deep through and there were many times when I didn't dig deep, I fell to pieces. Thankfully Ross and I kind of took turns doing that.
My focus was always how can I make this situation the best it can be for Riley. I think if it had been me that was going through it, I’d potentially have struggled more with forward momentum.
We always joke about hospital hacks, what kinds of things did you find helped you just get through?
Coffee! My escape from the hospital room was usually long enough to pick up a takeaway coffee, and that was a high point believe it or not. But also in an awesome way, social media made me feel like I was connected to what was going on in other people's lives even though I was in a bubble. It also kept me updated with pop culture and lots of that was my escape! Any time I connected with other people who were or had gone through something similar it was always just laughing about how shit hospital food is, or the completely random knick knacks stocked at the bookshop in the main hospital… just silly things that become your day to day grind.
It can be really daunting to know what to do or say when people we love are going through something awful, do you have any advice on what was beneficial for you?
The things that were helpful for us were continuing contact, so people that would text us every day regardless, and not to get into anything heavy, just to have lols about you know. What the Kardashians were doing or whatever, but also when things were rough for me, a place to let out my sadness or stress. I had a Whatsapp group with two friends and they were awesome, it was a place to vent but also for lots of laughs and light relief.
The other thing was particularly at the beginning, people that did things for us without being asked - we were incapable of asking - everything from ordering groceries to be delivered to leaving a sandwich at the ward’s main desk for me.
My advice would just be to keep in contact even if you don't know what to say (and still I’ve encountered several situations since where this is something I’ve struggled with, with someone else’s trauma so I totally get it) - say that. And if you want to help, just do something, anything, - don't wait to be asked.
Similarly, what was unhelpful?
I found (and still find) it difficult when people say ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure he’s going to be fine!” I want to scream ‘BUT WHAT IF HE’S NOT?!” And I completely understand that people say this because they want to help, and they believe in the power of positivity or they don't know what else to say so it’s their right to say that. It’s just my gut reaction that touches a raw nerve.
One purpose of us talking to you is to encourage other people and create a honest conversation about hardships, what would you want to say to people facing some kind of struggle?
Ooh a tough one - every situation is so different and people go through stuff way worse than what we did all the time. I think just to be honest about it. If it’s shit. If you’re falling apart, to share that. That’s why I’m happy to be involved with things like this piece because I’ve always believed shared experiences, particularly challenging ones, bring strength to people that need it. So many people go through incredibly crazy, devastating things in their lives. I always find solace when I learn what others have been though and still thrived afterward. It makes me think, okay I can do this, whatever happens I’ll be ok. (I have to work on feeling like that!)
I've found that sometimes it’s only much later on that you can start processing or dealing with it, and then you start feeling guilty that you should be 'over' it already. Have you experienced that?
Absolutely. I’m still dealing with some post traumatic stress, and I’ll be the first to admit I haven't dealt with some things and pushed them down a bit, to operate ‘normally’ and move forward. I do need to face those stresses and fears, and to move through that properly. But on the face of it I keep on keeping on. It’s been 16 months since Riley finished treatment so I do feel like people think “Oh, why is she still talking about this”, but I have to tell myself that’s in my head and if it’s not, oh well, it’s part of my reality every day.
You come across as a wonderfully positive, while realistic, person. Has this experience changed or affected your outlook on life?
It’s definitely made me aware (as have several other situations I’ve been through) that you never know where life will take you. My theory has always been to see the bright side of things, make the best of the situation and find the humour, find other people that can find the humour in anything, and this definitely hasn't changed that.
Is there anything else you want to add?
If you ever get the chance to support the Child Cancer Foundation, please know they are an incredibly worthwhile organisation that while gave us support, are integral helping those families from all walks that need even more logistical and financial support facing years of caring for a child with cancer. Of course I have so much love for The Starship Foundation, as the hospital and its staff were incredible and I have a special spot in my heart for Gabby’s Startlit Hope. It’s an organisation started by a young patient Gabby, that provides random acts of kindness to brighten the days of oncology kids staying in hospital. Incredible work started by an incredible girl that unfortunately passed away a year or so ago and her parents continue the work as part of her legacy.
Original imagery provided by Megan, family portraits taken by Captured by Keryn