Two years ago, Robyn Reid was happily preparing for one of the proudest moments of her life – the wedding of her daughter, Shortland Street star Amelia Reid-Meredith, to fellow actor Shadon Meredith, at their family home in Nelson. But in just a few days, everything changed – Robyn (54) was told she had bowel cancer.
“I had a bit of bleeding, but nothing so bad you’d think twice about it,” she explains.
It was only when Robyn and her husband Bill went for a month’s holiday in August, 2011, that the bleeding became more significant and Robyn realised something could be very wrong. Routine tests after a GP appointment came back negative, so she was sent to a specialist.
“I kind of knew something wasn’t right, so the week prior to that appointment I rang Amelia and asked her and Shadon to come down from Auckland to Nelson before the wedding, just to put the thought in her mind that there might be something going on.”
An examination revealed Robyn had a cancerous tumour in her bowel, and a colonoscopy, scheduled for the next week, confirmed the tumour was in her lower rectum and needed an operation immediately.
“Mum said she’d call me straight after the appointment, but she didn’t, so I knew something was wrong,” explains Amelia. “I rang her and she told me she couldn’t talk because she had people there. She wasn’t telling me the truth.”
“I wanted Amelia to have Shadon home before I told her – that day rocked all of our lives,” remembers Robyn. “I kept thinking, how could I not have known I had cancer? But that’s the thing with bowel cancer – there are very few clues or symptoms.”
Amelia (27) flew down to be with her mother during the colonoscopy – as did most of the family.
“It was so funny. I don’t think anyone’s ever had quite so many people turn up for a colonoscopy. I even had Bella from Shortland Street!” laughs Robyn.
But three days later, an MRI scan revealed Robyn’s cancer may have spread and an immediate operation was out of the question.
“The surgeon rang me and said, ‘I’m putting the handbrake on because we think the cancer has travelled to your lymph nodes,’” says Robyn.
The surgeon’s suspicions were confirmed, and Robyn was sent to Daffodil House in Christchurch for six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy before the big operation, which would happen after the wedding, planned for January 2012.
Devastated, Amelia and Shadon (28) suggested postponing, but Robyn was having none of it. “It was game on – it was actually lovely to be working towards something so positive, so I delegated,” says Robyn, who was helped by a host of friends and family.
She spent a tough six weeks in Christchurch, where she was permanently attached to a chemotherapy pump through her arm. Although she didn’t lose her hair, the harsh effects of the treatment became so bad, she couldn’t eat. “My hands and feet were sore, and I had terrible mouth ulcers that got so bad I had to stop the chemo for a week,” explains Robyn.
The change in the bubbly mum was dramatic, and Amelia admits she was shocked when she saw just how much weight Robyn lost.
“Mum looked so frail,” she recalls. “I remember blow-drying her hair and thinking about the role reversal – that now it was me looking after Mum. It was really big for me.”
Despite the seriousness of Robyn’s condition, mum and daughter were determined to see the upside – indeed, Robyn insists, it was focusing on the positive that got her through.
“We took Mum shopping for a wedding outfit and the sales assistant was so snooty, we couldn’t resist teasing her,” smiles Amelia. “Every time she brought out these sensible mother-of-the-bride outfits, we rejected them and dressed Mum in a very short, bright pink dress, complete with chemo bottle hanging out of her arm!”
Amelia and Shadon’s wedding went off without a hitch and Robyn had the surgery five weeks later.
“I crashed for a couple of weeks after the wedding – I was so tired,” says Robyn.
Amelia was first to cheer her mum on when she chose to celebrate removing her colostomy bag by having a “bag party” with friends.
“Believe me, a lot of fun can be had – like the time I went into town and the bag didn’t stick on properly,” grins Robyn.
While Robyn’s cancer hasn’t returned for over a year, she will now get regular checks, and Robyn tries to persuade everyone she meets to be vigilant. “Bowel cancer kills more people in New Zealand than both breast cancer and prostate cancer combined,” explains Robyn. “All I want now is for everyone over 50 to get themselves checked.
For me, that little bit of blood was my only clue. If we hadn’t caught the cancer, then the outcome could have been very different.”
Photos: jae frew • wedding photos (p16 inset): melissa cowan • Stylist: jules armishaw • hair & make-up: kristina moricz • p16: amelia wears dress from andrea mMore, necklace from jacqui e, robyn wears top & pants from witchery. • p17: amelia wears dress from portmans, shoes from briarwood, robyn wears top from loobie’s story.