Cancer Council's 2020 Relay For Life ambassador Angie Howes is a very proud mum.
Her son Oscar was five when she was diagnosed with cancer in May last year.
And while it might be difficult for someone so young to comprehend what she has been going through during the last 18 months, he knows she has been very sick. And has wanted to do everything he can to help her feel better.
When Ms Howes was invited to be an ambassador for a new look Relay For Life this year she contacted His Boy Elroy's Lachlan Stevens about any ideas he had to help raise money for other families impacted by cancer.
Mr Stevens' wife Selena works with Ms Howes at Destination Wollongong and was aware of how much love Oscar has for his mum and how much he likes helping her in the kitchen.
So he suggested the idea of Oscar coming up with a special burger that could be sold at the eatery to raise funds for the Cancer Council.
Oscar loved the idea and decided to make something really healthy with lots of salad like he does at home for his mum.
Ms Howes then suggested he include some of his favourite ingredients and the final version of the Her Boy Oscar burger includes a double beef pattiy, maple bacon, liquid cheddar cheese and Oscar's all time favourite ingredient, Doritos.
Early samples were an instant hit with customers. The only problem they had were they were so big it was difficult to make it all the way through.
But that has not been a problem for growing boy Oscar.
"He eats three times the amount I do," Ms Howes said.
"He came up with a giant burger that is exceptionally tasty."
Her Boy Oscar burgers will go on sale from Saturday for $25 with fries included. And His Boy Elroy is donating $15 from every burger to the Cancer Council. Oscar's goal is to raise $2000 to help people, like is mum, fight and overcome cancer.
Asked what he wants to be when he grows up he said "a chef". Mr Stevens was so impressed with his recipe he said there will be a job waiting for him when he is ready. But Oscar's immediate focus is to do everything he can to support his mum.
He saw first hand how much her world changed in May 2019 when she took herself to the emergency department at Wollongong Hospital. She had no real symptoms but just felt something was wrong.
"I had been out enjoying the day with Oscar and I called a friend to see if I could drop him off on my way to having myself checked at the local hospital".
It was a busy Saturday night in the ER and it ended with her being admitted to hospital for seven weeks. She had only just had tests done for abdominal issues a week before, and nothing was showing in the results.
But in hospital Ms Howes had emergency surgery to clear a blocked bowel. Afterwards her surgeon sat by her bed, held her hand and told her she had Stage 3 bowel cancer. And if she hadn't taken herself to emergency she might not be around.
"My cancer was called 'bad luck cancer' by my oncologist. The surgeon was confident that she had removed all the cancer during the operation however she advised me to still have chemotherapy as a precautionary measure.
"I started chemotherapy six weeks after my operation. I then underwent a second minor procedure on 20th May to remove fluid build-up that was causing pain post the first surgery. It was all hard to digest being a single mum with a 5-year-old boy and no family in NSW."
But Ms Howes was determined to fight it with everything she had while also being conscious it was not only her going through the cancer diagnosis. It was also her son.
"For those that know me I am a fighter and this boy needs his mum and I need him," she said.
"He has been through the journey and has seen how sick I have been. He has seen me got to hospital for five and six weeks at a time. He has been such a brave little boy."
Ms Howes said she was also blessed with an amazing bunch of friends that she affectionately refers to as her 'village'.
"The village were keeping each other updated to ensure that both Oscar and I had all the support we needed physically, emotionally and practically."
Ms Howes said initially it was a struggle to find emotional and mental support. But with her 'village' she found hope and direction.
"I'm doing this cancer thing alone, but I know I'm not alone. My village made me appreciate the 'gifts' that came my way. My village was there for the simple pleasures that were making me feel human-ish again such as hair washed and braided, nails clipped, legs massaged and so many more amazing things."
In June last year Ms Howes started six months of fortnightly chemotherapy treatments and found solace in the nurses at Wollongong Hospital who she described as beautiful hard working people who do incredible work.
Ms Howes finished chemo on December 19 and was given the all clear on January 6. But it wasn't the end of her cancer journey. In March a routine blood test found the cancer had returned and tumors were discovered on her ovaries and in her stomach. The cancer had spread and she was now diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer.
Ms Howes was admitted to St George Hospital with a blockage in my bowel and had a major 13 hour surgery the next day followed by two days in intensive care with an incision scar 63 staples long. The surgeon removed everything he could to give her the best chance of fighting the cancer.
In April the COVID-19 pandemic meant she didn't see Oscar for two weeks and her family in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane could not visit.
The surgery was followed by six months of chemo and her friends were quick to rally around her again.
"My village was back in full effect and ensuring I had yummy foods and drinks available for when needed and that Oscar was getting to all the important things in his life such as soccer, swimming and school," she said.
Ms Howes is having the best available treatment but she knows there are no guarantees. She is living life as much as I can buoyed by her loving son and friends.
"I have a wonderful 'little man' who provides me with all the incentives I need to remain positive," she said.
"I know there might not be a 'remission' for me and unless a cure, I will always be on "watch and wait" in one way or another.
"I have somehow accepted that and learnt a greater courage.
"I know what really is important in life and what is not.
"I am appreciative of the little moments that really do make me smile.
"I know how to laugh more while adjusting to a new life that I never expected and through this knowledge and with fantastic support, I am never alone.
"I will keep moving forward no matter how many obstacles and I will never give in.
"I will always manage a positive outlook on life.
"My future is uncertain and I would not have coped so well without the support and kindness of my friends and family.
"I know it will work out. If I am going to live long-term with this unwelcome guest, I knew I was going to have to get used to the scans and results and treatment being standard everyday stuff, not big events.
"Life has to carry on or I will miss the best bits. Don't think ahead, take each day as it comes and live life to the fullest."
Ms Howes said the community can help by being the village for many other families this year with what is being called Relay Your Way during COVID-19.
"Anyone who wants to participate just does what they want to do because we can't walk around Beaton Park this year," she said.
"People are already digging deep and being incredibly generous considering what we are all going through in 2020.
"And His Boy Elroy are being so generous donating $15 from every Her Boy Oscar burger sold next week."
Ms Howes said from her own experience the Cancer Council had provided wonderful support.
She particularly liked how they told her to approach talking to her son about her having cancer.
"That has been a huge help," she said.
"He is completely across the fact that I am sick and he wants to help me and he wants to help everyone else who is in the same boat. I am very proud of him."
Oscar said have a burger in his name was 'pretty cool'.
But the reason his did it was because he loves his mum always and wants to help her raise money to help other people sick with cancer.
He said his friends at Nareena Hills Public School have told him well done and said they were intending to try one of the Her Boy Oscar burgers.
After Relay For Life Ms Howes next goal is to see all her family for Christmas because COVID-19 had prevented her seeing any of them during her second round of cancer that also prevented Oscar from seeing her in hospital.
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