Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Mum diagnosed with cancer: 'I'm living each day the best I can'

After a cancer blow, Lichelle Tanner now has a wedding to plan with her partner.
Lichelle Tanner and Shannon Bingley have been together for many years. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Lichelle Tanner and Shannon Bingley have been together for many years. Photo / Jason Oxenham

'I'm pretty much just trying to live every day the best I can," says Lichelle Tanner.

After more than a year fighting non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the West Auckland mum was told on Thursday the cancer is untreatable.

She may have a year to live at best and the only bittersweet good news has been a marriage proposal from her long-term partner, Shannon Bingley.

"My partner's asked me on and off for years, and I'm like, 'nah, nah', because we've been together like 20 years, so that wasn't ever important.

"But I guess now he just feels like getting married, I'm his and he's mine forever."

Ms Tanner's cancer is now at stage four - which means it's spread throughout her body - and the prognosis is grim.

"Last week I found more lumps come up and all of a sudden my neck has had this massive lump come up and it's obviously got really aggressive," the 38-year-old Waitakere woman said.

"They did biopsies and said to me on Thursday that there is no cure.

"They're trying this oral chemo, but they don't know if it's going to help suppress it for a bit, or they don't know how long I've got, they can't give me a time."

A devastated Ms Tanner broke down as she described how she now wants to make the most of her time left with her children and family.

"It's hard because I've got a 9-year-old and a 19-year-old, and I just keep picturing them without their mum. And just the life that ...

"Just the not knowing, I just want to spend as much quality time with my family that I can so they can have those special memories and cherish those times, and just do what we can with them as a family while I'm here."

Mr Bingley and her two sons - Christopher Tanner, who turns 19 today, and 9-year-old Dylan Bingley - have been supporting her every step of the way.

Mr Bingley proposed a week ago - and this time she said yes.

The wedding is set for three weeks' time, and is being organised by her auntie, who has already taken her dress shopping.

But the events of the past week have left her feeling "mixed emotions", she said - with a proposal, turning 38, and receiving the distressing diagnosis from the hospital all within a matter of days.

"It's just kind of all quite surreal," she said. "All of a sudden I'm getting married and I don't know how long I've got, and lots of different things and my emotions are just everywhere. When I wake up in the morning, I don't know how to feel from one day to the next."

It comes after a nightmare few years for the couple.

Mr Bingley was "left for dead" in a hit and run in Waitakere in December 2013 while walking home from a friend's house after a couple of beers. He spent a week in hospital, and had to take a significant period off work as a machine operator at Te Henga quarry.

It followed Ms Tanner's mother dying unexpectedly of a heart attack.

About the same time Ms Tanner was diagnosed with lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic autoimmune condition where the immune system creates antibodies that attack the body's own tissue, instead of protecting it from bacteria and viruses.

All I want to do is have as much quality time with my family so that they've got some nice memories.
Lichelle Tanner

Her father is also not well, and her friend of 27 years, Luana McGrath, said "she just hasn't had an easy life".

Ms Tanner contracted hepatitis B as a teenager, and lost two children as a young mum - 10-month-old Hope, who fell from her cot and was smothered, and a stillborn baby.

"It's just always been one upsetting thing after another," Ms McGrath said. "It just feels so surreal that this could be happening.

"I keep waiting for her story to get better but it's just not."

Ms Tanner's cancer was "very aggressive", Ms McGrath said, and she was "noticing lumps every couple of days".

"It won't be a year, and they [doctors] have said it could be weeks, it could be months."

To help her friend make the most of her time left, Brisbane-based Ms McGrath set up a GoFundMe page.

"I just think anything we could raise from that could help them with the kids, or funeral costs, or a little break away for them, for anything."

It was set up a month ago, but only shared over the weekend following the no-cure diagnosis, she said.

There were no further treatment options available in New Zealand that her friend would be eligible for, Ms McGrath said, and overseas trials cost several hundred thousand dollars. But she's holding out hope that a treatment could be found that the money could go towards.

"She [Ms Tanner] is trying to be realistic about what's happening, without giving herself false hope.

"Because she's done that the last 12 months and now it's getting into more final stages, so she's worrying about her children, her partner, what happens afterwards, that's sort of the way she's thinking now rather than saving herself."

She added: "She's been very brave and amazing."

Ms Tanner said a treatment option would be a "miracle", but she's just trying to spend time with her family.

"The wedding, it's something nice to focus on, to try to make something to look forward to, and for everyone to have that nice memory of the day as well, that special day," she said.

"All I want to do is have as much quality time with my family so that they've got some nice memories.

"They've obviously got plenty of memories, but more so now knowing that I can't plan things, to do things [with them] in [future] years, or whatever."

Killer lurks in white blood cells

What is non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (it used to be non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) is cancer of the lymphocyte - a type of white blood cell produced in the bone marrow, which travels in the blood to other parts of the body, normally the lymph glands. The lymph cells in these areas become malignant - multiplying to form tumours. Over time, malignant lymphocytes (called lymphoma cells) crowd out normal lymphocytes and eventually the immune system is weakened and can no longer function properly.

How common is it?

Each year, more than 800 people in New Zealand are diagnosed with lymphoma, making it the sixth most common type of cancer. The majority will have non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which represents more than 85 per cent of all cases. Cricket legend Martin Crowe this year died after his battle with follicular lymphoma - a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma - which later developed into double-hit lymphoma. Christchurch Boys High School head boy Jake Bailey was also suffering from a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma when he gave his inspirational speech at the school prizegiving that went viral.

(Source: Leukemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand)

To donate to Ms Tanner, visit: gofundme.com/shelzfighttolive

- NZ Herald

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