Rebekah Thomas has had some tough conversations in the last three years. But telling her daughters, Rhiannon, 13, and Ruby, six, that she might not survive the melanoma that has ravaged her body, takes the cake.
The 41 year-old Melbourne mum was first diagnosed with melanoma when she was 15. It came as a shock because she says that as a youngster she stayed out of the sun. "It was unheard of at the time and I had to go back to my GP several times to ask for the mole to be removed because he didn't believe me," she recalls.
The mole was removed and Thomas went into remission,"they thought it would never come back," she says.
But sadly, 24 years later, Thomas discovered a lump in her groin. "I had it checked out, and a biopsy showed that it was melanoma in the lymph node," she explains.
The diagnosis marked the start of a long journey of intense treatment. "I had the lymph nodes removed and we thought that was the end of, but unfortunately, six months later I was diagnosed with stage four."
The melanoma had spread. Thomas had tumours in her heart, sternum and her brain. She was put on a combination of drugs that doctors hoped would attack the tumours. After two years of taking the drugs two of the tumours had disappeared. But, unfortunately more tumours had developed in Thomas's brain.
"The doctors called them 'seeding' because they were very small and there were lots of them," Thomas explains.
The next step was whole brain radiation and Stereotactic radiation on specific tumours. It bought her another year with her girls.
As the disease progressed, Thomas began to suffer from seizures. Doctors changed her treatment plan again but some of the tumours were out of control and one was causing a brain bleed.
The brave mum was given the option of being made comfortable and letting nature take it's course. But of course, she wanted to do whatever she could to extend her life so that she could be with her girls. She had brain surgery to remove the bleeding tumour and needed steroids to prevent swelling.
It has been one hell of a rough ride, and it's not over yet. Now the best option for Thomas is a drug called Debrafinib that costs a whopping $8000 a month. When the swelling in her brain goes down enough for her regular treatment of Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) to work again, she has the option of trying a non-steroid based anti-swelling injection which will cost approximately $2000 every three weeks.
There are lots of uncertainties at this stage, but one thing is clear; without these drugs Thomas will die within weeks.
A Go Fund Me campaign has been set up to help Thomas fund the astronomically expensive drugs that she needs to prolong her life.
Of course, while Thomas has undergone treatment she has also had to parent her two daughters. "It's been very difficult. I've had to rely a lot on friends and family, especially during school holidays. I've also had to use afterschool care a lot.
"There have been times when I've been unexpectedly hospitalised which has meant leaning on friends and family even more," she says.
It's not just been logistically challenging, parenting children who are faced with the prospect of losing their only parent has been even more profoundly difficult.
"With the little one it entails answering lots of little questions, with my teenager it means answering some big and very difficult questions.
"I try to be as honest as I can without scaring them," she says.
Some of the conversations have been very confronting. "I told them, 'I will do all I can to be here for as long as I can. But I can't guarantee that I won't die'.
"Sometimes, Ruby says things like 'what if you go to hospital and you don't come back?'"
As well as donating to her treatment fund, Thomas urges members of the public to donate money to cancer research. "If it wasn't for research I wouldn't have access to the drug combinations that I've had," she says.
And of course, Thomas has another reminder: "Stay out of the sun," she says.
"And even if you're not in the sun a lot get your skin checked."