Five years ago, whilst breastfeeding my young son, I gently massaged my right breast in an effort to clear what I thought was a ‘blocked duct’. I remember this moment clearly whilst watching my then eight month old son Max, and my three year old daughter Jessica, play on the rug in front of me. I had been gently rubbing the same area of my breast for about three weeks in an attempt to clear the blockage. It had now occurred to me that the lump I could feel may not be a blocked duct at all.
That same day I casually consulted my husband Marty for a ‘second opinion’ who, after feeling the lump I had discovered in my right breast, looked me square in the eye and said ‘I think you better get that checked out’.
My GP found a second lump also and referred me for a breast ultrasound right away. The initial ultrasound suggested the lumps in my breast were simply milky blockages however the senior radiographer working that day suggested we do a needle biopsy
of the area ‘just to be sure’.
A few days later, recently back at work after maternity leave, I received a call from my GP’s office. There was an urgency in the voice on the other end of the phone. I was asked how quickly I could get in to see my doctor regarding my biopsy results.
‘Where are you now?’ ‘Do you think you could make it in here this afternoon?’ I put down the phone and, with my workmates who overheard my phone conversation gathered around me, I quickly came to the realisation that things were not looking
My GP ran through the results with me. I don’t recall a lot of the detail but I do remember the words ‘malignant’ and ‘I’m very sorry’. I left feeling totally shell-shocked. I cried and cried and cried. How do I pass this sort of news onto my husband and my parents? No parent wants to hear that their child has cancer no matter how old their child is.
The positive side of having children so young was that they really did not understand the severity of the situation nor the possible longer-term outcome. Mummy was sick and would be going to hospital for an operation. The doctor would also be giving
Mummy some special medicine which will help make her better but might cause her hair to fall out. It was as simple as that.
My GP hastily referred me to a specialist who delivered the real hard-hitting news. The scans and tests indicated that in addition to the two lumps that could be easily felt I also had multiple smaller lumps all around my right breast. The
recommendation was to have a right breast mastectomy as soon as possible. I was given medication to help dry up my milk and wean my baby, and just days later I was admitted to hospital for surgery. I celebrated my 36th birthday a few days later in
Then followed a nine month stretch of intensive chemotherapy and radiationtreatment. Although it was a long, tough road I wanted to attack the little ‘Breast Cancer Bastard’ as aggressively as possible so was all up for the tough road. No pain,
no gain! Marty and I were very fortunate to have an amazing level of support from family, friends and our employers. This helped us greatly to keep a positive outlook and continue to carry out as normal a life as possible during the period of treatment.
We made sure nothing was hidden from Jessica. She sat on the side of the bath and watched on as my husband shaved off my wilting head of hair during the early stages of my chemotherapy. We found a great little picture book which helped explain
cancer, treatment and the road to recovery. And I have been very liberal from the outset when showering and changing – I wanted to ensure seeing Mummy with just one breast was part of the norm for my children and not something that would be
hidden from them and then potentially seen as freakish or confronting.
Post chemo and radiation treatment, it was a relief to get back to a normal life. Marty and I felt blessed with our complete family – a healthy son and daughter and all indications of success with my surgery and treatment. In early 2008 we
celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in the city at a swish restaurant… and nine months later, a little surprise was born! Despite the battering my body had endured with my cancer treatment, this small wonder – Lily Alexandra – came into our life on
18 November 2008.
I became very ill just hours after Lily’s birth and spent the first few weeks of her life in ICU. I had to have neurosurgery three weeks later, unrelated to her birth or thankfully to my breast cancer history. Another tumultuous time for me and my
family but an experience that has further reinforced our belief in living life to the full and not wasting our energies on trivial matters.
Last week I turned 41. On a daily basis I seem to find wrinkles and sun-spots that weren’t there yesterday, and I think back to the time when I had lovely toned arms. And when that happens I stop and remember. I remember that I am so very lucky to
be here and with every new wrinkle that appears I have smiled 1000 more smiles as I watched my children play and I have laughed with friends till my belly ached around our dining table sharing a lovely meal and lots of good wine.
This month is five years since my breast cancer diagnosis – a significant milestone for every cancer survivor. My regular check-ups three times a year with three different specialists will now drop back to a once year follow-up with just one specialist. I
feel great and am positive about my future with my family. That being said – as I’m sure all cancer patients will confirm – the fear of a relapse is a constant niggle in the back of your mind. Every headache, backache or nerve twitch in my little toe brings
on an anxious feeling of despair about the ‘what if?’. But when logic sets in and I realise the backache is due to carrying my 17kg toddler around whilst unpacking the shopping and talking with the phone nudged between my neck and my shoulder,
my positive outlook and zest for the future quickly returns and all is good in my little space.
Every parent relishes in watching their child develop, grow, achieve and have fun. For me, each and every time I’m here to share in something special it’s an emotional time (like Jessica’s jazz troupe winning first place in a dance eisteddfod last weekend, or like Max’s first day at ‘big school’ earlier this year). I’m always the parent with the glassiest eyes and teardrops running down my cheek. I always count my blessings twice and can’t help but think there was a time when I lay awake an entire night five years ago crying and wondering if I would be around to see these wondrous delights.
Think Pink this October. To donate to Pink Ribbon or find out more about getting involved go to www.pinkribbonday.com.au