This story started in October 2008 when I felt a pea-sized small lump in my breast during a self-examination. It was something that was only just noticeable in certain positions. For months, my husband and I had been planning a 12-week trip but he insisted I visit the doctor before we set off. The GP could not feel what I felt. I asked for an ultrasound. There followed a few days of being poked, prodded, squished, pinched and feeling like my boobs had been seen by everyone in town. It was then that the breast surgeon told me the results were positive for cancer.
I was 31 years old. I had a five-year-old son. We were supposed to be taking off on the trip of a lifetime.
I was in disbelief. I felt my head spin, my stomach churn. I couldn’t absorb any other information. Luckily my husband was with me, taking in all that I couldn’t.
Because my cancer was aggressive, I knew I had a tough journey ahead of me. I was prepared to endure whatever I needed to ensure I had the best chance of survival.
I was scared of dying and leaving my son and husband behind, of missing out on all those great life moments. I was angry that my choice of having more children was likely being taken away from me. I was stressed that I couldn’t work to help pay the bills. I felt alone because all the other women getting treatment around me were much older.
I had surgery to remove the tumour, six cycles of chemotherapy over six months, then seven weeks of radiation. The surgery I had was pretty straightforward. But the chemo was hell: I felt nausea all the time and I had to isolate myself from my family for the first couple of days after each treatment. I had to use a separate bathroom due to the toxicity of the drugs. I was tired all the time. Then the radiation became really painful. My skin was virtually burnt off.
Life changes immensely when you have cancer. It’s like everything goes on hold. I was physically exhausted and didn’t feel able to do much. I had to stop working because I wasn’t physically strong enough. My concentration span shrank. I didn’t want to see many people because I lost my hair and I felt self-conscious.
Thankfully, my treatment worked. I was fortunate not to have any metastasis to my lymph nodes. My scans and tests after six months showed no signs of cancer. It was a big relief, of course. But going for annual check-ups was stressful - waiting for the results to come back and show that all was clear.
This experience has taught me that, without your health, nothing matters. That investing time in staying healthy and being around for my family is important. I feel such gratitude for life, the trees, the sky. I tell my family I love them at every opportunity.
Nowadays, I care passionately about raising awareness of breast cancer. While there’s no way to prevent it, survival is 96% when it’s picked up early. For years, I’ve been telling friends, relatives and colleagues. And now I’ve committed to becoming an advocate for the Cancer Council Australia and speaking at public events.
I’m alive today because I found the cancer before it spread. Four years later, two of my aunts were diagnosed and unfortunately passed away within a year because it had already metastasised to their bones and organs. My mum, though, found abnormal cell changes early and she’s alive and well today.
Take your health in your hands
Here in Australia, one in ten women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. After lung cancer, it’s the most deadly cancer for women. And it’s not an older woman’s disease; it happens to women of all ages.
I urge all women to examine their breasts monthly. Get used to your ‘normal’ so you can detect changes. Take your health into your own hands - literally! And if in doubt, don’t ignore it; seek a proper medical opinion. It could save your life.
In 2018, HARTMANN is celebrating its 200-year anniversary. We are now counting down to our anniversary celebration in June 2018 through a series of articles that show how our employees and partners contribute to advancing healthcare, as well as discussing trends and issues that affect the healthcare systems we serve.