Me? Get breast cancer? No way, I thought, as I’d done everything you needed to do to avoid this dreadful disease.
I had my three children young, in my 20s, I breast fed them for a year, I never took the birth control pill and I didn’t take HRT during menopause, which started at 50 and was over in three months.
Life was good and I was good. I had been going to my regular breast-screen every two years from the age of 50 and always paid attention to the reminder notices the government sent out.
One year they found a lump and did a fine needle biopsy for closer inspection.
“It’s just a cyst”, they told me. “It’s nothing to worry about.”
A few years later, I had another mammogram that came back clear. Life was good.
Then, last November, between my regular breast screens, I noticed a small lump just below my right nipple.
It was a bit painful to touch so I made an appointment to see my GP as I was convinced it was another cyst. The GP immediately sent me to the breast diagnostic clinic.
The next day, I spent six hours having mammograms, ultrasounds and core biopsies.
At the end of the day the doctor put her arms around me and said “you’ll have to wait for the results of the pathology, but I have seen enough of these to know this is cancer”.
The results came and she called to tell me that I had bilateral invasive ductal carcinoma – cancer in both breasts.
The good news, if there was any, was that because it was small, the cancer was still stage two.
The next day I discussed my options with my GP and decided the best decision for me was a double mastectomy, and that if the lymph nodes looked cancerous, they should be removed, too.
I decided not to have reconstruction surgery. If I was 40 or 50 years old, I may have chosen a different option, but at 70, I don’t feel the need.
I went into surgery the following week and spent three days in hospital.
After that, I was sent home with drains that I emptied each day until I stopped producing as much fluid and they were removed.
When the pathology report came back, I discovered I had had two cancerous growths in the left breast, three in the right and three cancerous lymph nodes.
They took both breasts, one lymph node on the right and 14 lymph nodes on the left.
The doctors recommended chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and finally a hormone blood blocking treatment with pills for 10 years.
I had a rough time in December and January after developing a skin infection called cellulitis on my left side, where the wound from my surgery was.
I had high fevers and spent weeks in hospital on intravenous antibiotics until it finally cleared.
Afterwards, they fitted a portacath to my left side, which made having blood taken and the chemo administered much easier as there was no digging for veins to find the right spot.
I have just recently completed my chemotherapy and in a few weeks will start the radiation treatment.
Along the way, I have met the most wonderful people – oncology doctors and nurses, as well as a very special breast nurse.
I also met the most amazing patients with very special stories.
Those who had left it too late thought they were too young to get breast cancer and are now struggling with bone metastases because their cancer wasn’t diagnosed early enough.
Please, please go for your regular breast screens and get to know your own breasts. If you notice any changes, no matter how small, visit your GP to seek advice.
We have a wonderful support system in Australia and we should make the most of it.
I will continue with my treatment and continue growing stronger because I will be a survivor for my children and grandchildren.