May 16, 2016

Andrea’s Story

20160422 Age at diagnosis: 36 Family history of breast cancer: no Stage 1, estrogen positive

Age at diagnosis: 36
Family history of breast cancer: no
Stage 1, estrogen positive

15 years ago my distant cousin died from breast cancer at the age of 27. At that time I was only 23 years old but when I heard the devastating news I went to ask my GP for an ultrasound and mammogram.

Everything was ok and only few cysts were picked up and the report suggested that I should be checked every 2 years, so I did. Everything was ok until the year 2011 when a suspicious lump was picked up. I had my biopsy which came back as fibroadenoma and then I had to be checked every year after that. In 2013 I had another fibroadenoma picked up.

In 2014, my Mum just arrived from overseas to see me and my family and we planned to spend few months together. We were also in the middle of
house renovations because we wanted to sell the house and move interstate to live a less stressful life.  Even though I was so busy with kids, having my Mum here and taking her around, renovating a house, working full time, I didn’t forget that my breast check up was due again. So, I went in for my ultrasound and mammogram, and the results came back with suspicious lump, so I had to have a fine needle biopsy. I went to pick up my results and Mum said she will come with me. I said, no don’t worry just stay home I will be back in 1/2 hr. But Mum insisted she wanted to come with me. I was feeling so confident that the results will be just another fibroadenoma, laughing and joking around in the waiting room. When my GP called me inside he said: I am glad you have your Mum here with you. I still didn’t even think that he was going to say: I am sorry but your results came back suspicious for cancer. I remember feeling numb, my heart sank, I felt sick in the stomach, my face and body felt like they were on fire.  My Mum sitting next me, didn’t speak English and I looked at her and she said: why are you so red in face, why are you looking so scared?! I said: Mum, he just said that I have breast cancer…. she cried, she said it will be all ok.

I felt like I had to be strong for her. It didn’t want her to see her baby feel scared.

The doctor wrote a referral letter to a specialist and we got in the car. My husband was working at the house when we came home. I got out of the car and when I looked at him and I couldn’t get the words out to even say it. I picked up my little dog and cried. I heard my husband asking my Mum what is wrong, why am I crying? So she told him.

From that moment everything was happening so fast.

Next day I already had an appointment with the specialist, she ordered the core biopsy and the results were back in 24 hrs. I went back to the specialist for the results and I remember sitting in the waiting room and doctor coming in and out of the room and every time she looked at me, she didn’t smile. When I finally went in her first questions were: how do you feel after the core biopsy, was it painful? And I knew she is going to say the results were not good otherwise she would have said the good news already. So after I answered her questions she said: I am sorry but the biopsy did pick up cancer cells. My Mum and my husband were there with me. They both cried, I didn’t!

She said that it is only DCIS, which is very early breast cancer and all I need is a lumpectomy and radiation. I was telling her I want mastectomy, I don’t want the boobs, I have been through so many biopsies and I’d had enough. She kept saying that I am over reacting, I should go home and think about it. Anyway she convinced me just to go for lumpectomy and the surgery was scheduled in 3 days.

The next day I mentioned to my friend who works at the breast cancer clinic at public hospital that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. She insisted I should go to see the doctor where she works. I didn’t really like the sound of public hospital but I just thought I will just go and hear the second opinion.

So next day I went in to see the doctor at public hospital. I told him that I am booked in for a surgery in 2 days with another doctor and she wants to do lumpectomy. He looked at the scans and said, look I really think that there is more going on in your breast. See all these white dots, they could be just calcifications or they could be cancer. We can do more biopsies but I wouldn’t really like to poke and disturb all this areas. I would suggest you get mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

I started to feel very worried and I knew I wanted mastectomy straight away.  I said ok, I am cancelling the lumpectomy and I am going with you.

We still continued with the house renovations and the auction was booked 2 days after my mastectomy.

On the 13/11/2014 I had double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. The doctor was fantastic and the results of the reconstruction were amazing.

I couldn’t go home for the auction of our house and watched everything on Skype.

After 7 days I was discharged from the hospital and went to see the doctor for the official pathology results. The doctor said: Everything went well with the surgery, we are happy with the results of the reconstruction but the pathology did find some invasive cancer.  4cm of precancerous cells and very tiny 2mm and 0.5mm invasive cancer which has already spread to your sentinel lymph node and you also have lympho-vascular invasion. You are a very unusual case because, we haven’t seen cancer this small spread to lymph nodes before. It is very aggressive and you should seriously consider the chemotherapy. The good news is that you have oestrogen driven cancer which can be treated with medication and ovarian suppression.

I was recommended only 4 cycles of chemotherapy. I was reading about the different treatments and was learning so much about different types of breast cancer. I started to question my treatment and I wanted a second opinion. They again confirmed I only needed 4 cycles and 10 years of daily medication. I felt relieved that my treatment was the right one.

So we sold the house, moved interstate and we thought we can move on and start a new life.

But when we moved I had to go and see a new oncologist who will look after me.  I booked an appointment with her as soon as I could. She reviewed my file and said: I am happy that you had 4 cycles of chemotherapy but I think that you need more because of your age and how aggressive your cancer was.

So I had to take another 12 cycles of chemotherapy.

It was a long and hard few months, I learned so much and my life has changed forever.  At the age of 36, young, full of energy with 2 young children (5, 8) I didn’t think this could happen to me, but it did. I became stronger than ever before. I stayed strong for me and my family.

When I look back at my journey, I was scared of the pain of mastectomy but I don’t regret the decision. I was scared loosing my hair but I did it. I was scared of the side effects of the chemotherapy, the pain from all the medication, needles and injections,  but I did it. It changed me as a person on the outside, left me with scars and made me look 10 years older. It changed me from the inside as well and I look at life differently.

Each person breast cancer journey is different, we are effected by this disease in different ways. For me the hardest part of all of this is the fear that nobody can take away and will probably never leave me.

I am excited to be part of this amazing project and I want to raise awareness that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate and can effect us at any age. Early detection is vital as cancer can spread very fast and it only takes one cell and cancer can take over our body. I hope to see the cure for this disease very soon so nobody will have to go through this painful journey, living in fear and the unknown.

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