Age at diagnosis: 31
Family history of breast cancer: no
Stage 2, hormone positive
My breast cancer story starts when I found a lump in my left breast, January 10th, 2015. I remember the date because I was getting ready for my dearest friends’ wedding. “I’ll deal with that later,” I said to myself. I flew out to New Zealand for a holiday with my husband 2 days later, came home and made an appointment with my GP. Still thought nothing of it, only that this lump I was feeling felt “different” from anything else I had felt before- a very poignant piece of advice that my GP had told me 14 years prior as a teenager. “Check yourself regularly so you know what normal feels like, and when something feels different to normal.” Thank goodness this stuck with me; this advice has no doubt changed my life.
I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) in February 2015, quite widespread throughout my left breast. I had a mastectomy of my breast in March, and after final biopsies from the surgery, my cancer was upgraded to Grade 2 Breast Cancer. Up until surgery, none of us thought I would need further treatment- I would have the mastectomy, and get on with my life. Grieve the loss of my breast, work through the changes made to my body, and just get on with it. But, with this now ‘upgrade’ to my situation, I was facing Chemo.
But wait! Chemo can potentially affect your…….fertility! How timely, as a 31 yr old, married just shy 12 months to my highschool sweetheart of 14 years, trying for a baby before all this crap happened. Before I could begin Chemo- which had an expiry date otherwise effectiveness would be compromised- my husband and I had to make decisions around fertility preservation. No time to process, just go through the motions. Zombie. Sleepwalking through life. Rollercoaster. Out-of-body. Nightmare.
How could this be my life?
Once Chemo had finished (3 months, May to July), the last 3 months which I thought were the hardest- surgery, IVF, Chemo- blow after blow, all of a sudden seemed like a walk in the park. As I approached my final round of chemo, the mental game came crashing down all around and the real hard, hard work, began. The anxiety of treatment being over, not knowing my “purpose,” who I was, my identity, my new body….. all joy for life simply lost, just like that. So for the rest of 2015 I worked with my Psycho-Oncologist (Psychologist specialising in Cancer), and got to the nitty gritty. And it was really, really, tough.
The timing of this project could not be any more timely for me and my cancer experience, as I continue to find myself, rediscover old and new passions, take more risks, jump in the water more, and maximise my time with people I love in places I love being in. My perspective on life has changed and is unique to those who have not experienced what I have, and even then, each cancer story is unique. And for the most part, it’s a genuine privilege to have this perspective. But there are certainly moments where this said privilege can go take a hike. Coming up to my first year anniversary was a particular hard time for me and my husband.
And so one of the hardest things to come to terms with is that it never leaves you. I’m still waiting for the day I wake up and this is all behind me. But its not behind me, rather, with me, always. And it has shaped the person that I am and the person that I am becoming, just like all my other life experiences have. And rather than fight it, I am learning to embrace it….. always learning.