Age at diagnosis: 37
Family history of breast cancer: no
Stage 4, estrogen positive
I was diagnosed with early breast cancer in 2012 when I was pregnant with twins. The little twins now are almost 5 and their names are Asher and Brynn, a little boy and a little girl. So at that stage it was early breast cancer that I was diagnosed with. When I was 29 weeks pregnant I had a lumpectomy and all of my auxiliary nodes in my armpit removed because they were quite enveloped with the cancer as well. It was an invasive ductal carcinoma. Then I recovered from that quite well and the twins were fine – I had to have them two months early so I could start chemotherapy.
So we did that, started chemotherapy. I did six rounds of a chemo called TAC which is quite an aggressive chemo and lost all my hair and was quite sick. It was very hard with the babies, because obviously they were newborn and I wasn’t allowed to have any skin-to-skin contact with them. For the time – about seven to ten days – after each chemotherapy, which happened on a three weekly basis, so that was very hard. The margins weren’t quite clear so I had some more surgery after chemotherapy and another lumpectomy. The review of that, the margin was clear and there was no cancer tissue left in the breast. That healed up over a few weeks.
Then I had to move my family from Mackay in North Queensland to Townsville for six weeks because there’s no radiation facility in Mackay. So that’s one of the biggest things with young women diagnosed in rural or regional areas in Australia, often your treatment centre is away from your home. So I was luckily able to have chemotherapy in my hometown. My second lot of surgery I had to go to Brisbane for that, which is about 1000 kilometres south. But then for the radiotherapy or radiation which they often give after chemotherapy, especially young women diagnosed with breast cancer, I had to go 400 kilometres north to Townsville. So I did six weeks of radiation and then back to Mackay and I went on a hormone suppressing drug which seemed to help for quite some time. So I was held in a remission-type state or no evidence of disease state until 2016.
Early last year I presented again with some pain in my lower back and my sternum and my hips and that was revealed that it was metastatic disease. So unfortunately the chemotherapy hadn’t mopped up all of the cells that were hiding, probably in my bone marrow and other little spots around the place. Unfortunately I was presented with metastatic or a terminal diagnosis. So at this stage it was in my bones which is a little easier to manage so I changed my medication, it was an oral medication. That worked for a little while, for about 12 months and unfortunately early this year I was diagnosed with more progression of the disease. So rather than just staying in my bones, it’s now spread quite significantly into my liver and into my lungs.
So that presents a whole new scenario. Once it spreads into your organs, it’s much harder to control and it obviously shortens your lifespan quite a lot. I’ve started chemotherapy again to try and shrink the tumours mainly in my liver. The ones in my lungs are quite small. Thank goodness in a way. But the liver mets are quite large and pushing on the other organs because the liver is quite swollen. So that’s what we’re trying to do with the chemotherapy now is shrink the tumours in the liver.
So yes it’s been a pretty big ride so far. I had about three year’s breather in between and then it sort of progressed from there. So I guess that’s the thing with breast cancer you can never really say you’re cured. They have a five-year period that they say most women will outlive this five-year period. I’m pretty sure I’m going to outlive the five-year period. But if you’ve not presented with metastatic or terminal disease in that five-year period, you’re less likely to have a recurrence. So I’ve recurred in the five-year period and at least 30% of early breast cancer patients or women will go on to develop secondary or terminal disease. So unfortunately I’m one of those statistics so not curable anymore but I plan to keeping fighting on with the resources that I’ve got.
Different breast cancer associations around Australia have really helped me educate myself about my disease, because I think it’s very important, especially when you’re at my level, secondary disease, it’s very important to know about your disease and to be proactive and an advocate for yourself so that you can keep on top of the different new things that are coming out. Because there’s new research all the time with cancer.
So yeah I just have to keep pushing forward. The twins, all they’ve known is me and hospitals. We’ve got an older son as well who’s nine and he was five when I was first diagnosed. I think he has a bit more trouble coping in a way because he remembers when I obviously wasn’t ill. So it’s a bit harder for him to cope with all the emotional stress that goes with a secondary diagnosis. But the twins are quite happy they just plod along do their thing know that mum has to go to the hospital. You know at least once a week and that sort of thing. So no they’ve been good in that way.
So that’s my story sort of in a nutshell. I know it’s bit of a long story.
I think our efforts in producing the Calendar, especially for young women are incredibly important. Because when you’re a younger woman diagnosed with breast cancer, it just brings out a whole different range of strategies to deal with the breast cancer. Because it’s going to impact on your work, it’s going to impact on your family life, you have small children, you know you’ve got mortgages that are quite hefty because you’ve only been working for a shorter amount of time. So all of that opens up a whole different can of worms when you’re a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer. Not that it’s any less hard or that it’s any easier anything like that, it’s just that you’ve got a whole lot of new circumstances that need to be taken into consideration. That’s why it’s so important to promote the younger women’s stories, especially regional areas as well because our access to treatment is very different. They say that there shouldn’t be any difference in the access to treatment but in my experience there certainly is. So I think it’s important that we highlight the difference between access between metropolitan and rural and regional areas. I mean I live in Mackay and that’s a big regional area and yet I can still see parts where the system falls down and I still had to go into a metropolitan area to get some of the things that I want because it’s important to be proactive with your own health. For what I want and to make decisions about my own breast cancer diagnosis I’ve had to access some metropolitan services as well. Which is why I think we need to highlight the need for equitable access.