Ria

Age at diagnosis: 33
Family history of breast cancer: no
Stage 4, estrogen positive

It was 31 January 2016, when I found a change in my breast. It was quite obvious to the eye, my nipple had a different appearance to the other. In 2014, I had a ‘false alarm’ with that same breast, where I was told it was a ‘thickening of tissue’. Initially, I thought that maybe it could be the same thing. I was just 33 years old and no breast cancer family history, I thought I would be OK. I booked myself into my doctor’s clinic the next day. My regular doctor was on leave and only a male doctor available. I made the appointment rather than wait for a female doctor to be available. He said the same thing I was thinking. Due to my age and family history, he considered me at low risk for breast cancer. He gave me a referral for a mammogram and ultrasound.

I received a text message from my clinic asking me to make “a non urgent appointment”, which I did. The doctor said they were unsure what it was but ordered a biopsy. I actually had a Bali Holiday booked in the following week and some training for my new job. The doctor advised that it would be OK to book in for a biopsy when I return.

Monday 22 February 2016, I had my biopsy and was told I would find out on the Thursday of that week. I got a call from the clinic to make an appointment on that Wednesday. A day early. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. It was 24 February 2016 (a date I will never forget), when the GP told me that I had a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in my left breast. Mind you, this was the same office, the same chair, where he told me I was low risk. I had never heard this term before and remember walking away with little clarity of what he had told me. I remember asking my friend who was with me, “does this mean I have cancer?”. I was given a surgical referral to a local surgeon to discuss my options.

The surgeon checked my other breast. He found another tumour in my right breast, towards the back against the chest wall. I couldn’t feel it and only some doctors could feel it when I was lying down. I had further testing and I was told that I had breast cancer in both breasts. It was detected in my lymph nodes under both armpits. My cancer was stage 3. ER/PR positive, HER negative.

I was referred to an oncologist. She described it as an aggressive cancer that wouldn’t have been in my body in December 2015.
Due to my age, I was referred to speak with a specialist regarding fertility options. After hearing about the viable options, I decided not to pursue the fertility treatment. The length of time it would take to complete concerned me and it required adding more cancer-feeding hormones into my body. I just did not want to delay my cancer treatment and I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. I did not have a partner and had to make this decision for myself. In the end, I wasn’t going to risk my life for a child I didn’t even know I wanted.
I paid out $1000 in that first two weeks. None of which my private health covered.

I had Chemotherapy first. I had it every 3 weeks for a total of 18 weeks. I was actually shocked that I had to pay for chemo. I assumed that everything would be free. I lost my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. I gained so much weight that I would buy clothes and grow out of them by the end of the week.

After chemotherapy, I had 6 weeks of daily radiation. Towards the end I was red, fatigued and had blisters all over me.
At the end of October 2016, I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate DIEP reconstruction. They told me that I would have around 6 weeks recovery then I could return to work. I developed numerous infections which turned into a 10 week recovery with 3 additional surgeries.

I undertook genetic testing, and it confirmed that I carry the BRCA 2 mutation. Further genetic tests determined this came from my mother’s side of the family. My uncle died of pancreatic cancer and my grandmother died of ovarian cancer which is consistent with BRCA genetic mutations. Like so many, I never knew that this had a link to breast cancer.

I was approached by Peter Mac Cancer Centre to be involved in a clinical drug trial. There was some screening that I was required to do before I entered the trial. It was then, when they discovered a potential secondary spread to my lungs. In March of this year, upon further scans, it was confirmed that the cancer had metastasised to my lungs. I now have Stage 4, advanced breast cancer, and exploring treatment options to give me longevity and the best quality of life.

I can only ask for people to check their breasts regularly and if you find an abnormality please go to a doctor straightaway. I went to see a doctor the very next day and still I am here, as a 35 year old with a death sentence. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.