May 16, 2016

Rachelle’s Story

20160411-ABCAge at diagnosis: 32 Family history of breast cancer: no Stage 2 triple positive

Age at diagnosis: 32
Family history of breast cancer: no
Stage 2 triple positive

My first personal exposure to breast cancer was when a good friend of mine was diagnosed at 36. She had three young girls – her youngest only 10 months old – and a serious battle on her hands. Thankfully, more than 5 years later, she is a strong advocate and a symbol of hope for many young women diagnosed with this awful disease. I had also done a lot of fundraising for breast cancer and had a basic understanding of being breast aware. Thankfully or ironically, it was this knowledge that breast cancer was not limited to older women that ultimately helped me to get properly diagnosed.

In late 2013, in my third trimester of pregnancy, I noticed an unusual lump in my right breast. As I was visiting my obstetrician very regularly at that stage, I decided to get her to check it. The body changes a lot during pregnancy, and I was assured this was a fibrous lump, probably my body getting ready for the baby. However, even after I had the baby and was breast-feeding, the lump was still there, and what was worse, I thought it was actually getting bigger. So I saw my GP and quickly went for an ultrasound. They unfortunately did not find it, but I wasn’t happy with the outcome and so in January 2014 on a Friday afternoon, I saw a different radiologist, who did an ultrasound, and ultimately found the lump I had been talking about.

As soon as I saw it on the screen, I knew it wasn’t normal, and I quickly went from ultrasound to mammogram to core biopsy and shock. By Monday, the GP had my results and it was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma ie. Breast Cancer. I had a lot of questions, but most of all, I had a very young family to consider, I was still breast-feeding, I was still in the throws of post-partum hormones and I had a huge learning curve ahead of me.

At 32, and with a 6 week old son and a 3 year old daughter, I was diagnosed with triple positive stage 2 breast cancer. It was in my lymph nodes and HER 2 positive. I was only diagnosed because I persevered when my obstetrician discounted my concerns in the third trimester of my pregnancy, telling me it was fibrous lump and nothing to worry about. And again, when the breast specialist sonographer 10 days postpartum told me in front of a waiting room of patients that it was normal lactating tissue…. thankfully I tried again and finally another sonographer found it….

Soon after, I had two surgeries, fertility treatment and then I started six months of chemo (16 rounds of chemo) with an added bonus of an anaphylaxis response to the second kind of chemo, followed by 7 weeks of radiotherapy and 12 months of immunotherapy and continuous hormone therapy. So without the boring details, I have spent nearly 18 months in chemo, radiation, immunotherapy and hormone therapy and will continue hormone therapy for at least 10 years.

I am grateful that I was brought up with a strong sense of personal responsibility for my health and that I questioned and persevered when I was assured that it was normal. The GP reading my results told me before she gave me the diagnosis, I guess you must have known something wasn’t right.

There’s no history of breast cancer in my large family of women. I breastfed my first child and I really didn’t have any big risk factors. During 2014, I was later told, I was one of 50 women in Australia who was diagnosed during or immediately after pregnancy. Lucky me. But lucky me really that I listened to my body, was #breastaware and trusted my instincts.

So you can understand my motivation for this project, through which I hope to raise:

  • awareness among the medical industry that young women are also diagnosed with breast cancer and need to have their concerns validated and investigated appropriately because #younggirlsgetbreastcancer too;
  • awareness among young women to be breast aware, as early diagnosis gives the best chance of survival and;
  • some much needed awareness and funds for the brilliant work that our researchers do to better diagnose and treat this illness.

This project will be an amazing and empowering exercise for the girls, and hopefully bring much needed awareness that breast cancer also affects young women and also raise some much needed funds for breast cancer research!

I have been so humbled by the outpouring of support for this project from so many corners of our community. For the girls who have gone through this, and for those to come, I think it’s so important that we can take comfort in the knowledge that there is so much support in the community and that our researchers are finding cures for these terrible diseases. When I hear of girls who haven’t made it through and have fought so valiantly it makes me want to try harder.

I am thankful that I have such an amazing team of specialists in my corner and more importantly that I had such an amazing support network there to help me and my family in our darkest hour. You know who you are – and I can’t thank you enough!

And to all our supporters, now, then and into the future – THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!!!

Rachelle xx

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