At the age of 37, I was diagnosed with stage 2B, Grade 3, invasive ductal carcinoma. I was breastfeeding my daughter at the time and had been breastfeeding continually for over 5 years since the birth of my first child.
To say this came from left field was an understatement! I don’t have a strong family history of breast cancer and at the time was the healthiest I had been in years. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and looking back there were signs. Being a busy mum of three, I always put the exhaustion I was feeling down to that.
The pain I was experiencing under my left arm, I put down to too much gym work. As we do as women, we find a way to justify things and put ourselves last.
There I was, just living my life with my beautiful kids and wonderful hubby, about to embark on a trip to the UK for my Grandmother to meet my babies for the first time and BAM!
My diagnosis took 24 hours and within 48 hours, I was in to see my oncologist. My trip to the UK was canceled and what followed was a barrage of tests, operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, more operations, which has now been followed by 10 years of hormone therapy to try to prevent this hormonally-driven beast from ever returning.
When I walked into my oncologist’s office he said put your arms above your head, I remember thinking is this guy crackers? As I did, I remember seeing the shape of my breast change. Why had I never seen that before…. probably because I had never stood in front of the mirror and raised my hands above my head!
I remember feeling so much fear when I heard the doctor say those words “YOU HAVE BREAST CANCER”. I can still remember the feeling of it taking my breath away, all I could think of at the time was what about my beautiful babies. What about my hubby? What about my family? Having to tell my 5-year old that mummy was sick and is shaving her head is probably the hardest conversation I have ever had to have in my life, but one that was necessary, so he could cope and navigate living with cancer too.
I am a person of faith and it was at that point I decided to give my fear to God. It was then I realised although I could not control what happened, I could control my attitude to this journey and how I went through it. Even on the days of shaking uncontrollably in the shower, losing the vision in front of me, being in intensive care with temperatures, being neutropenic, or in the hospital the day before Christmas, I never allowed cancer to win and break me. I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason”, in fact, I very much dislike that quote. Let’s face it, what possible reason is there for any woman to get breast cancer! What I do believe is sometimes we don’t know how strong we are until we are faced with such adversity.
God and gratitude played a large part in my journey and navigating the difficult road of cancer. When you are going through Chemotherapy, it is as if you see the world through different eyes. I have always appreciated life and had gratitude but this magnified it to another level.
Cancer doesn’t just affect you, it affects everyone who loves and cares for you. You don’t go through cancer alone, your family walks it with you. The support I received from my tribe which consisted of family, friends, and our church was nothing short of incredible, they rallied around. There was a constant flow of food, phone calls, help with my babies, cleaning, gifts, and a surprise photoshoot of our little family before I shaved my head, which was an incredible gesture. These amazing wonderful people who we are blessed with, stopped their lives on days to help me and my family and no words of thankyou could ever be enough.
The “Chemo Cave” at Calvary North Adelaide became my second home, and my amazing oncologist, nurses, surgeons, and volunteers made a really difficult journey, one full of laughs smiles, and jokes.
I decided to become a ‘So Brave Ambassador’ for a few reasons:
Firstly, to educate and empower young women, to never think they are too young to have breast cancer, to be aware of their bodies, and always advocate for themselves.
Secondly, I want there to be more awareness surrounding breastfeeding women and for those women to receive more education and health assessments available for women at this stage of their lives. Let’s be honest who thinks about breast checking when breastfeeding? I certainly didn’t.
Thirdly, on a more personal note, no one tells you about the aftermath of the treatment of cancer and how different you are when the relentless treatment finishes. How it alters you both good and bad, so for me on this personal level it’s about embracing my new self.