Belynda

Age at diagnosis: 33

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2016 when I was 33 years old. Two months previously I felt a hard lump after my youngest son Noah accidentally knocked the side of my left breast and it was really painful. My gut instinct straight away was that it wasn’t good as I have a strong family history of cancer. I went to see my GP and I could tell her gut instinct wasn’t good either. She sent me for an ultrasound and the sonographer thought the lump looked more like a fibroadenoma. My GP still has her suspicions and referred me to the Breast Centre in Perth to have more testing done. I actually had to wait nearly 6 weeks to be seen as I was referred through the public health system and I was probably considered a low priority from the initial ultrasound results and due to my age.

When I finally went to the Breast Centre in Perth I had an examination done by a Dr who also thought it felt more like a fibroadenoma. I then had an another ultrasound and a biopsy, which was quite uncomfortable and painful. I also had a mammogram and they told me they would call me in a few days with the results. Not less that 24 hours later I received a phone call that I needed to come back. My heart sank and obviously the news wasn’t going to be good. When I returned the next day the Dr confirmed it was a very aggressive grade 3 ductal carcimona. I felt numb and everything was a total blur. My life after that was turned upside down and I was faced with some big decisions. I decided to go through the private health system and after meeting a few different specialists, I finally found a breast surgeon and oncologist I was comfortable with. I started my chemotherapy in Perth which is 450km from where I live on a farm in Mullewa. The main reason for this is that I wanted to try to use a cold cap in an attempt to keep my hair. Unfortunately it didn’t work and by about the 3rd round of chemotherapy all my hair had fallen out. Loosing my hair was probably the hardest thing for me. I really hated having no hair and looking different to everyone else. I felt so ugly and it was so hard for me to go out in public with a beanie on all the time. On my good days I sometimes forgot that I had cancer until I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror with no hair, eyebrows or eyelashes. It was a harsh reminder I had breast cancer.

I was considered a red flag for having the BRCA gene due to my age, having a strong family history and the cancer being triple negative. I had the genetic tests done and 6 weeks later I found out my family was a known carrier for BRCA gene and I was also positive. My oncologist in Perth recommended that I have another 3 months of chemotherapy as research shows that women with the BRCA gene and my type of cancer have better survival outcomes.

Travelling to Perth for my chemotherapy was really taking its toll and the cold cap didn’t work so I decided to have my next 3 months of treatment in Geraldton which is closer to our farm.

I finished chemotherapy at the end of March 2017 and my body was so worn out. The side effects are absolutely terrible. I was having treatment weekly for the last 3 months. Towards the end it was taking up to 5 attempts to put in a cannula. In hindsight if I knew how much chemo I needed I would have got a port put it. I can only describe the after effects of chemotherapy as a cross between the worst hangover and flu!

One month later I elected to have bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction because of my high risk of getting another breast cancer in the future. A few days after my surgery I received the best results possible – I had a 100% pathological response to the chemotherapy and there was no lymph node involvement so I didn’t need any radiation. This was a blessing as I would have had to travel and live in Perth for 6 weeks. I had the second stage of my reconstruction done in September 2017.

After I finished my chemotherapy and surgeries I slowly started to regain my life, health and hair back again. When I was sick I made a promise to myself that I wanted to be the healthiest and fittest I’ve ever been when I finish treatment. Before I got sick I had planned to do the Kokoda track with a friend which had to be put on hold until I recovered. It was my goal when I was going through treatment and I’m proud to say that completed Kokoda in June 2018!

When I was going through treatment I also kept thinking that no woman should ever have to go through this. It urged me to become an Ambassador for So Brave and raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. I remember lying in the hospital bed after my first surgery and a friend told me about the So Brave project. I read the stories about the Ambassadors on the website and it was really inspiring. To raise funds for So Brave while doing Kokoda was icing on the cake!

My experience with breast cancer was tough especially with all the travelling for treatment and having a 2 and 4 year old to care for as well. I still had Mum duties to do like toilet training and getting up to them during the night. We tried to keep life as normal as possible for the boys. Some days I just wanted to stay in bed but they kept me going which in hindsight was probably a good thing.

Breast cancer not only turns your world upside but all your loved ones around you. It has a ripple effect. I’m so thankful for my parents, family and friends that supported me during a very difficult time, especially my husband who is my rock.

No one ever wants to hear the words “you have breast cancer”. It takes away so much of your dignity and it’s horrible fighting for your life like that. It becomes a part of your life forever and there’s always a fear that the cancer might come back one day. But I have become more stronger, confident and determined now and cancer will never take that away from me. I see my life differently and I realise what I’m capable of achieving. I wake up everyday feeling grateful for being alive and I am going to make the most of it.