Age at diagnosis: 36
Hi there my name is Katie, a single mother of two girls now aged 12 and 8.
At the age of 36 I was diagnosed with estrogen and progesterone positive stage two breast cancer. At the time I was a full time working mother of two girls aged 10 and 6 years of age going through the new challenges of separation and divorce.
This day I remember very clearly, after placing my two girls to bed on a Saturday night, I poured a glass of wine after a day of work, sat down on my outside couch and happened to brush against my right breast and felt a lump. This was not just any lump it was a 9cm lump!! To be honest I had so much on my plate I really didn’t think too much about it until the next day, telling a friend about my discovery, he said “it’s best you get this one checked out.” Thinking nothing of it I went to my GP on my next available lunch break. After an examination they sent me to get an ultrasound. Laying on the ultrasound table the lady looked at me and said “this needs urgent and immediate attention,” having realised that this was not something to brush off now my next step was a biopsy. This time I took my mum along for support and to hold my hand and not far into the procedure after much pressure the doctor looked and me and said you have cancer!!! I know this was not allowed and of course I had to wait for the results but I knew deep down this was real. Calling my Dad and telling him was hard, I had no words and my world as I knew it, had crashed and the walls caved in, all I could think about was my two girls.
Having to tell my daughters was the hardest moment of my life giving them the support and security while entering something I wasn’t too sure what the outcome was going to be, it was a heartbreaking experience. I was also dealing with a separation and impending divorce, so my life was like I was was writing six months of a neighbours series in one day. My mum and dad by my side I was fortunate enough to quit my job that day and focus on what a roller coaster ride lay ahead.
My youngest daughter at the time said to me a few weeks into the grueling tests, scans and needles “mum I love you and having cancer cos now you get to spend time with us.” Something my work didn’t allow getting home at six on weeknights and working weekends. That moment I realised what was important to me and my career was now to get better.
After receiving the devastating news I was quickly placed into treatment with six months of chemo followed by a mastectomy then radiation everyday for five weeks followed up with reconstructive surgery which I am still going through! Sounds easy on paper but in reality it is life changing.
My girls and I had no time to take this in as 18 days after chemo started my hair fell out, my trade mark of long golden ringlets fell out in clumps, that’s when reality hit for me and we went to get the last few strands on hair I had left shaved off. Thanks to my cousin we made it a huge deal my girls and close family and friends made a night of it and from that day we decided to rock the bald look.
On one particular school pick up without even thinking about my new look that my girls had grown to love and accept, I remember walking to pick my daughter from school and one of her girlfriends turned around and said in a big voice “OMG look at that lady she has no hair” and my baby girl turned to her and said “that is my mum.” It was then I knew I had to talk to the class about what I was going through. Although they were more interested in my beanie collection yes they were so impressed and how my head felt, it was lovely to walk out of the room knowing that they knew what we were facing and I was getting better and that Jorja’s mum is going to be a survivor! I then became a super star and my bald head was touched like it was a Buddahs belly for good luck!!
Being alone, I had to reach out for help with my children and having such a wonderful family support was paramount to my recovery. The daily routine of getting my girls ready for day to day school life was a struggle at times and still is hahaha. There were times for me getting out of bed was not an option during chemo and other procedures lifting, driving, cooking and cleaning were no longer just a given. There were mornings just after chemo as my girls stayed with my brother and sister in law from the day I received chemo, always on a Wednesday to Sunday to recover. I was extremely sick after chemo and having to Reston what I called my “horizontal position” was my new norm. Having got through the worst, Monday mornings after chemo a bucket came in the car or I would take medication to get the kids to school to school, it was a struggle and many a secret tear was shed, nevertheless we got through and I would come straight home to bed until school pick up.
After chemo finished I had six weeks off treatment until my body could cope with a mastectomy, I came home with two drains and a gorgeous hand bag to place them in. Not a recommended accessory, but to be in my own bed and have the girls kiss me goodbye every morning while my mum dropped them off was priceless. With home nurses visiting many times, handfuls of medications and help from my loved ones yet another challenge was completed.
Radiation was everyday for six weeks. I had the worst anxiety while laying on a table in a empty room having to be still and lining up my tattoos, yet another handful of coping drugs were handed to me like sweets. Just like chemo it works on an accumulation so by the sixth week I was red, sore and blistered like the best day you have had in Bali without the hangover! Lucky it was summer to cause wearing clothes was near on impossible.
I may make it sound bad but the treatment process is easy being sick is easy I got told what to do and where to go, where to be at what time and as hard and grueling as it was it wasn’t until after my world became a living nightmare. It’s like being taken out of society and then thrown back into it saying in the true Aussie way “you are right now mate, good on ya , you made it.” I even had people say to me, it’s all done now you must be better and cancer free but for me that was far from the case, I needed help!
Although you have so much support cancer is so lonely no one gets what you have been through, your thoughts and the constant meditations and procedures take a toll, it becomes your new norm.
So with help from a school girlfriend I reached out or should I say crawled into Breast Cancer Care WA in Cottesloe. There were times after treatment, when I woke up from the blur of what I had been through I struggled with life as one really re-evaluates what’s important. Without one on one counselling and group sessions I am not sure I would have the strength I do today!
We should be so grateful to have these resources available for us and that people understand what we are going through and make us feel that the thoughts we have are normal. With a wonderful group of women to have knowledge and understanding of what I was going through I cannot thank you enough.
Although it was the hardest couple of years of my life I have learned so much.I have gained a world of knowledge, I have lost friends that weren’t strong enough to be there in my time of need and gained many more. My strength from this experience, I am so lucky to be able to reflect how important our time is doing the little things with the ones you love and how precious life is. Hears cheers for a cure in the near future xxxx