Age at diagnosis: 28 and 33
Family history of breast cancer: no
Stage 1, triple positive and Stage 1, ER-, PR+, HER2+
The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer was at the age of 28. I was diagnosed with Grade 1 Ductal Carcinoma in Situ in my left breast which was ER/PR +ve and HER2 +ve. I had 3 boys under the age of 6.
Without the finer details, I periodically had a small amount of discharge from my left breast. I had no other symptoms, however months later after suffering with constant fatigue, headaches, numerous head colds and flu’s I decided to go to my GP. After some blood tests and an examination he conferred that everything seemed fine. Sometime later I came down with what appeared to be a severe case of mastitis. After a visit to the Dr. I was prescribed a course of strong antibiotics. After the antibiotics the discharge ceased, and at the request of my Dr. I went for a mammogram and ultrasound as a precaution. The results were all clear. However, two weeks later my symptoms reappeared. Samples of the discharge were taken and the results confirmed an abnormality which seemed to point towards an infected milk duct. As a precaution, the milk duct was removed.
Pathology results revealed the milk duct contained cancerous cells. I was immediately scheduled for more surgery, where they took more of the surrounding tissue hoping to get a clear margin. Sadly they were unable to and 2 weeks later at my follow up appointment they advised me that at the age of 28 that I required a mastectomy. Another decision I was faced with, and the hardest decision of all, was whether to get one breast removed or both. After many sleepless nights and contemplation I decided to have both breasts removed. My decision was based purely on prevention and peace of mind. Some thought that I was making the wrong decision and that I was crazy to remove a perfectly healthy breast. However, my fear was, if they found this cancer by pure luck, and no “typical” breast cancer symptoms existed. How then where they going to detect any cancerous cells in the other breast? Would I be as lucky next time? Would they find it as early?
Two months later on March 3, 2008 – I underwent a 10 hour operation to remove both breasts, nipples, some lymph nodes and to have a TRAM FLAP RECONSTRUCTION of both breasts. In total I spent 10 days in the Mater Hospital Brisbane. My left breast contained a 13cm wide section of DCIS as well as 2 smaller segments of invasive cancer. One measuring 1.8cm wide and the other 0.3cm wide. Fortunately, due to the smaller size of the invasive cancer I did not require any chemo or radiation therapies. I was however placed on hormonal therapies of Tamoxifen and Zoladex injections. Hormone therapy essentially puts you into menopause. So at the age of 28, as well as having to come to terms with my cancer diagnosis, and losing my two breasts, I also had to deal with the effects of going through menopause. Hot flushes, night sweats, bone and joint pain, disruptive sleep, mood swings, fatigue and headaches became a constant in my life.
4.5 yrs. down the track in September 2012 I was diagnosed with cancer for the 2nd time at a routine checkup. Again the diagnosis came as a surprise as I felt healthy and again it was only found by chance. I mentioned to the Dr. that I had a sore armpit after having the flu two weeks earlier. Within 24 hours I underwent an ultrasound and core biopsy, and got the call to say that the biopsy was positive. I was scheduled for surgery a few weeks later which resulted in them removing 26 lymph nodes – of which 25 were positive for Grade 3 ER –ve/PR + and HER2 +ve cancer. I underwent 6 months of chemo therapy, 6 weeks of radiation and Herceptin treatment. The Herceptin treatment was stopped after 9 doses however due to it damaging my heart. I again was placed on hormone therapy of Anastrozole and Zoladex, which again put me into menopause again.
From 2007 to now has been a roller coaster to say the least – I have fought breast cancer twice, I have watched my Dad battle Oesophageous Cancer and Lymphoma which he succumbed to in March 2015, I have lost my mother expectantly to a heart attack, and have divorced. Basically, all of life’s stressful events piled into the last 8 years. However, I refuse to let it all get to me and I have risen above stronger and more determined than ever to live life to the max, as well as making a commitment to helping in any way that I can to help beat this ghastly disease.