Michelle

Age at diagnosis: 39

On July 15th, 2015… I was faced with any woman’s greatest fear…. Breast Cancer. I was diagnosed with Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. I was 39 years old, with 4 healthy and happy kids, a partner, and a new business… VINTAGE EARTH. I had no history of breast cancer in my family and yet it found me.

After having breast fed 4 babies my breasts had more than lost their elasticity… they were not the dense breasts they once were. During my pregnancy of my youngest daughter I had constant trouble with my milk letting down, my right breast would constantly feel firm and I often had mastitis. I was recommended to apply heat packs, warm compress, hot showers and express whenever possible. No one suggested scans.

18 months after I finished breast feeding, I noticed my right breast sitting slightly higher in my bra compared to my left. Fuller in shape like it did prior to breastfeeding. My regular GP dismissed my concerns for hormonal changes… ensuring me I had no concerns at my age… no puckering, no visible signs of a lump or anything sinister. She told me I was wasting my time and money on unnecessary scans. But I needed to know for sure and I insisted on a mammogram and an ultrasound to set my mind at ease. While I had no define lump, something told me my breast didn’t feel quite right.

The mammogram showed nothing more than what appeared to be dense breast tissue, apparently common in women my age. The scan showed dense tissue and a few very small spots of interest. The Dr came in and instructed me they needed to do a fine needle biopsy on the smaller spots. They did approx 6 biospies and then he asked me “Have you ever had children?” I told him I had 4 and he then asked… “But you never breast fed them?”. I then informed him I had breast fed all 4 of my kids, to which he replied “Ohhh… well you have the breast tissue of a woman that has never breast fed. I am 99% sure you have a large malignant cancer in your breast and even if these tests come back negative I am writing in my report that I recommend whatever is in there is to be removed.” Hearing those words without test results seemed ludicrous to me. But he seemed so sure.

3 Days later a different Gp confirmed my tests were infact all negative. But as instructed I was referred on to a breast surgeon who immediately organised for me to have a core biopsy (larger needle biospsy) and an MRI. After almost 2 weeks of tests and poking and prodding… my worst fears were confirmed. I needed an immediate mastectomy to remove a large malignant tumour. I was diagnosed as having Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. A rare slow growing cancer that typically is in older woman over 70-80 and only affects approx 5% of breast cancer patients. It was likely I had this for 3-4 years prior without any knowledge.

July 15th is the day it was removed and I remember it all so clearly… I had so much fear that it had spread, and so much fear that my 4 young children would not see me grow old. So scared for what would happen next.

I had my cancer infected breast removed as well as 5 lymph nodes.

Fortunately for me they got it all. 1 large 5cm x 7cm lobular breast cancer and 2 smaller 8mm tubular breast cancers. The dense tissue they could see was infact one large mass. But my margins were clear… it hadn’t spread.

What happened next was nothing short of hard. At the time, I had 4 kids aged 12, 11, 4 & 2+half… one income, bills… and no clue what lay ahead. My mastectomy surgery meant my parents had to move in with us until I was able to drive again and resume being a mum and everyone I knew had to help with dinners, school runs, kids sports and extracurricular activities.

On top of everything else… chemo made it harder. After my first round I was struck down with influenza and admitted to hospital. Subsequent chemo rounds had me back in and out of hospital with Shingles, respiratory troubles and allergic reactions to meds. I felt like I was always away from my family and most importantly my kids.

Our children give us unconditional love…. They love us regardless of whether we have no hair from chemo, or if we are now pale and overweight from steroids or unwell and lay up in bed sick as a dog…. but they worry just like we do about the ones they love.

Thanfully for us Canteen helped lessen that burden for my eldest 2, giving them hope and a lifeline of new friends. I cannot thank them enough for their ongoing support even today.

Radiation burnt my skin. Gave me endless days of anxiety and made me cry. But I put on a brave face and pretended I was ok to everyone around me… I went back to working in my business Vintage Earth and tried to find my normal again.

Throughout my breast cancer journey, I have denied myself the title of being BRAVE. Although I cherish the sentiment… Bravery to me is not a choice. Breast cancer doesn’t allow you to choose bravery… it chooses YOU.

In 2017, I became a single parent and I decided I had to make a choice… after all, we only have “one life… one chance”. I made a clear decision to take control of my life… and I chose to be So Brave.

I feel entirely blessed that I have been selected as a 2018 SO BRAVE Model Ambassador to help promote breast cancer awareness in young women; highlighting their core message that young women under 40 get breast cancer too.

This SO BRAVE journey has been FOR ME. I have pretended I’m ok to my 4 kids and my family; and I’ve pretended that everything in my reconstruction was ok when it wasn’t. And I’ve pretended that cancer (even tho it was so shit) that I was ok with it when I wasn’t! This year is all about doing what I want to do… because I’m soooo important and I CAN be braver than I ever want to be.

So Brave enforces that and my paint day made me realise that the most important person in my life is ME!!!

I’m not a good mother without being a good me, I’m not a good friend, I’m not a good partner… I’m not a good anything… without being the best version of myself!

Throughout this journey I have learnt to believe in myself. Do what feels good. Take risks and make myself proud. I have so got this!