Tina

Age at diagnosis: 37

I was 37 years old when I was diagnosed. At the time my life was great, brilliant. If I was to have a dream board or a written description of my ideal life, this was it. It was pretty close to everything I wished for and wanted.

I had bought my apartment and renovated it a few years before and was really enjoying living in it and knowing that I achieved that on my own. I had a great job where I was finally being recognised for my skill set, knowledge and work. My relationship with friends and family were great. My circle of friends was wonderful and my family …well the only way to describe them is ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ meets an episode of ‘Brothers and Sisters’. You get the idea – lots of love, noise and food.

I clearly remember before the diagnosis thinking to myself that I am one lucky girl. I was driving down my street and saw the trees, beautiful homes and thought WOW, I am truly blessed. I have everything – family, friends, work, home and health. Little did I know how lucky I really am.

One night I felt a painful lump in my left breast. I had a bit of a feel and it was quite painful. I checked the same spot in the right breast but there was no lump. I decided to wait until my next cycle to see if it ‘disappeared’. I also did not want to go the GP as I knew that would mean the dreaded mammogram….and who wants to have a mammogram?

I waited to the next cycle, and sure enough, the painful lump remained. I tried to find every excuse possible not to check it out. There is no history of any type of cancer in my family. My thought was, ‘’breast cancer does not hurt and my lump does, so it just can’t be breast cancer.’’ How wrong was I?

I went to my GP. She examined me and said yes, there is a definite lump and we need to examine it. She gave me a referral for a mammogram and ultrasound. I made the appointment and returned to her with the film and report. She looked at it and said nothing to worry about. The result was that I had a fibroedomena which is typical in women in my age group. Here is where my ‘good luck’ started. I was ready to leave the appointment, relieved, when my GP said that although the results were nothing to worry about, she was going to refer me to a breast surgeon for a second opinion – and thank God she did!

I made the appointment to see the breast surgeon. He looked at the film and report and said the same thing. Nothing to worry about, typical result for woman in my age group. Great!! I was ready to walk out the door; had to return to the office when he said he needed to examine me. Upon examination he found a SECOND lump – one that was not picked up in the mammogram and ultrasound. The surgeon was calm but said he wants further investigation just to be sure and referred me for a core biopsy.

I made the appointment for the core biopsy and off I went to ‘another’ appointment! A few weeks later I returned to the surgeon. I remember that day clearly. I went in to see my surgeon and he told me there was no easy way to say this – that the results show that I had breast cancer. I had two tumours and that I would need to have a mastectomy, reconstruction, chemo and tamoxifen. I burst into tears. I was on my own. I did not have my family with me as I honestly did not think for a moment the result would be breast cancer. There is no cancer in my family. I actually said to the surgeon, ‘No, there is no cancer in my family. I am preparing for heart disease as an old woman!’ It was 10am on Friday, 18 April 2008 and it was pouring rain. It was like the gods were crying with me that day.

I walked home in the rain and then called my family. They descended on me and we cried a lot, laughed and ate. After years of trying to be an equal to my older sisters, in that moment I returned to being the baby sister.

And the roller coaster journey started! A week and half later I was in hospital having a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. I saw both surgeons the day before to ask my 5,000 questions. The surgeons were great and extremely patient with me, my questions and my family’s many questions.

My surgeon advised that they removed all the breast tissue and that the tumours were 2.4cm and 2.6cm and they were grade 3. The best bit was that there was no lymph node activity.

I met with my oncologist who said that I would need chemo and was to start the next week. Fun – NOT! In my family we have this silly ’thing’ where we give people, incidents, events nicknames. So I decided my breast cancer drama was to have a name. From here on in the cancer was known as the bastard, the chemo was known as the AVO and the tamoxifen that I am currently taking is known as my insurance policy.

The chemo was harsh. There were constant blood tests, side effects. The side effects weren’t too bad in the beginning, but unfortunately they had a cumulative effect and after each treatment, it took longer for me to recover. I lost my hair, and was devastated about losing my eyebrows and eyelashes. I also gained a lot of weight to the point where I was unable to fit into my clothes. Every morning I would wake up and on a ‘good’ day forget for a moment that I was a cancer patient having chemo and then I would see myself in the mirror – bald, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, and bloated. I did not recognise myself.

My life has drastically changed. I am even closer with my family and friends. I have left the corporate world and started another roller coaster ride of starting a new business to help my sister survivors heal and reclaim their body confidence through the beauty of lingerie. I absolutely love the work I do to help women feel confident and beautiful again. I connected with So Brave because I believe our mission is the same and that is to celebrate ourselves, our lives and our bodies. Our bodies have gone through hell, yet we are here, scarred, different, grateful and ready to celebrate every moment of our life. This project for me is also personal. It is the first time I will show my body and scars publicly. Real with the armour of body-paint which will give me the added confidence to face the world in a ‘I can do’ attitude. Until this moment, I have kept this part of myself private.

Finally, my dream board still exists but with different goals. Now my goals are living and enjoying my life, health and fitness, family and friends and most importantly, a world without breast cancer. A big thank you to Rachelle for this amazing project and allowing me to be a part of it.