Amber’s Story

Posted in Personal Stories 09 Aug 2016

Amber Whalan

My name is Amber and this is my story.

No one thinks that it will happen to them, nobody can be prepared for that kind of news, nobody knows how they will react, cope or deal. Everyone is different and so here is my story, my journey, my experience.

When I was 27 I fell pregnant with our third child, is wasn’t exactly planned but we were happy and excited. Little did I know that falling pregnant was ultimately a life saver. I was thrown a lifeline without even knowing it. A few months into my pregnancy I noticed a lump in my right breast, I’ve had one before, 10 years ago (a fibroanenoma or benign tumour). I went to the GP who examined me, and sent me off for an ultrasound. Life at that time was pretty hectic. We were selling our house, I was working two to three days a week and obviously also caring for my other two children, Ollie (aged three) and Hazel (aged two) full time, whilst battling severe morning sickness! We sold our house, had a 28 day settlement (with nowhere to move into) and I was working in WA that week. Luckily my family home was vacant and so each night after work we moved a trailer load of household items into mum and dad’s old house. The next few months we entered a massive emotional rut. We were looking and looking for our family home with zero success. In fact, we were being outbid by over $100k at every single auction. Stress levels were extremely high and needless to say I had forgotten about that ultrasound I was supposed to have had.

Six months later we finally bought a house.  Chase was born the following month. Moving is never fun, especially whilst eight months pregnant and with two kids. But we did it. So I had two weeks to nest before Chase was born. Life with a newborn was crazy and because I thought my lump was just going to be another benign tumour I thought the ultrasound could wait.

September is host to Pink Hopes Bright Pink Lipstick Day, which is devoted to raising awareness for knowing your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. I attended a local Arbonne fundraising event which prompted me to think about the lump I had been avoiding.

The ultrasound was going fine, until the radiographer said, “I’m just going to go and get one of the doctors to have a look at the lump as well”. I thought, ok that’s fine a second opinion is always good. The doctor was blunt and when he saw the lump he said “this is looking extremely abnormal, it’s ridged, not smooth and a solid mass,” I will be writing up your results immediately and your doctor will have them within the hour.” That kind of news freaked me out but I still didn’t think much of it.

On Saturday morning I had three phone calls from my doctor, a specialist and a radiology place; they had my results and needed me to get an urgent biopsy on the Monday. For those who haven’t had a biopsy, it absolutely kills and I wanted to smash the doctor in the face! They said they were sending the results off urgently and I would have them back by Thursday.

On Wednesday my surgeon Peter Gregory called me up. He said “Amber are you sitting down?”, I said “no, but I will.” He told me he had my results. He said Amber you have breast cancer and I’m so sorry. I took a deep breath while he continued to tell me exactly what type I have – an invasive lobular carcinoma, malignant tumour was the diagnosis. When I put the phone down took a deep breath and called my husband, who came home immediately. I didn’t cry, I didn’t really know what to feel, I didn’t have my head around it yet.

The next day I met with the surgeon who discussed all my options. The first thing he said to me was you may have to have a mastectomy depending on what we find. He then spoke to me and my family for over an hour about everything. Brain overload, seriously … I was totally out of my depth and overloaded with so much information. Still no tears! Then just before I left he told me I had to stop breast feeding Chase and I absolutely lost it, tears, tears, tears! So funny what you do and don’t react to!

The following weeks were full of tests. MRI and mammogram first (which wasn’t covered by Medicare because of my age, so that cost about $1200). The results of those tests came back and they told me they think I’ve got cancer in the other breast as well. So I immediately had to go and get a biopsy on the other breast ($940) and a MRI and mammogram ($800), plus I had to go to a genetics specialist and have a blood test to test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations as it was looking like I could have a genetic predisposition.

A few weeks later the genetic testing came back that I tested negative to the common cancer gene mutations.

So then why did I get breast cancer at 28 years old……? STRESS….? The last 18 months have been EXTREMELY intense so maybe stress did cause my cancer?

Anyway, my surgery was booked for Tuesday November 10th, I went under the knife under the care of the very best hands. The staff at Cabrini Brighton were amazing as was my surgeon Peter Gregory, who said he’d have the results by Friday.

On Friday at about 5pm (thanks for the long wait) Peter called me with my results. I’ll never forget him words. He said “Amber you are one very lucky young lady. The surgery was successful, we got all the cancer and my margins were clear. The pathology results found that the cancer had spread to six daughter cells into your breast tissue, but I got them out too! The pathology results also found that the cancer had begun to spread to your lymph nodes and when it gets in your nodes it very hard to get rid of. But Amber…. I got that all out too. If you had of come and seen me in a few more months your story would have been extremely different, your timing was impeccable”.

I cried happy, happy tears and was so grateful for everything he had done for me.

On November 16th (my birthday) I met my oncologist who decided I needed chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy to make sure I stay cancer free. CHEMO…. NOOOOO I don’t want it, please don’t make me have it. How am I going to go through chemo and look after my kids, house, husband? That week I was negative for the first time. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to do anything, I just wanted to be negative and sob.

On Monday 23rd November I had my first chemo, 9 hours later (due to cold capping) it was finally over. Now I am sitting on my couch 4 days post chemo, my whole body aches, I feel nauseous all day and my mouth tastes like metal. I can’t even enjoy a glass of wine.

6 months later…..

Since writing the above six months ago a lot of things have changed. When I met with my oncologist Dr.Yoland Antill for the first time last year she asked if I had any family history of breast cancer, I said only my Aunty on my dad’s side who was diagnosed with the same type of breast cancer as me, an invasive, lobular carcinoma, hormone sensitive to estrogen and progesterone but HER2 negative, when she was in her early sixties. Dr.Antill didn’t seem to think there was any genetic link to my cancer, but decided to send me off for genetic testing anyway. These results came back negative but they kept my DNA on file for further testing. Then three months ago my grandma (my dad’s mum) at the age of 85 was diagnosed with breast cancer, an invasive, lobular carcinoma, hormone sensitive to estrogen and progesterone but HER2 negative. My oncologist was almost speechless. Six months ago there was seemingly no correlation between my cancer and a genetic fault….today we now potentially have enough DNA to test for and uncover another gene fault. Ultimately, I had risks without knowing I had risks.

I am through the bad part of my journey, and I am ready to finally take something amazing from it all. I want the genetic counsellors to use my families DNA to find another gene fault, another way of testing women’s predisposed risk to breast and ovarian cancer. I want to teach and educate and raise awareness amongst young women, women who like me NEVER thought they’d be the one receiving news that they had breast cancer. Together, we can make a difference, and Pink Hope have shown me that this is in fact possible. It was their message, after all that finally drove me to go and get myself checked out.

So, I think overall the message I want to get across to people is that cancer doesn’t discriminate, you’re never too young, too fit, too healthy to avoid it, but there are definitely measures you can take to lower your risk.

You may also be interested in