My name is Kate and this is my story.
Not long ago, I found myself sitting in a park next to my partner, on the verge of tears. I decided to laugh out loud instead. “Who would have thought, one year ago, that this would be my life today?” I said to him. It’s been my decision since then to keep laughing, despite all the waves that have washed up on my shore.
Just over six months ago, I was packing my bags to move to London. The timing was perfect, and I’d never been more excited. So imagine my surprise whilst washing in the shower, I felt a lump in my breast. At 27. It was only that my dear great Aunt is currently fighting her own BRCA battle that I was remotely aware of my body.
What followed was a giant snowball of medical appointments. The initial appointment with the GP, who reassured it was probably just calcification at my age. Blood tests. Ultrasounds. A breast biopsy. Then finally, I found myself in the Breast Cancer Institute at Westmead facing the news that my lump was malignant, and I was diagnosed with Hormone+ BRCA Stage 1. My brain stopped functioning for that next half hour, and through all the shock, all I could ask the Fellow was “But… will I still be able to move to London next month?”
It was at this stage I also underwent genetic testing to determine if this was hereditary. Thankfully for my mother, sister and future children (still hopeful!), it was just dumb luck that my body had gone rogue on me; the results were negative. It is so important for women’s health that this testing exists, so they can be fully aware and preventative of their risk.
My surgical team explained I would need to have an operation called a Lumpectomy to remove the cancerous tumour, a sentinel node biopsy to test if the cancer had spread, and then radiotherapy to the breast following. This surgery took place around 3 weeks after my diagnosis. Another shock followed: the ‘margins’ of tissue surrounding the area still were not clear, and I would need more surgery to ensure there was absolutely no cancer-affected tissue remaining in my right breast. Under I went again, and a bit more of my boob disappeared. “Take as much as you need, just bloody get it out!”, I remember saying.
About a week after this, I was back in the BCI clinic facing yet again another shock. “The margins still aren’t clear.” What? Sorry…how? As a young woman with dense breasts – something I knew nothing of before this whole process – they explained it was harder to see in the mammograms exactly how big the tumour was. What this now meant was the tumour was bigger than originally diagnosed and since it was now considered Stage 2 (more than 5cm large), it was off to ChemoLand for me.
Before this could happen, I had a bone scan and MRI to determine that there was no trace of cancer anywhere else in my body. Surprise! Two little spots had shown up on my spine. It was as if every time I entered the hospital, I walked out with even worse news. I cried in my loungeroom and sobbed to my parents: “I can’t do this.” Then I videocalled my partner on the other side of the world, and tried not to fall apart completely as I delivered bad news to him yet again. Despite the comfort of my family and friends, I sank into a very dark pit of fear as my world crumbled around me.
My oncology and cancer care team were the lifeline that pulled me out of this hole. My phenomenal Oncologist explained every step that was to be taken from here, the possibilities, side-effects of chemo and what treatment I would receive. And while everything was most definitely not okay, they remained inherently positive about my outcome, which has inspired me to keep fighting everyday – and hopefully kick this disease in the butt! I’m due to finish up my 6 months of chemotherapy in April, and will undergo more surgery and radiotherapy after this.
While this has already been one helluva time, I’m most thankful and more inspired than ever by the people around me. Cancer really refocuses your energy for life, and makes you conscious of how much love and gratitude you have for your family and friends. It’s allowed me to have many a conversation about Breast Cancer awareness in particular for young women, and am so grateful for organisations like Pink Hope which allow that conversation to continue. It’s my own personal hope to play a bigger part in this community, and advocate for more awareness & education around the health risks for younger women – we are certainly not an anomaly!
My advice to every lovely lady out there: Be aware of your body. Educate yourself. Touch yourself. As I’m now painfully aware, you’re never too young, too healthy, too busy – too male even! – to be rocked by this hell-demon of a disease.
Today, I sit in that same park as I did a few months ago and think of how everything could be so different. My body is as weak as it ever has been as an adult woman, I’m tired, and my head resembles a fuzzy macadamia nut.
But my heart is strong; my mind is determined to carry on, so that I can get through this and help other women do the same in the future.