I was 34 and had been married exactly one year and one week to my husband. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was 2014.
Life to that point had been sweet. I was in a loving marriage, I was exploring a business partnership with my best friend, I was passionate about puppies, and I was passionate about life.
But I kept noticing a little lump. When I got in the shower and caught my reflection in the mirror, when I brushed my hand past my breast. But I was fit, I was healthy, and I was 34.
I’d gone to visit my parents and the dog jumped up on me in excitement. The minute her paws hit my left breast it was as though the wind had been taken out of me.
I quickly escaped to a nearby bedroom and shut the door. I needed to think, and feel, what was beneath my breast. On touching the lump, the trauma of having lost my dog Sunny from cancer and the lumps that had formed on his body flooded back to me. The trauma of his loss and the touch of the lump brought something up in me that made me want to vomit.
Without speaking to my parents, I immediately booked a GPs appointment for the very next day and while the doctor remained calm, cool and collected during the consultation, she organised an immediate appointment to the local breast clinic.
Here, I was poked, prodded and probed by the breast nurse, who’s poker face said more than it didn’t. When I asked her whether anything was wrong, she replied, “If I’m concerned, you’ll know it.”
“But you are,” I responded, to which she replied, “I am.”
At this point, the flood gate of tears opened up, and the panic began to set in. When I called my husband, he was blindsided. One minute I was simply getting a breast check, the next minute we were in the fight of my life.
I had been diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, a hormone positive, stage 3C cancer with 14 out of my 18 lymph nodes affected.
I was referred on to see an oncologist who told me I was up for the ‘hamburger with the lot’ treatment – fertility-saving egg harvesting, an intensive six months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation and reconstructive surgery followed by five to 10 years of intensive hormone replacement therapy.
For someone who loves to take control of her life, a fearless woman who thrives on independence, what transpired was the complete opposite. My greatest fear of letting go was being realised, because if I didn’t, my prognosis wasn’t going to be good.
Chemotherapy was perhaps the worst part of the journey, followed closely by the hair loss. And while losing all your underarm hair is every woman’s dream, losing your eyelashes and eyebrows certainly isn’t.
After my second session of chemo, I recall laying on the floor in agony I thought if the cancer wouldn’t kill me, the chemotherapy certainly would. I almost gave up. How could I put myself through this for the next six months? How would I survive?
But I did. I made it through the chemo. So, when the time came for radiation therapy, I sought to make this my own. Scheduling the hour each day it took to have treatment as ‘me’ time, where I would zone out, enjoy a juice and flick through the latest gossip magazines to keep myself preoccupied.
A year after radiation finished, I opted for a DIEP reconstruction (where they take the skin from your tummy to reconstruct your breast). In hindsight, I wish I’d stayed ‘lopsided’, it felt more ‘me’ and the scars and pain haven’t been worth the result.
Whilst the journey continues and will continue for some time as I continue on with the HRT treatments, I look back on the path I’ve walked so far and feel proud of my outlook, and where I’ve landed in life.
I realised that biting off more than I could chew by starting my own business really wasn’t the right decision for me, and so instead I’m working in a place that allows my life experience to assist others in theirs. The best bit of all is that I’m alive. I’m here. I’m happy and I’m grateful for each day. I’ve realised I’m more resilient than I ever thought I was, and my happy-go-lucky, super positive outlook has only made me stronger.
However, being proactive with your health really has been the greatest lesson of all; as humans we need to take off our masks and superhero clothes and remember we aren’t invincible. Things can happen to you. Don’t wait until the free mammogram age, til your next pap smear, til your annual skin check. If something doesn’t seem right, do something about it.