My name is Megan and this is my story.
I was due for my annual mammogram in February this year. We were due to fly out to Thailand for a long awaited two week holiday in May so I thought I’d put off my mammogram until we got back. My blessing in disguise follows; I believe had I have gone in February when I was due they wouldn’t have detected anything and who knows where I’d have been come February 2010.
I didn’t have to go down this path; there were others ways to treat this disease. I’m so happy with the radical procedure I had. For me, it was definitely the right choice.
My sister Leanne passed away from breast cancer on Saturday 15th September 2007, at age 38. She fought incredibly hard and unfortunately lost her three year battle with a disease that to this day I still cannot fathom how it came into our family.
She left behind two beautiful boys Ben now 16 and Alex now 13 and her 7 week old husband Andrew. She looked astonishingly beautiful on her wedding day with a small gathering in their new home with family and very close friends. How she managed to get through that special night is beyond me, for weeks beforehand she’d been bed ridden – adrenalin is an amazing thing, although she was shaking like a leaf all night, somehow she managed to keep on smiling and show none of what her body was really putting her through.
She used to laugh about the 3 folders of paperwork she had alongside her bed. She had the wedding day folder, the honeymoon folder and the funeral folder. She didn’t think she’d need to address the funeral folder quite so soon. So soon in fact that she never did address it, we had to.
Upon her return from their two week honeymoon she was hospitalised and never came home again. Her funeral amazed me, I wasn’t aware of how many people’s lives this young girl had touched until it was my turn to speak. I was lost for words. Her true qualities were right there before me in each and every one of the expressions on those people’s faces. It was my honour to share her life story with those people then and it is my honour to share my story with you now.
Each year since Leanne’s diagnosis brought me to my annual mammogram and ultrasound. For the past four years my annual checks never showed anything other than the usual cystic type changes. That was until this year. 10th June 2009, off I trot with the previous mammograms in hand. “Aaahhh nothing like having your boob squished in a fridge door” I say, trying to make light of an uncomfortable situation. I was all done for another year and advised that my report and films would be ready for collection in a couple of hour’s time.
Upon my return I whipped open the envelope (yes the one that is sealed and only for the G.P to open – I couldn’t help myself, I figured I paid for it, I’m opening it) and read ‘cluster of micro calcifications’ What the hell does that mean? I rang my boyfriend Rick straight away and he went into ‘calm Megan down’ mode. I was panicking thinking what the hell are micro calcifications? I made an appointment with my G.P. and was booked in to see a breast surgeon five days later. She said “With your family history we’ll need to remove these calcifications, more often than not they’re nothing to worry about, but we have to be sure.” Four days later I’m in having a 4mm micro calcification cluster removed and five days after that I’m back in the surgeon’s office with my parents alongside me. The results came back as DCIS Ductal Carcinoma In Situ – which basically meant that the cancer hadn’t broken out of the cell wall and spread, it was non-invasive, however it was 90% Strong Female Hormone Receptive. Still I heard the word CANCER and straight away thought, “Oh God, chemo, hair loss, radiation therapy, then death”. Since the loss of Leanne, I’ve had little faith in the survival of breast cancer and to me it meant those exact four things – chemo, hair loss, radiation therapy and death. The surgeon advised that chemo wasn’t required, but that I’d need to see a Radiation Oncologist. In that moment I said “Just take them off! I want them off” My parents said “No, you can’t go making rash decisions, we need to be informed of the treatments available first” I’m saying “Nup, I want them off, they’ve got to come off, I’ve always said after watching what Leanne went through that if I ever get it, I want them off, it’s not a rash decision, this thought has been floating around inside my head for the last 5 years.”
The surgeon was completely supportive either way. She suggested I go and have a think, meet with the Radiation Oncologist and get back to her with my decision.
So next thing I knew my diary was booked to see different Surgeons, the Radiation Oncologist, Geneticists, G.P. and a Psychologist. Most of which were wonderful. Meeting with the Radiation Oncologist was the cruncher for my decision of a bi-lateral mastectomy. He discussed the pros and cons of the treatment, the percentage and success rates of the different treatment types and answered the whole A4 page of questions I had for him.
The radiation therapy I probably would have handled, but the thought of going onto Tamoxifen for the next 5 years made me shudder. Rick and my thoughts on starting a family at this point in time aren’t strong, but to have that option taken away from me over the next 5 years. No way. I’ll be 40 before we could even start trying if we choose to. Add to that the thought of my parents/siblings going through the challenge of watching another daughter/sister dealing with breast cancer was too much for me and them to handle. Then to consider my own mental anguish I would have between each mammogram wondering is there a cancer growing again? Will my next mammogram catch it in time or will it have spread and then I’ll have to be on that chemo, hair loss and radiation therapy then death journey. In hindsight and after speaking with the specialists in this field, the success rate of breast cancer survivors proves that my thoughts on survival needn’t have been so clouded with those thoughts of Leanne’s journey.
Early detection is the key, we hear it so many times, but truly it is the key and I’m living proof.
I met the Genetic Counsellor on the 15th July, she traced my family history back as far as I knew, with the only known breast cancer history being my sister and now myself. This placed me in the high risk category due to our age. So still I wait, the results could take 4-6 months.
I had the Clinical Geneticist’s appointment at a later date to thank for putting me in touch with Pink Hope. Whilst some of the things she shared in that appointment I found less then desirable and not necessary for a Dr and patient consultation, I can thank her for putting me in touch with such wonderful, informed, inspirational and empowering women.
The next month and a half covered the appointments I had booked in my diary. Then the countdown to the big day began with a couple of visits to see the psychologist in between. The Psychologist; ‘what a wonderful lady’. The rigmarole to see her, another story in itself. You’d think with making the radical decision to have a bi-lateral mastectomy at such a young age, that counselling would be funded by NSW Health wouldn’t you? Well, no, it isn’t, well it is, but it isn’t. Would you believe that because I’d elected to have this procedure I wasn’t entitled to free counselling? Had I’ve gone down the radiation/tamoxifen path – different story, I’d be in the public health system and I could see the same psychologist for free. Now in order to see her or any other psychologist I was required to go on a Mental Health Care Plan for Chronic Diseases via my G.P which provided me with a five visit discounted rate partially funded by Medicare.
The recommendation of the beautiful Breast Nurses (where would we be without these amazing women) that I see the psychologist was truly appreciated and they too shared my disappointment that the psychological service for women in my situation isn’t free. I was so cranky thinking that I was saving NSW Health a fortune by not going down the radiation therapy path and paying myself via the private health system to have this surgery, it really didn’t make sense at all. I couldn’t dwell on it; there were more important things to worry about.
On Wednesday 2nd September I had a skin sparing (nipple removed) bi-lateral mastectomy and re-constructive surgery. I didn’t have a chance thankfully that morning to become anxious about what I was about to endure as I was first off the starting blocks – a 7.30am booking. Next thing I knew I’d come through alive and well, with two lovely perky implants in place. I still have a little way to go with my nipple reconstruction and tattooing, both of which I’m sure will occur without any hassles. The day I got home from hospital I shed a few tears when my thoughts went to life without my real nipples. The ability to breastfeed is no longer there if the need arises. Also at this point in time until my implants settle in, my boobs are puckered where the stitches are and just look weird. I know the end product will be great, but patience has never been my virtue.
I have to say every new day amazes me. I’m fascinated with how quickly the body heals itself. I’m feeling incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by my amazing partner Rick, my family, my gorgeous friends and work colleagues. The amount of gifts, books, magazines, yummy chocolates, flowers, get well cards, home cooked meals and well wishes from people is truly a beautiful thing. It’s wonderful how people band together in times of need. Writing this now is very healing for me, yet another layer of loss peels away making way for so many new and beautiful things.
The beautiful things now that I’m breast cancer free and will be around to tell my story when I’m old and grey, playing bingo at the RSL with my best friend and stirring up a storm in the nursing home with my perky boobs. These things are possible due to me taking control of my life right here and right now. This decision may not be for everyone, but never have I been more proud of myself than I am at this point in time and of the choice I’ve made.
So many people have said “Geez Meeg’s you’re so brave” I didn’t see it as brave, I saw it as necessary and logical and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
My motto for any difficult situation in my life is “This too, will pass” and sure enough it does.