Monique’s Story

01 Jun 2019 by Krystal Barter
Monique’s Story

It was a hot October’s day in Sydney. I was at home getting ready for an event and as usual I was running late. It was on this day that I found myself in the bathroom, fumbling away at some Hollywood tape, trying to hold my boobs in place that I felt a lump. Who knew that my fate was in the hands of one low cut, slightly revealing dress!

I’ve been known to be quite the hypochondriac at times, so instinctively I spoke about the lump a lot. Turns out having a lump is quite common, even in my age group. It seemed everyone I had spoken to had something similar and theirs all turned out to be normal. I was getting the reassurance I needed, especially given I was about to start a new job. Things in my life were busy, I didn’t have time for this!

A few weeks passed and in that time one of my managers friends had sadly passed away from breast cancer. I took this as a sign and decided to make a call and book myself in for a mammogram. The sign was short lived as the lady on the phone told me I needed to be over 40 to go there. I felt like I was in Mean Girls and she told me “I couldn’t sit with her”. This only put it off a little longer.

Finally, one Tuesday, 2 weeks into my new job, over a month after I felt the lump and tried to book that mammogram, I went to see a Doctor.

I hadn’t been to this Doctor before but she felt the lump and insisted I get it looked at straight away and booked me in for an ultrasound the next day. I remember lying on the ultrasound bed and the guy asking me which breast the lump was in and if I could point out the area. I looked down at my chest and at this point you could clearly see the lump popping up under my skin, I think he was surprised how obvious it stood out too. I remember looking at his screen and seeing the large dark mass, it was so ugly and even with my non-medical eyes I could tell it didn’t look right. I kind of noticed a shift in the way they acted towards me when he went out and got a Doctor who suggested we get the lump biopsied because it needed further investigating. Next minute and what felt like 3-gun shots to my boob later, I’m back at work with an icepack in my bra and feeling a bit worried.

This all happened on a Thursday afternoon and they told me I’d get the results back on Monday. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but Mum suggested as she always does, to put my Dads details (he’s a GP) on the referral form so he’d get the results too.

Sunday morning comes and Dad casually logs into his computer as he does at 7am every other day, but this time sees a report that he wasn’t expecting. His daughters name and the words Grade 3, Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

Lucky for me, my mum and 3 sisters were all in Sydney that Sunday 4th November 2018. I woke up at my partners house to a missed call from my mum and a message to meet at my place for coffee. It was Sunday and I love coffee, I wasn’t suspicious in the slightest. I remember walking through the front door, greeted by a sea of crying family.

It was my eldest sister who hugged me first and said the famous words ‘you have cancer’.

That first week was the worst. My days were full of appointments and it was weird to see my name on oncology lists and having to write down that I had breast cancer on every form. Last week I was worried about my new job, this week I was worried about the possibility of cancer in my brain! I couldn’t eat and I remember going to bed and my body would uncontrollably shake as I lay there. I’ve never been an anxious person but for me I automatically associated cancer with death and I thought this was the start of the end for me. Knowing a lot more about cancer now, I know that isn’t true!

All my scans showed that the cancer hadn’t spread however my oncologist and surgeon warned me that I had an aggressive type of cancer and I needed to start making decisions quickly. 11 days from that horrible Sunday and I was lying on an operating table about to get a some of my ovary taken out (for fertility preservation) and a porta cath inserted into my chest.

Because of my age and the type of cancer I had they were suspicious of a BRCA mutation in our family. We knew of a few cousins who had Breast Cancer on my Dad’s side and my Nanna on my Mum’s, but they were all above 40 and we never knew of any faulty gene.

After a long 4 weeks it was confirmed that I unfortunately have BRCA1 and it’s come from my Dad.

We were all surprised as my Grandma (where the gene was passed down from) lived to an impressive 102 and never had breast or ovarian cancer. Knowing more about my family history now, there have been 5 relatives with Triple Negative Breast Cancer and at least 3 with Ovarian Cancer.

Having BRCA1 has influenced my surgery decision as it has been highly recommended I get a double mastectomy to decrease the chance of reoccurrence. It also means that when I’m 35, I’ll have to start thinking about my ovaries and when I want to get them taken out too.

So here I am today. I’ve finished 12 weekly cycles of Taxol/Carboplatium. I’m currently in my 2nd cycle of fortnightly dose dense AC (2 more to go). I have been put on a drug called Zoladex so I’m currently going through menopause. Hello hot flushes. I’ve been to Emergency once, need to inject myself multiple times a week. Have got a million blood tests, have eaten a million mango weise bars because that’s all I felt like. My surgery is booked for May and the outcome will determine if I need radiation or not.

I’m completely bald, my body and life has changed in a million different ways but I can’t help but feel so lucky.

So lucky that I caught the cancer early, so lucky for the support that surrounds me, so lucky for the community I live in and so lucky to be part of a family with a long line of strong independent women! Especially my Aunty Ruth who passed away recently from gall bladder cancer. It’s only until you have gone through something like this that you realise how strong people can be and knowing everything I do now, I can confirm she was the strongest women I knew.

I hope that from this experience I can only help others be strong too.

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