My name is Sharon and this is my story.
In June 2012, at the age of 33, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I will never forget that day. So many emotions but most of all fear. My maternal nana had died of ovarian cancer in her early sixties and ten years ago my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the that time, my mum was tested and found out she carried the BRCA1 gene fault. Not long after, I was tested and also found out that I was a carrier. I was 26 at the time and I was just about to get engaged to my husband Trever. I had counselling with our beautiful genetic counsellor, Sian Greening, and started screening at age 30. I was married when I was 28 and the plan was to have our family and then give consideration to having a preventative bilateral mastectomy.
I guess I was a bit naive and falling pregnant took a little longer than expected. Following a miscarriage, at 32 I eventually fell pregnant with our beautiful little man, Finn. He was born on 24 August 2011, just before I turned 33. I had wished for him for so long and he is my inspiration every day.
Following Finns birth, I had my usual screening and all was well. I then went back in June 2012. After a biopsy, on 20 June, I was diagnosed with invasive carcinoma which I later found out was triple negative. That term didn’t mean much to me at the time but from that time on it occupied much of my Google search. The next day arrangements were made for me to see the brilliant Dr Cindy Mak, breast surgeon. Three weeks later I underwent a bilateral skin sparing mastectomy with tissue expanders. I remember being wheeled into surgery just crying, with the nurses holding my hand. We knew the tumour was small but had no idea whether it was in my lymph nodes or even worse. Five hours later I came out of surgery and the best news was that the preliminary tests showed no spread to the lymph nodes. Everyone in the theatre that night was relieved. They were all part of the journey and I will never forget that team of doctor’s and nurses who looked after me. Seven days later and the pathology results were in and they were also the best we could expect. No lymph node spread and there was only residual micro invasion of residual carcinoma left. Because of its aggressive nature though I would still need chemotherapy.
Before starting chemotherapy, Trever and I underwent a cycle of IVF which resulted in three frozen embryos. I found this a really strange experience. IVF is a time of trying to create new life but all I wanted to do was save my life to be here for my little boy. I even considered not doing it because in some way I thought if I gave up things that had been important to me it would mean I would be saved. When you read the rest of my story though, you will understand why I am so glad we did it.
I started chemotherapy on 23 August 2012, the day before Finn turned one. Chemo wasn’t as bad as I expected and I actually have worried that it couldn’t have been working because I wasn’t as sick as I had heard others being. I was assured this wasn’t the case though. I had five months of chemo and begged my oncologist to give me more just to be sure that we got it all. She promised me though that there was nothing more I could do and we now just have to wait.
Mentally the treatment was easy but the hard time was to follow. Instead of enjoying seeing my little boy grow up, everyday I had the fear of recurrence and knowing if that happened, it’s not a case of curing me because its then terminal. For a long time, cancer controlled my life.
Fast forward to August 2014 and after undergoing some testing to see whether there was any evidence of secondary cancer, we were given the all clear to proceed with IVF. Our amazing obstetrician, Dr Greening was in charge of the process. I was so nervous having the embryo transferred. But this time, luck was on our side and our beautiful daughter, Zara Mary was born on 21 April 2016.
We are now a little family of four. Most of the time I don’t think of cancer but there are times when I worry and the fear of it coming back creeps in. Lucky for me those times become fewer and fewer the further I move away from my diagnosis and next June I will celebrate being five years cancer free.