General Health

Single Mum’s Breast Cancer Battle a Reminder of How Strong Mums Are

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Amelia was three years old when her mum, Emma Gierschick found a lump in her left breast. It was the first symptom of stage 3 breast cancer, a diagnosis that would come six weeks later.

From the day she was diagnosed, Emma knew she couldn’t die. She had to be there for her daughter. As the brave single mum underwent chemotherapy, lost her hair, and even lost the ability to walk, she remained 100% committed to keeping her little girl’s life as normal as possible.

single mum's breast cancer battle
Emma with Amelia. Source: Femail

Through the hospital visits, the vomiting, and the hair loss, Emma’s only thought was of Amelia. Of keeping things normal. Of beating cancer. And of being there for Amelia.

“I always had to put her first,’ Emma said. “But I’ve never smiled as much in my life as I did during my cancer. I was fighting for my life, and there wasn’t an option to lose.

I couldn’t die, I had to be alive for my daughter.”

Emma’s breast cancer diagnosis 

Emma, who hails from Victoria, was 48 years old when she first noticed a lump in her left breast. She was in the shower and, as busy mums do, brushed it off. She almost immediately forgot about it.

It wasn’t until six weeks later that she started to experience a few very unusual symptoms including a large amount of weight loss – 18kg in fact – and a very itchy armpit.

“The weight loss didn’t bother me at the time – I thought it was because I wasn’t eating as much. But the itchy armpit really stumped me,” Emma shared with Femail.

At first, Emma thought she might be allergic to soap or deodorant. She stopped using them but the itch continued.

“My doctor recommended that we do a whole heap of tests while I was there – blood tests, pap smear, breast check – and that’s when she found the lump,” she said.

“I suddenly remembered my shower six weeks prior.”

The wigs became a game

At the time of her diagnosis, Emma was in the middle of moving house and Amelia was experiencing health issues associated with her Down Syndrome.

“When I realised it was Stage 3 breast cancer, I wasn’t worried for my life at first. I just thought, ‘How am I going to deal with this on top of everything’?” 

Emma decided her best move forward was to keep things as normal as possible for Amelia. As she underwent her first treatment, she bought several colourful wigs so Amelia wasn’t concerned about her mum being bald.

“I couldn’t tell her what was going on. I wanted to make her life easier, so the colourful wigs became a game.”

‘Lost all feeling in my legs’

In between treatments, Emma would continue the regular activities with her daughter, including swimming lessons.

“A couple of days after treatment, I took Amelia to her swimming lesson and got in the water – which was a terrible idea due to my lowered immunity.

I woke up with a really sore throat the next day and I found myself unable to stand. I suddenly couldn’t walk, I’d lost all feeling in my legs.”

Emma contracted proximal myopathy and peripheral neuropathy –  nerve damage to her lower legs and muscle damage to her thighs. She was in hospital for three weeks and wasn’t able to walk for five months. It took years before she would walk more than a kilometer.

“I kept asking them when I’d get feeling in my legs back, and no one could give me a conclusive answer. They didn’t even know if I’d ever be able to walk again.”

To keep things as normal as possible for Amelia, Emma would play “horse” with her daughter. Amelia would jump on her mum’s back as Emma crawled around the house. She didn’t realise it was because her mum couldn’t walk – she just thought it was a fun new game.

‘Didn’t know how to explain it’

Emma knew she had no option –  she HAD to beat breast cancer, and after 12 months, she did. But throughout the battle, her main priority was keeping Amelia happy and unafraid.

“She was constantly poking and prodding at me, but I didn’t know how to explain it to her. I was extremely ill one night and kept vomiting. Amelia heard me and became extremely concerned, and I had to reassure her that I was fine.” 

Amelia is now 11 years old. Her mum is clear of cancer and shared her story as a way to urge other women to be diligent with their health. Emma knows that the breast cancer symptom she ignored for six weeks could have been fatal and she’s very lucky to be able to tell her story.

If you notice a slight change such as weight loss, weight gain, tiredness, night sweats, pain, bloating, headaches or a loss of appetite, don’t brush it off. See your GP.

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Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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