My story is not unique – like so many who have battled before me, those in treatment now and those whose fate is yet to be known – my diagnosis of breast cancer in November 2011, was to put it simply, devastating.
I was no stranger to the road that lay ahead, having watched my beautiful and loving Aunt fight, live and then heartbreakingly lose her battle some 10 short years after diagnosis. To say I was terrified would be an understatement.
I was 42, married, with two very young children (1 & 3 – I did the math adding 10 years to their ages… I didn’t like the sum and it remains a constant and nagging fear for me).
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I made it my source of motivation to escape the living nightmare.
And so my journey began. Surgery for a mastectomy to the affected breast was swift. However, the ‘Merry Christmas’ moment is short-lived. I was informed days later that I am ‘node positive’ (more tears) and more surgery (axillary clearance surgery) was scheduled for the next day.
Treatment felt like it would never end. In some of my darker moments I allowed myself time for self-pity. Really, what did I have to complain about? I only developed cancer and had to have a breast removed, go through chemotherapy and radiation treatment (effects likened to hydro, thermo and radioactive fallout from “Fukushima”. I sometimes glowed in the dark and occasionally howled at a full moon too!).
My hair fell out and I had to wear a wig… I underestimated the psychological impact of losing a breast and my hair. Life went on – working, cleaning and all that goes with raising two very young children. Along with the daily grind came the huge decision to have further surgery to remove my other breast … just to be safe.
I distinctly remember overhearing my three-year-old daughter ask her Nan “Will my Mummy be okay?” This was simply heartbreaking. Her fears for her future were very real, and remain possibly greater than mine.
Finally, my treatment came to an end. My hair grew back – along with my self-esteem. I started to feel alive and ready to join the world again.
12 months on and there remained one significant hurdle to overcome – the mastectomy on the remaining breast and reconstructive surgery. The 13 hour operation came complete with a neat hip to hip scar to repair the aesthetic damage to my body … I am told the psychological scars too will fade.
My recovery was emotionally exhausting, physically painful and dreadfully slow.
Two years on and I’ve been given a good prognosis for non-recurrence. My fears for my future, I tuck away safely within as I push forward with living a new kind of ‘normal’ life.
My story is not unique; cancer does not discriminate. Many of us have a friend, loved one or colleague who is or will be directly or indirectly affected by breast cancer, and without the fundamental and ongoing research and development of treatment, many may not be fortunate enough to gain an incredible second chance at life.
The invitation to come on-board as a Community Ambassador for this year’s Mother’s Day Classic, is one I have accepted wholeheartedly, in part, to honour the legacy of a dear lady who was a true ambassador for the cause.
She was the first person to be tested for the BRCA gene, which was found to be positive. A human guinea pig; she did not waver in treatment options that would better the advancement towards not only a cure, but also prevention.
Whilst waging her own war – spanning some 20 years – she became a Support Counsellor. Selflessly, she travelled far and wide, took calls day and night and was heavily involved in fundraising events over many years to help the next person to deal with the inconceivable news “you have Breast Cancer”. Sadly, her battle was recently lost as she succumbed to brain cancer – RIP Marg, your humility, generosity to others and good sense of fun will never be forgotten.
Last year, while recovering from the shock of my diagnosis and the ensuing treatment, I decided to participate in the Mother’s Day Classic as a way of demonstrating community reciprocity; of ‘giving back’ and ‘paying it forward’ to my breast cancer community.
In the space of only two weeks, I had raised $7,000! I was absolutely astounded by the sheer generosity demonstrated by my circle of family, friends, work colleagues (including my husband’s) and even complete strangers.
This generosity took the form in words of support and encouragement as well as financial aid. My initial reluctance to lay bare my story quickly dissipated.
If ‘our stories’ further inspire our communities to continue to provide financial assistance for the research so desperately needed; by all means, let them be told!