I’ve always attended Pink Ribbon Breakfasts - breast cancer has always been an issue close to my heart after my mum had it twice, once in her early 40s and again in her early 70s.
But when it happens to you, it’s on a whole different level. I’m still early in my recovery journey, but I want to make some fundraising noise and reach out and say thank you to everyone who has supported me and my husband through this challenge.
I had a routine mammogram at the end of July last year which picked up an abnormality in my left breast. When the breast clinic rang to say something had come up, I wasn’t too worried, in spite of my family history. I kept thinking that I’ll be fine.
When I went to the Breast Clinic for further examination, they also found something in my right breast. This was a shock as it hadn’t been picked up by the mammogram.
It was the Clinical Breast Care Nurse who examined me before my ultrasound that picked it up. She noticed dimpling under the right breast. Ultrasound and biopsy confirmed it, but if it hadn’t been for that amazing nurse Fiona (I will never forget her name), it’s likely my right breast wouldn’t have been assessed. But when it was confirmed, and I had to come home and tell my husband, the shock started to sink in. My breasts were battered and bruised from the multiple biopsies and there was still so much to sort out.
Normally at this stage, you would be told to come back the following week to get your results & not to worry too much. Because of what they had seen on the ultrasound they told me to come back with a support person & we would need to work out a plan. I remember sitting in the carpark crying & can’t even remember the drive home. All I wanted to do was talk to my husband but I realised I needed to do that face to face not over the phone. Both breasts were battered and bruised from the multiple biopsies.
I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS – a pre-invasive type of breast cancer) in my left breast & invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) in my right breast.
I needed to have bi-lateral mastectomies & was encouraged to have reconstruction at the same time. It was going to be a 12 hour operation & I was keen for it to happen quickly. As we had private insurance, we made the decision to move from public to the private system to speed things up.
My first consultation with my Breast Surgeon was the night NZ went back into lockdown on 17th August and private hospitals were shut for seven weeks. It was the toughest time not having a date for surgery. My surgeon contacted me every week via ZOOM to support me.
When I eventually had my operation at the end of September, because of COVID restrictions I couldn’t have any visitors, not even my husband. I still remember Kerry dropping me off at Ascot’s front door & waving him off. Although I was terrified, I think the drive home for him was probably worse. It was the first week that Ascot re-opened and there were only six of us in the entire hospital - it was like a ghost town. However, I received the most amazing care from the healthcare team. Although I wasn’t allowed visitors this actually helped with my recovery – I was out within 5 days.
I don’t want this to be a negative story, I want it to be a positive one. There are many things to be thankful for;
• Brilliant breast and plastic surgeon who I had complete confidence in
• My re-construction was done using my tummy. It’s the first time I have felt grateful for having adequate tummy tissue available!
• Recovery was during lockdown & although it was sad not having friends & family call in, it gave me time to heal at my own pace
• I actually think friends found it more difficult not seeing me during lockdown, but everyone found their own way to support Kerry & I - regular texts, 100’s of meals delivered & even our gardens got weeded. It was so touching that people knew what was important to us.
• I haven’t had to have chemotherapy. Ten years ago I would have, but they now know that chemotherapy adds no significant benefit to ILC hormone positive disease.
My cancer tested positive to hormone receptors, so my treatment for the next 5 years is endocrine therapy which lowers the amount of estrogen in my body. As a result, it hopefully blocks the growth of breast cancer cells.
My experience has made friends sit up and take action, with several booking to go and get their mammograms which they had let lapse. It’s very easy to let it slide, especially with COVID lockdowns, but it’s like a warrant of fitness, you’ve got to do it.
It is my first time hosting a Pink Ribbon event. I’m going to hold a Soirée at our home in South Auckland as a way to thank those who have supported me. As well as to encourage people to donate, and remind women to check their breasts & have regular mammograms.