October is breast cancer awareness month and this is my story about the time chance, fate, luck or whatever you want to call it and breast cancer came to my doorstep. Do you believe in chance, luck or fate? Chance and a sprinkling of fate decided to pay me a visit in August, 2017. Concerned about a mole on the left side of my abdomen, I hastily booked an appointment with my doctor and threw in the ‘oh, I may as well have the dreaded PAP smear two months ahead of time’ while I am there. Being sun safe and hyper aware of the dangers of melanomas is part of living in Australia. So a few weeks after noticing small changes in this particular mole, I found myself in my doctor’s surgery room having my mole examined and undergoing the extremely unpleasant PAP.
This is when a chance conversation spontaneously arrived unannounced. My doctor asked if I had been doing regular home breast examinations to check for lumps, to which I casually replied ‘no, not really’, leading inadvertently to an on-the-spot physical breast examination. After a minute or two of gentle probing pressure, my doctor thought she felt something in my left breast, not a lump as such – more like a soft, dense mass. She assured me it was probably nothing, but suggested I have an ultrasound and mammogram just to be sure. Trusting my doctor’s opinion that it was probably nothing to worry about, I practically skipped to the ultrasound and mammogram appointment; which as anyone with small breast will attest, having a mammogram is far from pleasant and is like having them squashed at an annual grape stomping festival all the whilst hugging a cold, behemoth mammogram machine.
What transpired was a chance ultrasound finding of a small 4mm lesion in my right breast. So small that no routine physical breast examination could have detected. The lesion that leapt out as suspicious to the ultrasound nurse and breast specialist doctor didn’t meet all four criteria for it to be deemed benign or not-suspicious. This started a cascade of medical appointments. The immediate concern was to test the lesion via a breast biopsy. And through this procedure it was also quickly discovered that I have dense breasts. Who would have though my small beautiful breasts would be dense. The denseness made the biopsy painful, the needle and flesh battling agains every push which made it difficult for the doctor to grasp the required sample.
The results took an anxious week to circle back to my general practitioner doctor. The biopsy results showed that there was definitely something suspicious and I would need to see a breast surgeon to have the lesion removed. As I don’t have private health insurance, a stressful week of referral appointments ensued in order to find the right public hospital and breast surgeon. A month after my whirlwind, chance encounter breast ordeal began, I was lying on a hospital bed being wheeled into surgery staring up at the bright operating theatre lights, and the anaesthetist counting me down to a peaceful, blissful sleep. My life taking centre stage of an entirely difference kind.
A week later, one day before my birthday I was told the devastating news that I had had stage 2 breast cancer. The good news was they removed the cancer with enough margin that no further breast surgery was required. The bad news was I would need to undergo surgery to have my lymph nodes tested, just to be extra cautious the cancer hadn’t spread. The good news was my lymph nodes were clear. The bad news was the recovery from this surgery was painful, having cut into my right under arm. The good news is my six month check up in May 2018 was all clear. The good (or bad from my small breasts perspective) is I am now required to undergo yearly mammogram screening.
If my mole hadn’t started to change, I wouldn’t have been at the doctors surgery having my breast examined which meant it would have been another two years before I would have had the mandatory mammogram, which all women in Australia are required to undertake when they turn 50 as part of an overall health check. Who knows how far the cancer would have spread in that time? As harrowing, confronting and shocking my breast cancer experience has been, I am forever grateful to chance or fate or what ever you want to call it for paying me a visit in August 2017. My life changed in a instant and for the better. At forty nine, I am the fittest and healthiest I have ever been. After researching how I could improve my survival rate – I gave up alcohol, processed food, fast food, dairy, refined sugar and significantly reduced my red meat consumption; and started seriously exercising five to six times a week amongst other things.
I think of my breast cancer chance finding and experience as a positive one. I have accepted the fact that my life will be forever a game of cat and mouse, trying to stay one step ahead of breast cancer to ensure it doesn’t pay me another visit for the rest of my wondrous life. So with October being breast cancer awareness month, I urge all women to commit to having their breasts checked regularly, as early detection is a crucial element in saving women lives from this potentially deadly disease.
Cancer Australia https://canceraustralia.gov.au
Breast Cancer Network Australia https://www.bcna.org.au