By BRIGHID MAXWELL
My name is Brighid Maxwell and I am 45 years old. My husband Graham and I live in Toowoomba, Queensland with our two boys, William (13 years) and Jack (8 years).
It was late December 2010. I found what I thought was just a blocked milk duct in my breast. I saw my GP but sat on the referral for a scan she gave me until the boys went back to school.
In February, I went for a mammogram. The scan showed the ‘blocked duct’ was a lump. A biopsy confirmed the lump was malignant. I was 42 and had early breast cancer. I was in shock.
I mentioned to my doctors an ache I had had off and on in my left shoulder blade, a pulled muscle I thought. However, an x-ray showed I had a pathological fracture.
It was a Saturday morning and my surgeon came to my house. He is such a caring man, but even he could not soften the news. He told me I had Stage 4 ‘advanced’ breast cancer – it had spread to my bones. There was no cure. I would always need treatment.
I felt numb. “I just can’t die, I can’t leave Will and Jack,” I kept thinking in disbelief.
Cancer took over my life. I attended a string of appointments and scans. I went in and out of hospitals. There was no time to think. I listened and I did what I was told.
Toowoomba is a beautiful community. I have no family here, but I made close friends through playgroup and preschool. They rallied. Meals were delivered, my boys were picked up from school and friends regularly phoned and visited me.
However, I felt so alone. Cancer put me on the outer. Death was shadowing me. I saw others get on with their lives. I recall having morning tea with friends who were talking about our children just starting prep. I felt like I was physically present but elsewhere, like I didn’t belong anymore, I just felt so different.
I needed to feel empathy with other women in a similar situation to me.
Two months after diagnosis, I was at home alone. Fear overwhelmed me. I couldn’t leave Graham and my beautiful boys. My son William has autism and I kept thinking, “Graham won’t be able to do it on his own! I couldn’t either.”
I phoned the Cancer Council in tears, desperate to speak to someone who understood. I knew of a support group for women with early breast cancer but I didn’t think I’d feel comfortable attending, I represented what these women might become one day and I had no chance of celebrating surviving this illness. I was given the number of a woman who had secondary breast cancer and she referred me to the Advanced Breast Cancer Support Group.
I was so relieved the first time I phoned the Support Group. I felt connected again. I shared my story and heard the stories of other women. I felt joy when one woman said she had been living with secondary breast cancer for over 10 years. I could hope again! I might just get to see Will and Jack grow into men.