“Don’t order your coffin yet, it’s nothing,” the radiographer told Barbe Dolan during her appointment.
It was 2002. The mum-of-three from Sydney had just returned to part-time work when she felt the large, hard lump under her arm while showering. She was raising a young family – a six-year-old daughter and two sons, 10 and 12 – and hoped it was all in her head, that is was just a cyst.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
“I’m quite aware of my body, and when I discovered [the lump] I thought ‘Oh, what’s that’. But then you wonder if it’s your mind playing tricks on you, [whether] this might go away. Eventually I had to take the plunge,” she told Mamamia.
“At the time I went and had an ultrasound and the radiographer said, ‘You’re fine’. At that stage, it was what I wanted to hear, so I was quite happy with her saying that. But that gave me false hope.”
The lump didn't go away, so eventually Dolan went back to the doctor. They did a biopsy and found she had breast cancer.
"I was in the same room with the same radiographer, but they were talking hush hush behind their hands; it was a completely different atmosphere and alarm bells went off then," she said.
"When it appeared it wasn't just a cyst, then I thought, maybe [the radiographer] shouldn't have said that [I would be fine]. It's great being positive but I prefer to hear the worst case-scenario.
"Mind you, [this happened] 10 years ago, and I think people are more aware now, people know more about breast cancer and how it affects people, so I don't think that would've happened today."
Undergoing her first round of treatment was a big shock for Dolan and her family. Their lives "were going swimmingly, and then everything was turned upside down."
"It was horrible, I didn't know what questions to ask. At my first oncologist appointment I was told I'd be having chemo. I thought, 'I might lose some weight, so that's good'. He then told me, 'You'll actually probably put on weight, and you're going to lose your hair, your eyebrows, your eyelashes'... But I thought, 'At least I'll have my breasts'."