real life

'I found a lump while breastfeeding. That was only the beginning of my family's nightmare.'

My life changed forever when I found a lump while breastfeeding my four-month-old son. After an ultrasound and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I knew it would have a monumental effect on my future, but I didn’t yet know the extent to which it would impact my family.

When I tested for genetic markers, and it came back that my entire family and I had the BRCA1 gene mutation. It was no longer just my story – everyone was now involved.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are breast cancer susceptibility genes. Everyone has them, but some people inherit faults in the genes that can increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

The day I found out my family carries the mutation, I asked them to come around for dinner. I was so awkward and stifled; I thought I was about to ruin their lives. When I told them, they looked back at me in relief. They thought I had assembled them to let them know the cancer was terminal and I was dying.

Michelle and Deborah, with their mum (centre). Image: supplied.
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Throughout diagnosis, treatment and recovery from breast cancer, the mechanics of life were difficult.

When going through treatment, I had a biopsy and lumpectomy. The lumpectomy aimed to preserve the breast as much as possible. They inject you with blue dye and then they can remove the lymph nodes. Results of lumpectomy found that my lymph nodes were clear, but the cancer was now invasive, high-grade cancer, and the likelihood that it was about to spread was severe.

Once again, my whole world was rocked, my inner demons were telling me that I was approaching defeat. But thanks to my family and beautiful children, I was able to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

Next phase was chemotherapy. My chemo experience was a horrible four months long. Each dose and session it got worse and worse. I constantly felt sick, I lost weight and all my hair. I was bedridden.

When it came to support, I was lucky I had my friends and family rise to the challenge with me. My aunt even moved to Sydney, and became a surrogate to my son, as he was a baby and I was unable to care for him. Their bond flourished into something so beautiful, special and strong. There were moments where I was jealous but ultimately, I knew she was what he needed in that moment.

Looking back, I’m so grateful that she was there for us and the relationship they have now is one of true beauty.

Video by Mamamia

The entire experience was riddled with emotions. It was when my sister Michelle was checked and came back clear that I grappled with the most intense feelings. First jealousy, then anger, which was unreasonable and ludicrous, as I’d never wish that upon anyone.

But mostly, I was grateful she was clear of any cancer. After her mammogram, Michelle tested for the BRCA1 gene. When the test came back positive, our family went through another wave of trauma after Michelle decided to keep herself safe and have a hysterectomy and mastectomy.

This was an intense and painful time for the entire family, but I guided her through the experience and it brought us closer together. Our new closeness is the silver lining of an otherwise horrible situation.

Looking ahead at my daughter’s future, I’m grateful that I’ll be here to see her grow up. She knows it’s in our family and in her genes. I’ll be there for her when she goes and gets her tests done. We’re blessed that we have amazing scientists who have worked for us to know this. The game-changing research has helped manage my situation and in 10 years’ time it means Bella won’t have to experience any of this.

Deborah and her family. Image: Supplied.
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Stories are the way we share information and bring colour and light to initiatives and societal health issues. I want to offer my story of breast cancer to the world to give it meaning. I owe my life to research and I want to do whatever I can to help it continue. What I went through was horrible, and I want to help prevent from this happening to anyone else as much as possible.

This October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as such I have signed up to host a Pink Ribbon Breakfast with the National Breast Cancer Foundation. I owe National Breast Cancer Foundation my life so organising this event is the least I can do (the thought of muffins and croissants doesn’t sound too bad either!)

Ultimately, I encourage all Australian’s to show their support, as 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, meaning in your lifetime someone you know will be impacted by this horrible disease.

The more research we can fund, the closer we are to getting to NBCF’s mission of 0 deaths by 2030. I’m fundraising by simply hosting a morning tea at work. I’ve also created an offering – ‘lunch with a leader’- which includes auctioning off mentor sessions with senior managers and my CEO, so the sky is the limit as to how you choose to contribute.

No matter how big or small, all Aussies can get involved to raise money to help NBCF continue to fund a future for all women.

For more information or to donate, please visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.

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