I’ve lost two of my best friends to breast cancer, so it didn’t feel strange to me when I started chemo the day my kids started school. The disease was already such a big part of my life. From here on in, while my kids were learning their times tables, I was learning to live with the fear that I might not be around for their graduation.
Having lost my friends to the disease, I knew just how important it was to stay vigilant with self-examinations and mammograms. And in fact, a few months earlier at my regular mammogram and needle biopsy I had been given the all clear. There was no need for concern – I had no history of breast cancer in the family and I looked after myself well. But he suggested a digital mammography for my next breast check.
As soon as he uttered those words, the need to opt for this more advanced screen check kept playing on my mind over and over – even though he said it wasn’t necessary until my annual check-up the following year.
Two months later I could no longer put up with the degree of doubt dominating my mind, and I decided to get the digital mammography to put my mind at rest. However, it turned out my deepest and darkest worries soon became a reality – the discovery of a tiny grain-like shape which turned out to be stage 3 breast cancer.
I underwent a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and ended up having a large part of my breast removed when they discovered they couldn’t reach all the cancerous tissue. At that point my doctor advised a mastectomy, yet I opted to have not one but both breasts removed at Christmas in 2008. It may seem a drastic step to some people but as a mother of two young children (then aged seven and four), I wanted to do all I could to ensure I had the best chance of survival.
After surgery, I began a gruelling three months of chemo. Managing the school pickups in between the nausea and trying to explain to my kids why Mummy had lost her hair were particularly tough.
My first instinct was to protect my kids from what was happening to me but the fact is, children are perceptive and they knew something serious was happening.
Breast cancer is definitely not a journey that you can walk alone and not something I would wish upon my worst enemy. It impacts every single aspect of your life and the life of everyone who knows and loves you. As tough as those months were, it was my husband and kids that gave me the strength to get through it.
Christmas this year will mark eight years that I have been in remission. But that hasn’t meant my journey with breast cancer was over. I’m currently one of 8,000 women across the world taking part in a 10-year clinical trial, testing a drug to see if its use long term will prevent metastatic cancer – the type of cancer which takes the lives of the majority of breast cancer sufferers.
Learn how to check for lumps and bumps on your own breasts. Post continues after video.
My scars are a constant reminder of the battle I’ve survived and the journey I’m still on but I also know that I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m lucky that I followed my gut instinct and got that extra test and lucky that I was diagnosed at a time when breast cancer survival is the highest it’s ever been and lucky to be selected for a new global drug trial.
The fact is survival rates today have dramatically improved compared to 10 years ago and that’s a direct result of medical research. Had I been diagnosed ten years or even 5 years before I was when treatments were not as advanced, I may not have been so lucky.
That’s why as soon as I started to feel better, I knew I needed to transform my horrific experience into something positive, and do my part to give back in some way. I now give talks to women battling the disease and hope that my story helps them in some way and I also support medical research by raising funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Since my diagnosis, my daughter and I do the Mother’s Day Classic (MDC) every year. Mother’s Day used to be about sleeping in and breakfast in bed but now, we are up at the crack of dawn to run or walk with the thousands of people taking part in the MDC.
This year, I’ll be doing something slightly different. I will be a part of Team HCF, an initiative between HCF and NBCF to raise much needed funds for breast cancer research. For every person who joins Team HCF for Walk With Us at Mother’s Day Classic, HCF will donate $100 and $10 for every selfie tagged #walkwithus to NBCF.
This initiative will take us one step closer to achieving zero deaths from breast cancer, the most commonly diagnosed life-threatening cancer facing Australian women. I’m doing it for my two friends Kathy and Jan, and I’m doing it for me and for my daughter.
Join Karen Foster and Team HCF at www.hcf.com.au/walkwithus and help NBCF achieve zero deaths by 2030.