It was a pretty grey day all around. I vividly remember the sky being grey and am certain that was the colour my face turned when I took an unexpected “unknown number” call from my breast surgeon – who ever would consider having a “Breast Surgeon”?
I’ve had a masseur, physio, coach, podiatrist, sports medicine doctor, obstetrician, paediatrician and numerous other medicos during my life as an elite athlete and mother, but never a “Breast Surgeon”. She informed me my biopsy results from breast surgery four days prior had come back positive. Not in a million years did I ever consider that would be the case.
A month or so earlier at my regular pap smear appointment, my GP requested I get a mammogram. I had been struggling with the first symptoms of menopause and she wanted to prescribe me low dose oestrogen and as such, the mammogram was a good idea before I commence the hormone treatment.
So as instructed, I went off to the rear of the Myer lingerie department to a NSW breast screening clinic for the ten minute allotted time it takes. I was sure the tiny white, microscopic dots that had to be magnified to be seen on my mammogram were going to be wear and tear. That would make sense.
All the physical movement, weight training, shot put and javelin throwing, years of netball and basketball and breast feeding twins would surely lead to wear and tear in the limited amount of breast tissue I had.
I had always looked after my body, eaten the right foods, limited my alcohol intake, exercised regularly, there was no family history, I didn’t smoke and wasn’t overweight. Of course it would be wear and tear.
I also know a bit about breast cancer and its indicators as I have been an ambassador for the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) for nearly 20 years - a cause I got involved with after witnessing a close friend and her family battle it for decades and generations.
I surely could not be the-one in the "one of eight woman" I used to talk about while being an MC at NBCF events, who contract the disease.
It’s an interesting phenomenon when the world goes quiet around you while standing in the middle of a crowded, noisy place like Sydney’s CBD, because that is what happened when I took that call. It’s not dissimilar to when you execute the perfect jump, throw or race and the rest of the world is blocked out - almost an out of world experience.
My only reactions were to listen gob smacked to the doctor on the other end of the phone and then eek out the question, “Can I call you back?". I certainly could not process that conversation and make the decision she was asking of me in that instant. “Did I want to go into surgery the next morning to have the CANCER removed?".
I did not or could not even move from the footpath outside DJ’s to call to my husband who was working interstate that day and did not answer as he was mid-meeting. I sent through a text message and he called straight away. I was now shifting into action mode, facing reality and dealing with the practical necessities.
LISTEN:Tina talks about how she survived breast cancer and managed family time (post continues after audio...)
This has always been the way I deal with stress and problems. What can I do to solve the problem? What actions can I take? I am no good at inertia or standing still. “Could he do the school drop off?” and I’ll catch a train to the hospital and walk…I needed to walk…walk…walk, get in a rhythm and walk…walk…walk. I am a physical person and my head was too heavy to run. I walked the five km home from the city via school and collected the boys. They inevitably delivered good energy and a sense of normality although my emotions were anything but.
So that was it, to my second surgery in five days. The next morning, walking to the station at 6.30am, catching the train and walking to the hospital. The metronomic walking giving me a sense of ease.
Of course, there was more to come, waiting for pathology results, surgeons appointments, decisions regarding further treatments, second opinions, more specialists, councillors, scans, more needles, more procedures, melt downs, decisions, decisions, decisions. I undertook four surgeries in eight weeks, four general anaesethics and some very anxious times, but now have the all clear.
Not a breast cancer cell to be found in me and I can SLEEP peacefully.
I have enormous empathy for anyone who is dealing with an on-going illness. Treating my cancer was a full-time job. Not to mention dealing with the processes of Medicare, health insurance companies and trying to keep normalcy in our lives as much as possible - whatever normal is. We only told family and some very close friends who were amazingly supportive, as the load of dealing with others reactions was just too much for us while trying to bunker down and do what had to be done to get the best possible outcome.
We also had to consider protecting our children from unwanted comments and opinions. I have always referred to my breast cancer as a “we” issue, as it was all of us, in particular my immediate family, that had to deal with it. After I was given the all clear, I then had space to process the previous weeks and talk further of the ordeal.
In all my time as an NBCF ambassador, I don’t think I ever really understood the significance of the research they have funded and I have spruiked till now. It is the results of research that see doctors prescribe mammograms to seemingly healthy women, allowing early detection, to understand the role hormones play in breast cancer.
Mine was hormone receptive positive, indicating that my hormones were feeding my cancer and only in the past few weeks’ research has now revealed, that dense breast tissue is more susceptible to breast cancer. Go figure, apparently I have dense breast tissue. Who’s to know without research.
I am one of the lucky ones to have been diagnosed early, my treatment intense and at times torturous but very successful and over and done within eight weeks, recovery a bit longer. Not three years ago a friend had a similar diagnosis and her treatment and reconstruction took more than a year. The advances in diagnosis and treatment are moving rapidly thanks to the research funding the NBCF undertakes.
So given it is Breast Cancer month, I can only say first hand how important this funding is and how we can all do something to contribute…Host a pink ribbon breakfast and take a good look around, there will be at least one woman attending who will benefit from the results of the research NBCF fund through these events.
Oh, and also, go get that mammogram - As one kind woman said to me in the middle of a shopping centre: it’s a hell of a way to get “C” cups.
For more information about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.