I am 57 years old and I am lucky to have a wonderful husband David and our three daughters – Matilda (27), Amelia (24) and Eliza (21). The girls are reasonably settled with lovely partners and have good careers. Tilly is a designer, Amelia a registered nurse and about to complete her midwifery degree and Eliza is in her final year of teaching. I am, like Amelia, a nurse and midwife. I work at the Mater Mother’s hospital part time as a midwife but in a non-clinical role. Thank goodness because I’m so tired these days I couldn’t do shift work. David is a research scientist and coordinates research into energy technology for CSIRO.
My mum, aunt and sister had breast cancer in their 50s, so I’ve always had regular mammograms. In 2016, 2 years ago, a non invasive Ductal cancer was found in my left breast. I had a lumpectomy and radiotherapy and was quite optimistic as my mum lived a long happy life and my sister was 5 years cancer free after her diagnosis and treatment.
But…at my (only) one year follow-up mammogram a new primary cancer was found. In the right side this time. And invasive. It was only small and it had only had a year at the most to develop, so it felt like I was having the PET scan as a cursory routine measure. But it had spread through out multiple sites in my bones – ribs, vertebrae, shoulder, pelvis and sacrum. My surgeon recommended I still have surgery to remove the tumour. So I had a wide excision and auxiliary clearance. I have no axilla lymph glands on either side now.
The cancer is hormone receptive, so my oncologist has put me on letrozole and a new drug called ribociclib and a monthly injection of denosumab. The ribociclib has had some amazing results in research trials and there is hope that it will work with letrozole to keep the cancer from progressing for a longer time then letrozole by itself.
After the first four months on this treatment, the cancer had regressed quite a lot and it has remained stable for a year now.
Initially after the diagnosis I was naturally devastated about the implications of having terminal cancer and I allowed myself to wallow in these dark thoughts for a while. But I am trying to continue on as normally as possible – well as much as I can. The side effects of the treatments are quite debilitating for me and I’m very tired all the time and have lots of pain as well.
But I have a wonderful oncologist and oncology team at the Mater Cancer Care Centre who support me. My three sisters are amazing and they come and visit me from interstate whenever they can. We have a beautiful group of incredibly caring and supportive friends. They are really wonderful to both David and me, and also the girls. We are really lucky.
Also because I have my work. Being a midwife is a large component of my identity One of the reasons why I haven’t left work is because of the fantastic team I work with. They are very dear friends and colleagues and the Mater Mothers is like a family. It will be really difficult to leave them when the time comes. My doctor has told me that the side effects will stop me working before the cancer does.
While I know I am extremely fortunate to have lots of love around me, the Advanced Breast Cancer Group provides me with the empathy and understanding that can only come from experiencing this journey together. I am only new to the group ( I joined in March 2018) but already I feel welcome, cared for and understood.