15 November 1955 – 15 March 2007
Veronica Macaulay-Cross, OAM, died peacefully on 15 March 2007. She lived, inspirationally, with advanced breast cancer for eight years, always working to better the treatment and support for all women living with the illness. She was a role model to women in the group, encouraging and supporting group members to live the best lives they are able while dealing with advanced breast cancer. She will be greatly missed.
BEGINNING OF BREAST CANCER JOURNEY
In May 1996, I was a 40 year old secondary school teacher with a 10 year old daughter, when I found a lump. The treatment was a mastectomy and immediate tram flap reconstruction, followed by 6 months of CMF chemotherapy. In May 1997, I had a localised recurrence which required day surgery and radiotherapy. Although the breast cancer experience was very demanding, I got on with life and hoped I would be one of the approximate 70% for whom cancer does not return.
DIAGNOSIS OF METASTATIC BREAST CANCER
In June 1999, a sore hip and a persistent cough lead to the diagnosis of breast cancer in my bones and small nodules in my lungs. I took sick leave and had 6 months chemotherapy, this time Epirubicin and Taxotere. I lost my hair, but didn’t have too many other side effects, except fatigue & menopause. I did a lot of reading and decided to ‘embrace’ the treatment and imagine the chemotherapy was full of little pack men, running around my body, gobbling up the cancer. For the past 6 years, I have been on treatment, currently Herceptin, Zometa and chemotherapy. It is tough and inconvenient at times, but I manage the cancer as a chronic illness and generally have good quality of life. I am very much a partner in my treatment and have accessed second opinions 3 times in the 6 years.
ABOUT ME AND MY FAMILY
I realised there was a reasonable amount of formal support for women with early breast cancer, but very little for women with advanced. (This has changed a bit over the past 6 years). I was pretty devastated when I learned metastatic breast cancer had no cure and my life could be considerably cut short. Despite having a very supportive family, I really needed someone to talk to and felt very alone. I looked for help but could not find specialised support for advanced breast cancer. In November 1999, I joined this support group. I have found it particularly helpful to meet and share with other women in a similar position in a safe supportive environment; and I have made (and lost) some wonderful friends.
In October 1999, my partner and I married and our wedding day was fantastic, despite the fact that I was wearing a wig. My daughter and two step-sons and our families and friends attended.
In 2000 I decided to retire from teaching in order to have more time for my daughter who was 13 by this time, my husband, my parents, family and friends; and to do more of the things I wanted to do, such as ‘smell the roses’ and undertake trips in Australia and overseas. My step-sons are now 23 and 26 years old and live in Sydney; and my daughter is flatting and works full-time. She will be 20 soon.
In 2002 I became the voluntary State Representative for Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) and I enjoy promoting the goals of seeking to empower Australians personally affected by breast cancer and improve their care by advocacy, the provision of information and targeted support.
I try hard not to be fearful of the cancer. I once heard Nelson Mandela interviewed about his unjust imprisonment for many years. He explained that his enemies could take away his freedom, but they could not take his mind or his spirit. He said he would have had to give those away and he did not. This struck a cord with me and I determined I would not let the cancer break my spirit; and I would strive to live a happy and purposeful life despite the cancer. I just try to work around it, over it, under it and enjoy the life I have. I try not to regret or fret for what might have been. Of course, I am very lucky to have such a supportive husband and parents.
Veronica’s Speech at the Website Launch
In 1996 I was a 40 year old secondary school teacher with a ten year old daughter, when I found a lump and was diagnosed with primary breast cancer. The treatment was a mastectomy followed by 6 months of chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, in 1999, aged 43, a persistent cough and a sore hip lead to a diagnosis of secondary or metastatic breast cancer. Like Kay, Jane McGrath (the cricketer’s wife) and Belinda Emmett (Rove’s wife) and many women in Australia, the cancer had spread into my bones and small nodules in my lungs. Breast cancer is the main cancer which affects women and is the main cause of cancer death.
By this time, I was much better informed about breast cancer and I was also told by my oncologist that advanced breast cancer could not be cured, but there was treatment which would hopefully extend my survival. This time round, I really needed someone to talk to besides my wonderful husband and parents. I had to face a life of living with an illness, ongoing treatment and the possibility of an early death. I needed help to realise that I had done nothing to deserve this diagnosis – that I was just one of the unlucky ones and it was bloody bad luck! I needed to meet other women with a similar diagnosis to help me feel normal again. I needed to see that I could still strive to live joyfully despite this major challenge.
There was little or no real organised support for women with advanced breast cancer at this time and in fact some of us experienced a lack of understanding from the breast cancer community. We were women living with advanced breast cancer who could not be cured and apparently this was many women’s worst nightmare. It almost seemed, and still does at times, that it is better for others, if we do not speak out. The emphasis is on being positive, that most women survive breast cancer; and the majority do, thanks to early detection due to screening and advancing treatment. Each year in Australia, over 11, 500 women and 100 men are diagnosed with breast cancer and over 2,600 women die. The most recent stat for Qld is 460 Queensland women died from breast cancer in 2003. The five year survival rate for breast cancer has increased from 71% to 87% over the past 15 years since breast screening was introduced. However, only 68% of women diagnosed are surviving 10 years or more.
Between one quarter and one third of women diagnosed will be diagnosed with or develop advanced breast cancer. This is a considerable minority! Proper statistics are not recorded. Cancer registries just record initial diagnosis and death. We want them to record both primary diagnosis and secondary diagnosis. How can governments and health systems plan for the treatment, care and support of people with advanced cancer without up-to-date, correct statistics of incidence and length of survival?
Luckily for me I had a very caring breast surgeon, Dr Chris Pyke, who told me about this support group which had just commenced and I joined in late 1999. This group, facilitated by professionals and in partnership with the women members, has made a tremendous difference to my quality of life. I realise that I am not alone. It is a friendship circle of women across Qld, who understand what I go though and gives additional, specialised support. This illness is ongoing for me and over time it has progressed. For the past 4 years I had been more on, than off chemotherapy. There really does need to be options of psychosocial support for women like us. This website is an extension of the service of our group and expands the options available. It is very important that these services be funded and I am not embarrassed to make a special plea to our Qld Members of Parliament, present tonight, to make sure these services and others are funded on an ongoing basis. This group is well established, supported by experienced professionals with specialised knowledge and understanding of advanced breast cancer, and based on good, solid psychosocial theory and practice. It is a leader in its field and it has teleconferencing facilities for rural, regional and remote Queensland women. It delivers a lot for a relatively small amount of money. It is a service which Qld Health presently funds and can be justly proud of. Thanks to the foresight of Dr Bronwen Beacham, Mary O’Brien and Pia Hirsch, Queensland has an excellent, ‘state of the art’ psychosocial support service for women living with advanced breast cancer. It helps women like me, live with a better quality of life, so that I can continue to contribute to my family and community. Current women members will be able to help support new women using this website.