Hi friends and family ? I have an important life update to share, but I want to precursor this by saying:
- The purpose of this post is to raise awareness and to raise critical funding for research ?? that can help save lives. Please tell your girlfriends to do regular breast checks and to flag absolutely any unusual changes in breasts with a GP no matter how old you are, male or female.
- I have the best circle of colleagues, friends, and family around me, a top tier medical team at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and my overall mood is that of optimism. I really am not seeking pity, attention, or unsolicited health advice. I do appreciate support, advocacy, and most importantly humour (send me the funnies plz).
I have Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer.
I was initially diagnosed 4 weeks ago with early breast cancer (HER2+ invasive ductal carcinoma with lymph nodes affected) after a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsies. I met with a breast surgeon and Oncologist at Royal Adelaide hospital and underwent a series of additional tests (CT, MRI, PET, ECG) after which it became clear that the cancer was more extensive than that. Just this past Wednesday I underwent a liver biopsy to confirm if the 3 spots showing on my liver were also cancer. Although I haven’t received those results yet, my breast surgeon and Oncologist are almost certain the cancer has spread there, as well as throughout my left breast and lymph nodes under that arm. When breast cancer spreads from its original location it is called Metastatic or advanced breast cancer. This really changed my prognosis and treatment plan.
Can Metastatic Breast Cancer be cured?
Although advanced breast cancer is not curable, treatments can help prolong life, manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
My treatment will be a combination of chemotherapy and targeted therapies delivered by IV. I will be medicated for life, and I will keep taking medications for as long as they are effective. There is no easy way to determine prognosis as it is so varied from person to person.
How did I discover my cancer?
Most of you wouldn’t know this, but after trying naturally for some time Jake and I had been undergoing IVF to start a family since late 2021. As my body went through a lot of change during that process, it took me a while to realise that one of my nipples was not acting normally.
Note: the IVF has not caused the cancer as it is hormone receptor negative cancer.
Given a family history of breast cancer on my paternal side (BRCA2, although Dad is not a gene carrier), I have been very aware of the fact that I am high risk for breast cancer for 15+ years. Because of these reasons, I took the nipple change seriously and did a thorough breast self-exam and discovered a mass. It wasn’t a hard round lump like I might have imagined, but more of a raised area of breast tissue. I spent a good 5+ minutes checking it from different angles and comparing breasts before I determined it was definitely something. I was laying in bed at the time and immediately booked a GP appointment online at the next available time. I was so lucky to have a GP that took my concerns seriously, particularly as I highlighted the family history and she organised an urgent referral.
In Australia, young women are not currently eligible for free breast screening. Women aged between 50 and 74 years are invited to have a free breast screen (also called a mammogram) every 2 years. I absolutely encourage all women and men to notice changes in their breasts and to do thorough self-exams for just a few minutes once a month. Whether it be in the shower, laying in bed or watching TV, noticing any changes could save your life.
Interestingly, Jake went through a breast cancer scare of his own only 2 years ago. I discovered a similar type of lump on his chest that could be felt by running my hand lightly over the area. He went to the doctor and had an ultrasound and biopsy which thankfully came up clear. Regardless of the fact that it was good news for him, breast cancer can also appear in men.
How are we?
Needless to say, we have had a really hard time processing this news and we have had to grieve a life that we planned to some extent. After the initial shock, denial, sadness, grief and numbness, I have come to a positive and optimistic place. I am finding the silver linings wherever I can, practising mindfulness and allowing myself to feel whatever I need to feel. I will have many bad days, today I am still in bed at 11am googling wigs and ways to break this kind of news to friends, but tomorrow I will be full of life and motivation.
My fears and sadness come when I think of those I love, when I think about the fact that I may not be around long enough to call myself mum, to see the joy that parenthood can bring. There is an element of failure here too. Guilt. I promised Jake happiness and a family, we both want that so much. My body has continued to fail me over and over since then. He is an absolute angel and has never for a moment made me feel these things, but they rise from within. I think that is pretty natural given the circumstances.
I’ll keep you all updated here, for those who are interested ?? in the meantime, if you can spare a few dollars to fund crucial research, please donate to the National Breast Cancer Foundation