One morning in August 2013 as I was driving my eight month old son to his day care on my way to work, I felt a strange sensation in my right breast. I put my hand down my top to feel that my nipple had ‘gone’ – it had inverted! I thought “Well, that’s weird!” but it easily popped back out without as much as a booby re-adjustment and bra wiggle/giggle.
I was a new mum. Everything was new and weird about my new body shape, so I didn’t have much – if any – concern at all. I’d had a few bouts of mastitis while breast-feeding, and a few supply and attachment issues but as Max was my first bub I wasn’t too concerned. I had weened about a month prior without issue to return to my full-time job. Max had a few health concerns that doctors and specialist were keeping an eye on, but he was thriving and responding well to treatment.
My right nipple did its hiding trick a few more times, and then the left one started to do the same. I mentioned to another new mum-friend who agreed with me that our new boobs were a bit weird. After mentioning it to my mother and mother-in-law my concern grew as they said “Please mention this to your GP soon!” So I did. He sent me for a bi-lateral ultrasound straight away to keep on top of things and hopefully rule ‘anything nasty’ out. A few days later I booked in and took hubby with me. The technician didn’t see anything ‘wrong’ with the right boob, but said casually, “You do know you have a small mass quite deep in the left breast?” No! What?
She assured me that 99% of the time these masses were absolutely nothing to lose sleep over and that it could be a simple cyst. They might biopsy to make sure but really it should be nothing to be worried about. Ok, cool. I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried when the GP said “I’d still like to send you to the Wesley Breast Specialist Centre to be truly sure.” I wasn’t worried when they said the tests might take all day. I wasn’t too worried about being bored in the waiting room, but asked my mum along for the company. I chatted with her about my plans of making a 3D pirate ship cake for my son’s first birthday party coming up on 31st December.
I wasn’t even worried when they did another ultrasound and a mammogram of the left breast, but I was definitely worried when the specialist explained “Due to the location and size of your mass we’ll skip the fine-needle biopsy do a core biopsy today”. I was worried to see the look on my Mother’s face.
I got teary and a little upset whilst in the large waiting room filled with women of all ages and shapes; a room full of women reading magazines, drinking cups of tea and softly chatting to one another. A room full of women all wearing their given different pastel coloured cotton hospital gowns, coloured according to size – reminding ourselves and each other that we aren’t all the same is such a great idea right about now.
I was very worried when I saw the size of the needle. I was bloody worried when they told me I had to wait until Monday for the pathology results it was now late on Friday afternoon. I was getting more worried when I called my best friend on Sunday to let her know that by the next day hopefully I would find out that it’s all been nothing to be worried about. “I’m only 32, I have no family history, I’ll be fine” I told her and I heard her take a pause. I was worried when I needed to call the hospital as I hadn’t heard from them and it’s past 2pm. I was very worried when the actual specialist called me back, and asked me (before saying anything more) “Where are you at the moment? Are you with family or friends?”
I was worried that I was going to be the one who would hear the word… The “C” word that many other people have heard before, a “C” word that was my work with a youth charity where I supported patients and their families.
Standing in mother-in-law’s house at 4pm on Monday 11th November 2013, I clutched the top of the wooden stair-rail. I was filled with dread with what the doctor was about to say. ”Unfortunately, your breast mass did test positive to cancer cells”…blah, blah, blah…blah, blah, blah. Do you know a surgeon?”
For the rest of 2013, just five weeks before Max’s first Christmas, six weeks before Max’s first birthday, it was a whirlwind of appointments, referrals, tests, injections, surgery. There was IVF for fertility preservation, sentinel node tracking, port-a-cath insertion, more surgery, bleaching and colouring my hair purple before it fell out. I had my first round of chemo on Max’s first birthday on New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t worried about Santa photos, presents or party invitations.
My world changed forever.
Now, what am I worried about? I’m worried if will I be good enough to enjoy this second chance; to see my family grow, to help others through this painful journey; if I will see treatment improve patient outcomes while reducing side effects, and to see research prevention and cure.
Hanna, 35, is Mum to Max. She lives in Brisbane.
UPDATE: I’ve had a yet another surgery this year and hopefully it’s my final reconstruction surgery later this month. My Endocrinologist Surgeon will perform oncoplastic reconstructive surgery to remove my temporary tissue expanders (painted above during my full body professional artistic paint photoshoot for So Brave) and then insert the more permanent gel breast-like implants.