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Surviving breast cancer and fundraising for a cure
01 August 2014
You may not think you know me, but you do. I am the soccer Mum, the one at the under 6 training on Wednesday afternoons; the one chasing the toddler off the fields; the one at kiss and drop…
That’s me (Lynda Eadie above on the Great Wall trek for NBCF).
The one with the green fold-up chair under one arm, loaded up with bags and water bottles and all the other necessities needed for a chilly Saturday morning school sports game.
The thing is… I am also the one diagnosed with breast cancer at 41. (There are 37 Australians diagnosed each day with breast cancer.)
So, let me share my story with you, because if I make just one of you think you can help the National Breast Cancer Foundation achieve its goal of zero deaths by 2030, my story has been worthwhile.
It was a Monday afternoon more than 7 years ago now; time to pick up Miss Grade 1 and Mr. Grade 3 as they were then; swimming lesson time. I know you shouldn’t answer your phone when in the car but foolishly I did. It was my surgeon.
“Your pathology is back. I need to see you today. There is a malignancy.”
Just a second, I said, as I hopped out of the car. Can you please repeat that?
There’s nothing like that moment. It is entrenched in my mind: where I was, who I was with, what I was doing when I was told I had breast cancer.
Things snowballed from there: a left side mastectomy, seven lymph nodes removed with three having cancer in them. Leaving hospital with drains and heading home on the four-hour trip from Brisbane, my focus was on my daughter’s sixth birthday in a couple of days.
My goal was to keep the kids’ lives as normal as possible in every way. A birthday party on the beach was the plan. Perhaps normal was a far greater challenge than I thought it would be.
Weary from surgery, the birthday was exhausting, but family and friends were there to support. They were always there to support.
Chemo was the next challenge. I didn’t know anyone that had been through chemo and had not really had any connection with cancer in my family. Chemo is an experience like no other and one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Some people get sick on chemo some don’t. I got sick.
For me, the really puzzling thing is the hair loss? You’re told it will grow back, and you know you can wear a wig, but it’s unbelievably devastating all the same.
(My children, who are now 13 and 15, don’t remember me bald. How could they not I think? I guess Mums are more than their hair or looks to their children.)
My treatment also included radiation. This was not available where I lived and the closest clinic was 200km ‘down the road’. I was lucky to have two dear friends who lived close to the treatment rooms and I was able to stay with them for five days a week for the six-week duration of my radiation. The frustrating thing was that the treatment took just two minutes a day. Yes, that’s right, a tiny two minutes of the whole day was all the radiation took. Unbelievable?
The hardest part of it all was I had to be away from my two little darlings for five days a week.
Radiation made me severely tired - like no other tiredness. I couldn’t believe I had cancer and it was taking me away from my kids. I wrote letters to them most days and talked to them on the phone but it was never enough. My most cherished possessions are the few letters I received from them. Very simple letters saying: Mum, please get better; or, See you tomorrow Mum, and it was only Tuesday so it was another three days before I’d be home. Looking at those letters now, 7 years on, is still painful.
It was a very cruel part of my cancer experience: being taken from my children and the loneliness.
Friends and family are always there but when I lay on that radiation table with my tattoo dots lining up where the rays hit, I felt so alone.
The radiologist would ask if I was ok and I knew the only answer was yes. But I felt like screaming, don’t leave me here. I don’t want to be here. Then they’re gone to the next room to avoid the possible damage to themselves.
It is a lonely, lonely, time. Just like when the Radiation Oncologists says that because of the physical position of your heart, unfortunately the lower part of it will be affected by radiation and they say: ‘So you’re ok with that?’
Ok, is all I could say. What a choice? Should I risk a re-occurrence of breast cancer and say no?
Finally, the radiation finished and I went home to my family.
Severe skin burns to my chest and even a red mark on my back where the radiation has made its exit, come with me. But I am back to the world of squabbling kids and busy timetables, and this is the world I like, not that world of a cancer patient.
Seven years on, and through other surgeries, including a breast reconstruction, I am still here. I know that’s because of continual breast cancer research, and yet I know we still have a long way to go.
My dear Mum, diagnosed with breast cancer a year or so ago, is the second one to have cancer in our family. I know her battle will be difficult, but we cancer survivors are strong, lonely at times, but always strong.
Westpac on the trek
How you can help find a cure for breast cancer
NBCF’s Steps towards a cure: Great Wall Trek 2014 supported participants to raise funds (see picture below). The monies are used for breast cancer research that could contribute to the next scientific breakthrough. Westpac’s Rachael McKenzie and her husband, Kevin, were participants, along with Lynda Eadie, in the Trek that went to China in May this year. Rachael and Kevin (who was the only guy on the walk) raised $10,600. Their effort contributed to a total of $207,000 raised.
The funds are being used to put together an entire research project. An Innovator Grant has been awarded to Associate Professor Beric Henderson from the University of Sydney’s Westmead Institute of Cancer Research.
Breast cancer is not just one disease, but many. There are possibly up to 10 different sub-types of breast cancer that each develop and respond to treatment in a different way. Associate Professor Henderson is looking to identify specific ‘signatures’ (made up of unique patterns of proteins) within breast tumours that can be used to predict which patients will respond best to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
If successful, this research will help doctors to better personalise and tailor breast cancer treatment to the individual woman.
In 2015 NBCF is running a new travel experience, Ride for Research: Cambodia Cycle 2015. Take a look and get inspired.