Two breast cancers, 19 years apart | PERSONAL STORY

I was 39 when diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1997. My youngest child was 8 years old. I remember standing at his bedroom door watching him sleep, thinking about my diagnosis and crying at the thought of what was going to happen to me and to my family. My husband and I had four children and had just signed a contract to build a new family home.

As my cancer was all through the milk ducts, a mastectomy was the only choice. This was followed by taking tamoxifen for five years. At 39 to have a breast removed was devastating for me.

Reconstruction wasn’t an option at that stage, as I just wasn’t ready for it and wanted to make sure that the cancer wasn’t going to come back in my right breast.

My husband was beyond amazing and incredibly supportive, and I had an extended network of family and friends who gave me such positive support.

Thirteen years passed and finally I had the courage to undergo reconstructive surgery using a muscle from my abdomen and my own tissue. The operation was successful and the results were amazing. I was extremely happy to be ‘whole’ again.

In November 2016, I went for a routine check-up. Every year for the previous 19 years I had been going for routine check-ups and every time I became nervous regarding the results. However, this time I was working and had appointments to attend in the afternoon. I was hoping that they were not running behind. It didn’t enter my head that there could be a problem.

They called me in and I had the mammogram. Then I was called back into the room for a second mammogram. Something was seriously wrong – I could see the X-ray up on the screen and it wasn’t good. I was then taken in for an ultrasound and was told that I needed a biopsy there and then.

The news was devastating – I had invasive early breast cancer in my right breast. I was numb. I left the doctor’s rooms in total shock. How was I going to tell my husband and my family? How could I protect them from this news?

I had a mastectomy of my right breast. They found that the cancer had spread to the nodes under my arm. I was taken in for a second round of surgery to remove further nodes.

I am currently having six months of chemotherapy treatment and will have radiotherapy once the chemotherapy is over. As my cancer has tested positive for hormones, I will also be taking tamoxifen or something similar for at least five years after all my other treatment is over.

My husband and family continue to be as supportive as ever, and I will be forever grateful to them for the love and support that they have given to me throughout this time in my life.

Family is everything to me and I intend to be there to watch my grandchildren grow up. I also have been very fortunate to have a caring and compassionate employer who has allowed me to take this time out to receive treatment. My job will be there when I wish to return, but for now I will take time out to recover. It’s the mental battle that is the hardest.

Elaine, SA

Elaine and her husband Jeff

Elaine and her husband Jeff

Issue 80
Spring 2017