My name is Brenda and I live in Albury, New South Wales, with my husband Andrew.
I have three children – Steven (24) lives in Melbourne, Nikki (20) is at university in Wagga, and Josh (18) is completing his HSC.
I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in April 2015 as my first diagnosis.
When I was told that I had breast cancer, I knew that there were a lot of options open for me to deal with this. It was a shock, but at the time I didn’t think it was life threatening.
Then three days later, after more tests, I was told that it had spread to my liver. That was the moment that I felt I lost control of my life. Being told that there was no cure was the hardest thing to come to terms with. It took me quite a few weeks to process what this meant for me and my family.
As this was so overwhelming, Andrew and I decided to go to our favourite spa resort in Mulwala for the weekend to try to grasp onto some kind of understanding and figure out where to go from here. My initial thought at the time was that I was going to get sick almost immediately and that I had to get all my affairs in order.
I began intensive research to gain as much knowledge as I could through websites, books, breast care nurses, doctors and anyone who would listen, so I could piece together everyone’s advice and find an answer to all my questions. I realise now that there is no true answer – but there is hope. This hope dawned on me very slowly and there are still times when I lose it.
I have travelled to both Melbourne and Sydney on several occasions to attend BCNA’s metastatic breast cancer forums. At first, I attended with the hope of gaining information and knowledge on my condition. I also wanted to connect with others going through a similar experience.
During these forums I have met some amazing people and learnt about how to cope with all the issues that living with a chronic illness entails. Listening to all the different speakers gave me hope and the strength to continue my journey the best way that I can. It taught me how to overcome the obstacles put in front of me on a daily basis.
The forums have shown me the importance of living well for as long as I can and where to go for help when needed.
I started treatment almost immediately. For six months I went to chemo once a week, with every fourth week off to give my body a rest. During this time I went back to work part-time to bring back as much ‘normal’ as I could to my life.
As my medical team made most of the decisions regarding my health and the best treatments for me, I decided to become proactive to gain as much power as I could in other areas of my life. I began to make short-term goals and long-term goals so I would have some positive things to focus on and look forward to. I learnt how to be kind to myself and gave myself permission to do things that I’ve always wanted to do.
I completely changed the way I thought about life. I learnt how to meditate to help me with my anxiety and joined a wonderful support group, which helped me gain control back into my life.
After six months of being on chemo, going bald and losing a lot of confidence, the doctors decided that I needed to take anti-hormonal tablets to stop the cancer from growing. This lasted for 15 months before the cancer began to grow again.
I was then advised to change treatment to another anti-hormonal tablet to see if the cancer would decrease, or at the very least, stop growing further.
I have come to the realisation that this is my life. I have accepted the fact that I will be on continuous treatment, but I will not stop living.
I have been lucky enough to have joined the Brave Hearts dragon boat club, where I started to learn how to paddle. This club has been my lifeline, as I am now training with them to compete in regattas all over Australia. I hope to go overseas as well.
Cancer has taken me by surprise, but it cannot stop me from living as well as I can for as long as I can. My favourite saying is ‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but learning how to dance in the rain’.
I am lucky that I have a lot of support and with my family by my side I know that I can deal with whatever challenges come my way.