Anne's Story - "I'm not just living now, I'm thriving"

30 Sep 2022

My name is Andromeda (Anne) and I’m 48 years old. There is no known history of breast cancer in my family.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was at a stage in my life where perhaps some lifestyle factors contributed to my diagnosis. I have three teenage and adult children (who were going through their own various challenges at the time). I am also a nurse, I was working as an Aged Care Clinical Nurse consultant in the hospital and working extremely long, stressful hours.

In 2019, my husband discovered a lump on my breast. It was pretty large. I’d lost a lot of weight during the previous two years (around 15 kilograms) too, which made it easy for breast checks to see what was actually there.

As I worked in acute care in a hospital, it was quite simple for me to go to the Urgent Care department and have an ultrasound, followed by a biopsy. I was referred to my doctor straightaway; it all happened very quickly. The pathology revealed that the lump, which was around 5cm wide, was ER-Positive Breast Cancer. This means that my breast cancer had a significant number of receptors for either estrogen or progesterone – in my case, it was estrogen-driven. (Around two out of every three breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive and most of these are ER-positive.)

As a nurse I knew a lot about what my diagnosis meant and the treatment I’d need. But, when it’s personal you still need it explained to you. And my team were wonderful at detailing each step of my treatment. My multidisciplinary team were worried that as the lump had grown so fast that they wanted to slow this growth first, before moving onto the next step, of a mastectomy.

I had chemotherapy for six months, followed by a mastectomy and radiotherapy. In the course of my chemotherapy, I’d have my treatment on the Monday, then take that week off, then go back to work full time for the following fortnight. My role got quite busy as the hospital was undergoing accreditation. There were a lot of changes in my workplace at the time. I was more focused on these than my treatment really. Looking back, I can see it was because my work environment was something I could control. I had no control over what was happening to me.

The side effects of my second round of chemo weren’t as bad as the first – less tiredness and sickness. My parents had moved in to help us all cope, which was wonderful. My hair fell out, but I just wore a scarf and a bright lippie– people thought I was very fashionable!

As a family we did have counselling to learn how to deal with my diagnosis and the changes that were going to occur.

But when my chemo stopped, there was a moment of: ‘Oh, so now what?’. It was almost a letdown.

Four weeks later I had a bilateral mastectomy. I chose this as I don’t have genetic breast cancer, but I didn’t want to have to continue with screening and ongoing tests. My team took the time to help me make this decision.

I went on to have my deep inferior epigastric flap procedure, around 6 months after my radiation treatment. During this time, covid came and we were caught in the middle of lockdown. So I spent Christmas by myself in hospital, recovering. It was a time of deep sadness. Looking back at my breast cancer journey, just 18 months earlier I had been in a really great place – the kids were getting older; my work was doing well; then this. I’d kept myself so busy during my treatment, it was only after it was over that I took a step back to reassess my life. I changed jobs because I didn’t think that the previously high-pressure environment was good for me. My husband and I spend a lot more time together, enjoying each other’s company. And my kids and I are also extremely close.

I have ongoing treatment – oral medication for the hormones, plus injections every months. I have a lot of UTIs as side effects.

I’m happy to talk to anybody about my story. Everyone in the hospital knew what I was going through, it was well-known. And through the Pink Hope community, I hope that I can help someone else in a similar situation.

Because today, right now, I’m not just living, I’m thriving (like what Olivia Newton-John famously said). I hope to inspire other people to do the same. I have the love of my family and friends around me, and that support makes you want to stay well, and thrive, for them. So that the effort that’s been made to help me live hasn’t been fruitless.”