I’m 38 years old and at my yearly check-up they found Breast Cancer – now I’m about to lose my boobs!

30 Nov 1999

I’m 38 years old and at my yearly check-up they found Breast Cancer – now I’m about to lose my boobs! - Written by Megan Stuart

Just been diagnosed – what a f*cking whirlwind!

It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, appointments, thoughts and feelings…It’s surreal, unfair and like you’re watching this all unfold to someone else like on the Truman show.

A few weeks ago you were completely fine, a few weeks ago when filling in medical forms all you had to write regarding prior surgery was, “hernia at 18months old”, and even then it seemed silly to mention as it was so long ago. Now you had breast cancer. Now you had had biopsies, mammograms, ultrasounds, hook wires, a lumpectomy and you’re booked for a bilateral mastectomy in two weeks.

Now you had appointments, surgeries, had to factor in Medicare, private health care – could you afford all the options? What were the options? What did you pay for and what was covered?

An absolute minefield that you didn’t ask for!

My only piece of advice is to do whatever feels best for you at that time. I personally was usually very private about…well my private life but especially my health. Usually just got on with things – I was usually the support person to people struggling, I was the one people came to for advice, I was the one who looked after everyone….could I be on the other side of that?

But for some reason this time it was different, it felt different, I reacted different.

I made the decision early on that I would be really honest and open about what I was going through.

I had a text that I sent out - copied and pasted it over and over again each time I had news. It’s surprising how everyone reacts so differently to it all. And you will to. I was normally the one that responded straight away to texts, but people’s questions, cheerleading efforts, pity or unintentional insensitive thoughts were too much.

If I could suggest to anyone trying to support a loved one who has been diagnosed – let them decide the pace of information you are given – how much or how little. Don’t’ go in with a whole lot of questions as even they may not know the answers.

It’s also important to support them but know they don’t necessarily need or want a cheerleader at this time - Don’t say, “You’ll be fine” or “You’re strong” – what does that even mean? To someone who has just been diagnosed – they don’t feel strong, they don’t know they’ll be fine.

But what you can do is acknowledge how shit the situation is, how unfair it is and let them know that no matter what you will be there with them – for all the bad and sad bits.

Don’t be put off if they don’t reply, try again another day. I appreciated when people wrote to me, not necessarily asking how I was but saying, “I’m thinking of you and will be in your area on Wednesday, want to go for a walk?”. It gave me a timeline but also I knew that I could decline if I wanted.

Another thing you may want to avoid are comments like, “What option did you choose?”, you don’t get to CHOOSE anything. There may be options but at the end of the day you are doing what is best for you and the decision is not easy, fun, or really something that you ever get to choose. Oh and for those of us having a double mastectomy, please don’t say “At least you get a boob job!”, I actually liked my boobs, the OG’s and if I could choose to just keep them I would, every time. The operation ahead is scary, overwhelming, full of potential complications and may aesthetically mean you are never the same, all things you have to come to terms with.

Finding your support system is really important but you will find it comes naturally. I am lucky to have a beautiful fiancé who has been my absolute rock. When I have out of nowhere broken down in tears he has hugged me, comforted me and then asked “Tell me what you’re thinking!”, nothing was ever too out there, shocking – he took my thoughts in his stride and then responded to me with sincere honesty which I was so grateful of.

My family were there to support me too albeit from NZ (thanks COVID). My Mum looking into resources and researching so she could support me from a place of knowledge. She was also the source of information for extended family and friends so that I wasn’t bombarded with questions. My sister, a stylist sent me a care package with hospital attire that would make me feel great and when recovering from my first op would distract me with funny stories.

And then I had my friends who showed their support in all sorts of ways. Long slow walks letting me talk through my thoughts and feelings moving forward. Care packages that made me feel loved but were also useful for the journey ahead along with kind words and facetimes from my friends abroad. I struggled to find support resources online but did find Pink Hope a charity that provides tools for those at risk or dealing with breast and ovarian cancer. They have a support group for those going through similar situations which made me feel less alone and gave me the space to ask questions that no one around me knew how to answer. Mamamia had some great articles pop up and I also googled and read articles when it felt right, and put my hands over my eyes and skipped parts that felt too much.

Three weeks after my lumpectomy I’m just started to feel myself again. I’ve organised what I need for hospital and now am just playing a waiting game for the bilateral mastectomy op. All I can hope is that it goes well, I don’t have complications and hopefully my fiancé can get an exemption to visit me while I am in hospital. Trust your instincts! The first GP I went to told me I didn’t need a referral as there was nothing wrong when I said I had a sore lump. I got a second opinion and started yearly check-ups…three years later, I’m glad I got that second opinion.

If you haven’t already, this is your sign to have a good look and feel and if something doesn’t feel right - get checked.