Kath’s story – "I honour my body now"

08 Apr 2022

Kath, 49, was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer three years ago. Her family does not have a history of breast or ovarian cancer and currently there is no known genetic link for her diagnosis.

It was just a regular day when I found the lump in my breast. Within two days I was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer. The moment I found the lump I knew I had breast cancer; it was just an intuitive feeling.

I hadn’t been regularly checking my breasts for lumps. I’m really passionate now about listening to my body and regularly doing self-checks and I check my breasts every week when I’m in the shower.

When I was diagnosed, my specialist explained my treatment pathway to me. I underwent neoadjuvant chemotherapy for five to six months to treat the breast cancer prior to surgery. Once my chemo treatment had finished I would then learn whether or not I’d need surgery, followed by radiation. This meant another twelve months of targeted therapy. In all, I was told I’d need around 15 months of treatment. I had my last Herceptin infusion in November 2020.

(Triple positive breast cancer can occur when the HER2-positive breast cancer cells have too much of the protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 on the surface of the cancer cells. These receptors promote the growth of the cancer cells.)

I felt overwhelmed by so much information. I wish someone had presented me with an organised folder explaining each treatment step in detail for me to refer to afterwards. At the time I was feeling quite traumatised and couldn’t really take it all in. Thankfully, I had support from my husband and parents who also took notes so that we could discuss it all.

One of the worst moments was when I had to tell my three sons I had breast cancer, but they’ve been amazingly resilient. It’s been a traumatic experience for everyone, but we have supported one another through. I think they’re more appreciative now of who I am and the role I play in their lives.  Before my diagnosis I think I took my life for granted. I expected I would live to 80 or 90 years old and the thought never came into my mind that it might be cut short. After my diagnosis I realised how much more I wanted to achieve. That realisation spurred me on during treatment: I didn’t think about the end goal, I just focused on the present moment, on each part of the treatment and didn’t allow my mind to jump too far ahead. It was another breast cancer patient who gave me that advice: to be present, to stay focused in the moment.

It's important to remember that your breast cancer experience is unique to you and your diagnosis. By all means get advice from other people who have been through similar, but for me, the strength and empowerment I gained came from understanding that I’m unique and that this is MY experience, nobody else’s.

You’ll get a lot of advice from other people abut what worked for them, or for somebody they knew. By all means listen to them. But it’s your diagnosis, your journey. Trust your intuition. Be as involved as you can be about your treatment and ongoing diagnosis. I asked to be included in any correspondence – scans, tests, letters – between my GP and oncologists, so that I knew what was going on.

Knowledge was my power. I researched as much as possible and became involved in as many breast cancer community groups as I could. That’s how I discovered Pink Hope. There were women my age who had been diagnosed with breast cancer – it’s a very inclusive community. I read on the blogs about other women’s journeys and learned so much. Their experiences gave me a bigger insight into my own diagnosis and treatment and what to expect.

Prior to my diagnosis I had a difficult relationship with my body – I was very hard on myself, both emotionally and physically. I don’t think I gave my body the respect it deserved. Now, my relationship with my body is a lot more sacred. After seeing what my body had to endure with the various treatments I’ve realised how strong, wise and beautiful my body is, and how strong I am. I trust it more now.

Two months before I was told I had breast cancer I decided to overhaul my lifestyle. I had a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol and decided to stop for an indefinite period of time. I’d not drink during the week, then would ‘binge’, or at least, drink too much on the weekends. When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, you can feel out of control. For me, I realised my drinking was a lifestyle factor I could change as I moved forwards into a life after breast cancer. There’s research that links breast cancer with alcohol consumption, although there’s still not much information readily available. Even low to moderate levels of drinking can increase your risk of breast cancer; reducing your alcohol consumption may reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Even though I have scars from surgery, they’re a reminder about what I’ve experienced. My scars are empowering in many ways. I always criticised my body. I don’t do that anymore. Each morning I look in the mirror and I tell it I honour it, I honour my body because of the journey it’s been on.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer has been the most traumatic and transformational experience of my life. There’s so many gifts I’ve taken from this experience. Yes, it’s incredibly challenging. But I think that if you can tap into your inner strength, call on the people around you for support, and just take it one day at a time, then you’ve tapped into something powerful.