Ronni's Story - 'I'd always wondered what it would be like to be struck by lightening and now I knew'

16 Sep 2022

My name is Ronni and I am 57 years old. I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in April 2021. My aunt on my mother’s side of the family was diagnosed with and passed away from breast cancer around 35 years ago (she was 57). My grandmother, on my mother’s side of the family also passed away from breast cancer at the age of 87. After my diagnosis, my parents and sister had genetic testing for the PALB2 geneUnfortunately, my sister has also inherited the gene. Surprisingly the PALB2 geneis from our father’s side of the family! 

I’ve not been particularly vigilant about checking my breasts. I was diligent about having mammograms every year once I’d turned 50, as recommended, particularly with my family history. I thought I was being proactive about my breast health. 

I rarely get sick. I wasn’t sick when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was breast cancer treatment that made me unwell

In April 2021, like many women I had been trying to lose weightI was pleased that I had lost around five kilograms. The day before finding the lump in my breast I had been doing a lot of gardening which involved heavy lifting. When I first felt the lump, I thought I’d pulled a musclebut just to be sure I thought I should have it checked by my GP. Even the GP thought I had a pulled muscle, as the lump was such a large mass. It was recommended get it checked anyway with an ultrasound. I had an appointment the following day. The ultrasound findings were that it was rated a “4” which confirmed it was a cancerous growth.The cancer diagnosis was confirmed a couple of days later after a biopsy was performed at the Wesley Hospital. However at this stage we did not know what type of cancer it was. The wait for the results was unbearable. Because of Covid I was given the news that I had triple negative breast cancer over the phoneI still really didn’t know what this meant. I didn’t know what triple negative breast cancer was.

Triple negative breast cancer does not have the three most common type of receptors known to make most breast cancers grow:oestrogenreceptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR) and HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2). Around 15% of breast cancers are triple negative. 

As soon as I was given my diagnosis I was on a rollercoaster. There was so much information to process, hard conversations to have, decisions to make. I’always wondered what it would be like to be struck by lightning and now I knew

The hardest conversation I had was breaking the news to my daughters, my sister and my mum and dad. How do you tell your family this awful news? Nothing or no-one can prepare you for these conversations. This is a time when your own mortality is staring you straight in the face and there is no guarantee that the treatment will be successful. I had learnt that triple negative breastcancer is extremely aggressive. There was notime to waste.

Suddenly I was on this ‘breast cancer’ trajectory, where your feet are taken out from under you and you’re trying to remain steady, while processing so much information.The standard treatment for triple negative breast cancer consists of chemotherapy to shrink the lump, surgery and radiotherapy. 

My treatment began with a consultation with a surgeon to decide the best course of action. Iwanted to get a second opinion. I was told in very rude terms by a medical receptionist that it was inappropriate toshop around’ for a second opinionthat I was taking up valuable appointment time for other patients who were also dealing with their initial cancer diagnosis.’ That was the day I broke down in tearsI couldn’t believe that someone that worked in such a critical area could be souncaring! was in shock and needed reassurance, but it wasn’t forthcoming. 

I was now on the breast cancer processing conveyor belt and there was no stopping it. As Real Estate agent, I know that owners typically get three or four agents to give their opinion. I was shocked to find out that this wasn’t how breast surgeons allowed patients to arrive at their decision when it came to deciding which surgeon they wanted and what treatment they agreed to. I wasn’t just selling a house I was trying to save my life! I ended up going with another surgeon and felt comfortable with my new teamI use humour to get by and my team were seriousbut we also had fun along the way.

My initial surgeon recommended I see a geneticist and to see if I had a breast cancer gene. He recommended this as Triple Negative breast cancer is typically genetic. The results take around three to six months to come back. 

While was waiting on the genetic results, I began my chemotherapy treatment. In all, I had 12rounds of chemo. I had four lots of Doxorubicin(commonly known as the Red Devil’ as it is kicks like a mule and is red in colour)I had an anaphylactic reaction to the first round of Doxorubicin;not a pleasant experience! It was followed by eight rounds of Paclitaxel. This chemo has caused permanent nerve damage to my nerves in my feetit truly is the gift that keeps on giving!

quickly lost all my hair and chose to wear a wig. It made me feel more confident to look as ‘normal’ as possible. During my treatment, I was still working, and wanted to look ‘professional.’ I had to keep working in order to earn money, but it was immensely difficult. I was fatigued, nauseated and lost a lot of weight because I just wasn’t hungry. 

There’s so much you don’t get told during your breast cancer journey. I was diagnosed with neutropenia after my first “Red Devil” chemotherapy treatment and ended up in hospital for ten days. Neutropenia is one of the most common and serious side effects during chemotherapy. It is caused by a reduction in white blood cells, which leaves you vulnerable to infection. I ended up with a feve