Friday, 7 October 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness month

Today I have a special guest on my blog. My friend Alison, whom I asked to talk about October and Breast Cancer Awareness, as she could put this subject better into words than I can.

Hi, my name is Alison, and I am a Pink Lady.

What’s a Pink Lady you may ask (apart from an apple)? Many of you will be familiar with the Pink Ribbon badge for breast cancer. Many of you will not have seen the Pink Lady badge. The Pink Lady Badge means you belong to a special group. It means you have survived breast cancer.

Hi, my name is Alison and I have survived breast cancer.

I was diagnosed on 10 October 2007 after I found a lump. I was 42 years old and I thought I was too young to get breast cancer. I was wrong.

I had surgery to remove the lump and some lymph nodes in November and in January I began 6 cycles of chemotherapy. My cancer was large and it was aggressive-looking, but fortunately it was totally contained. After the chemo, I had radiotherapy and went on drug therapy (which I am still on, but will come off of it in about 18 months time). That sounds like a lot, and it sounds frightening, and I won’t lie, at times it was. But it was better than the alternative.

It has taken me a while not only to get over the effects of the treatment, but to resolve a lot of other things that happened to me at the same time, but mostly I am either there or getting there. I still don’t like people seeing my scars, so the thought of starting a new relationship is, at times, quite horrifying. I mean, how and when do you tell someone that part of one of your breasts is missing? I haven’t worked that one out yet, so I am currently facing the prospect that I will be single for the rest of my life. I am still coming to grips with the idea that I will never be a mum – and that is a hard one. Even though I was 42, there was still the possibility that I might have a baby, but after my treatment, my chances are about nil. I have to put up with the side-effects of the drug I have to take, and some of them are no fun at all (trust me). 

I am still trying to cope with the fact that at the worst possible time of my life (in the middle of my chemo) I lost my job, and therefore my entire income. I still haven’t forgiven Centrelink for sending me a letter saying they were “undecided” about whether or not to accept the medical certificate from my oncologist and therefore not require me to look for work while I was undergoing treatment (and bald as well!). I lived in fear of someone ripping off my hat and exposing my bald head. But my toddler nephew, who was the person most likely to rip my hat off, never even tried. Not once. But we did sit on the floor together and compare cuts and scrapes, of which both of us had a few, me from the side effects of chemo-induced delicate skin, him from the fact of being a fearless 2 and a half year old.

But despite all this, I have come through it and I am glad (if glad is the right word) that I discovered what was wrong early enough for me to have treatment and to have a fairly positive outcome. My surgeon (bless him) said to me that “if you are going to have cancer, you have the best possible type”. My treatment was aggressive and all encompassing to give me the best possible chance of surviving.

And early detection and treatment are the things that give the best possible chance of survival.
So, I would like to encourage any of you ladies out there over 50 to have your mammograms and have them regularly. And yes, I won’t lie, they do hurt a bit and they are a pain, but realistically, they may just save your life.

And to those of you under 50, get to know your girls: know how they look and more importantly how they feel, and if they look or feel wrong, do what I did and get to your doctor quick smart. If you can’t do the self-exam yourself, have your doctor do it regularly.

Make sure your hubby/boyfriend/significant other knows that he should tell you if he notices anything different about your girls. I have met a number of Pink Ladies whose husbands were the first ones to notice the lump.

For those of you with daughters (or granddaughters or sisters or nieces), make sure they know the importance of looking after their girls too.

To any of you who have a history of breast or gynaecological cancers in your family, you are probably well aware of how important it is for you to get checked regularly, so I am preaching to the choir here. If you are not aware, please speak to your doctor and explain that there is a familial history of these types of cancer.

There are lots of myths about breast cancer out there. Many people think if the lump hurts, it isn’t cancer. Mine hurt so I thought I was safe. I was wrong. Many think it’s something you only have to worry about once you get to 50. I did and I was wrong because I was only 42. The youngest person who got it that I have met was in her 20’s, the youngest I have heard about was 11.

Most of you will, at some stage in your life, know someone who has breast cancer. If you want to do something for them, ask them if there is anything they need. Or you could offer to make the bed, turn the mattress or hang out their washing, all of which are hard to do when you have been sliced into. You could offer to make them some food so they don’t have to cook. I will add a caveat to this however. If you do make your friend some food, check with them about items they may not be able to tolerate. When I was having chemo I couldn’t eat onions (in any form) or curry and I still can’t ea

t avocado. One of my Mum’s friends found that all food tasted a bit ‘off’ when she was having chemo except for plain boiled potatoes. She came over to Mum’s place for lunch one day, and on the table, amongst all the other food and right in front of Vi’s place, Mum put a bowl of plain potatoes. You have never seen anyone so thrilled (or teary) over plain potatoes. Ask them if they want you to pick up some groceries. Trundling around a supermarket can be exhausting, let alone getting the groceries home.

The best ‘gift’ I was given came from Eleni. A week or so after my surgery she took me out for lunch and then we just sat on a seat on the foreshore and stared out at the ocean. Words can’t describe how much better that made me feel. As did the occasional trip to the movies with a side trip of grocery shopping afterwards she took me on.

So take it from someone who has been there, done that, and got the pin to prove it, look after your girls and have regular check-ups.

A big thank you to Eleni who not only gave me space on her blog to put this post, but encouraged me to do so.

Thanks Alison for such an honest and considerate post. 

I need to say Alison's diagnosis was such a shock, but as she says,
 anyone can get breast cancer.
Her determination and strength (which she will argue with me about)
is a true inspiration. 

To Alison and all the Pink Ladies, bless you. 

Now, for everyone else, please be aware. Men, yes there is a decreased chance, but this goes for you too.

To find out how to make a difference, go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

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