At the age of 38, I went to my GP over something that I can’t remember. She said to me “while you’re here, I’ll do a breast check”. She noticed a small lump – which I hadn’t – and referred me for a mammogram. I put it off as I didn’t think it was important. I think my GP rang me at work to remind me to go to an appointment.
I had the mammogram which was a bit uncomfortable; the Radiographer kept leaving the room, then coming back to take more slides. She then took me to another room to have an ultrasound. When I got home, my GP called to tell me there was an issue and referred me to a Breast Surgeon for follow up. Again, I put this off …I guess I thought I wasn’t the kind of person who got breast cancer and I was youngish.
My GP rang me at work again to push me along in the process. She actually organised for me an appointment with a Breast Surgeon that week. When I saw the Breast Surgeon, he told me that “90%, it wasn’t breast cancer” but I needed to have a biopsy just to check. I had a work trip coming up that week and asked if it could wait until I was back to have the biopsy (the nurse said that it would hurt a little and I didn’t want to do the work trip with a sore breast). So I went on my work trip to Papua New Guinea for three weeks.
When I came back, it seemed to take ages to get an appointment as I transferred to the public health system from the private system. I ended up having the biopsy just before Christmas. This was a pain as I couldn’t get the results back until the New Year.
On 8 January 2007, my 39th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I said “but it’s my birthday. I was so sure that it wouldn’t be a cancer diagnosis on my birthday”.
It was an aggressive breast cancer and required eighteen months of treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and Herceptin). But it was picked up early and I am grateful for all the treatment.
It can be a bit confusing, especially for younger women but my messages are:
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in NZ women.
- Early detection influences the outcomes a lot!
- Find and keep an excellent GP.
- Have regular check-ups and see your GP immediately if you feel a change in your breast.
- Participate in the appropriate breast screening for your age group.