Life after a breast cancer diagnosis

Life after a breast cancer diagnosis


SANCHIA: I’m Professor Sanchia Aranda,
CEO of Cancer Council Australia, and I have with me here today Trish Vermuyten, who’s a cancer survivor. Cancer Council today has been releasing data about cancer prevalence in Australia, that is, the people who are alive either with a cancer diagnosis or following a cancer diagnosis, and the expectation that the numbers of people in Australia will rise from 1.1 million
today to 1.9 million in 2040. And so we thought it was important to talk about what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer, and what that experience is like, and Trish has come here today to help us understand that. So Trish, can you tell us a little bit about your story? TRISH: Yes, I was 32 when I was diagnosed
with breast cancer. I was spending the day white water rafting and after rowing I had this pain in my chest and at first I just thought I’d pulled a muscle. But after a while the pain didn’t go away, so I thought I’d better get it checked out. The first diagnosis they told me that
it was a ruptured cyst, that I had nothing to worry about, it will sort itself out, and sent me on my way. But again the pain didn’t go away, so I thought ‘I’ve got to go back and have a look at this’, so they did some scans, some tests, and finally
a biopsy, and determined that it was a Grade 3 aggressive tumour, about the size of a 10 cent piece. And I had to have surgery within a week. SANCHIA: And what was the feeling like
at that point, how did you react to that diagnosis? TRISH: I was blown away. And probably the first thing that I thought was ‘how can I have cancer? That’s an old person’s disease. I’m young, I’m fit and healthy, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, that can’t be right’. But it was. And I had a crazy road ahead of me
to deal with it. SANCHIA: So what treatment did you go through? TRISH: I had a lumpectomy initially, and then that
was followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. And because I was so young and fit and healthy, they gave me the most aggressive kind, which unfortunately knocked me around a bit. But four years later, my mum was actually diagnosed with breast cancer, and for me that meant three generations in a row, because her mum had also been diagnosed with breast cancer. And I have two sisters, so they asked me to be genetically tested, and it came back positive for BRCA1, which you may have heard about with Angelina Jolie. So to me that meant I had a higher than 50% chance of reoccurance of breast cancer, and an even higher chance of ovarian cancer. So I chose to have a preventative double mastectomy and reconstruction, and then had my ovaries removed,
so I’d give cancer no chance of coming back. SANCHIA: So over what period did all that kind of decision happen? TRISH: Well, I’m now 12 years all-clear … SANCHIA: Still looking 36 … 32! TRISH: But it was from … it was a five-year period that all the surgeries that took place, but probably another two years of recovery
after all of that. But I can finally say that I think that
part of the journey is over. SANCHIA: And your sisters, were they tested as well? TRISH: Yes, unfortunately one was positive, and the other was negative. So, you know, she has some decisions to make as well. SANCHIA: They’re tough decisions, aren’t they?
TRISH: They are. SANCHIA: And what about life now, 12 years down the track? Do you still have effects from having had the cancer? TRISH: I think there’s a lot of scars on my body, and sometimes they’re hard not to notice. But you’ve got to still think that I’m still here, I think it’s amazing that they can reconstruct a breast out of your stomach, so I’m happy that I have a flat stomach now. But also things like – you’ve just got to look at the positive out of things … I never thought that my first tattoo would be nipples,
so you know … (laughs) SANCHIA: Fantastic. And what helped you through the journey, what sort of support services did you access, and what were the things that made
the most difference to you? TRISH: Well, when my diagnosis was first being explained to me, my doctor gave me a lot of literature that Cancer Council produced, and I was grateful for that, because in the meeting itself it’s all a blur
and you’re really not taking it in, so the fact that I could then go home and
review this literature, and get an understanding of what it is that is
going to happen, and what the road ahead was, that was very helpful. And then after my surgeries I also took advantage of the Cancer Council services of support groups, meditation, art therapy, acupuncture,
because the people that I met there, the experience and the knowledge of the facilitators and
the other patients and survivors was invaluable. It really helped me through my journey. SANCHIA: Fantastic. And what advice would you give to someone, particularly somebody who was your age, diagnosed today, what advice would you give them? TRISH: I would say absolutely call the Cancer Council hotline, or visit their website, and look at all the services that they have
available to you. I think the information, support and
advice that they can give is amazing. And I can say that it truly made a difference in
my journey and I think made it so much easier. So it is well worth the time to look into their services. SANCHIA: And it’s fantastic to see you looking
so healthy and well, but for anyone who is experiencing cancer today, 13 11 20 is there, trained cancer nurses and other health professionals are there to meet your needs, so please don’t hesitate to call and access all the fantastic services. Thank you again, Trish. TRISH: Oh my pleasure, I’m so happy to be part
of the organisation.

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