‘My Battle with Breast Cancer’ IAHA Member Laura Christie shares her story
The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and an important time to sharing and speaking about the impacts of breast cancer.
We thank IAHA member and warrior woman Laura for sharing her story with us. We recognise the bravery shown in her breast cancer journey and appreciate her sharing her experiences.
IAHA hope that this story, and others like it, continue to reach far and wide, to spread the word about prevention and the supports available for women and men diagnosed with breast cancer.
When were you diagnosed and how did you react when the doctor told you that you had cancer?
I was diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2019. Merry Christmas right? I have to say that I have banned Santa from this house now – he failed on the workplace health and safety regulations.
I think I remember a bit of shock but also some numbness to the news as well. I heard it, understood it, but was at a loss to really react to it at the time.
I was very conscious of how this would affect my son and daughter and so was quite anxious about how and what to tell them. I micromanaged this quite a bit so I did not end up telling them until after New Years Eve. I waited until I knew what the treatment plan was going to be before I sat them down to let them know what was going on. They were really upset and scared, but being able to take them through the diagnosis, the treatment and the potential outcome and minimise the extent of any unchecked anxiety.
What made you go to the doctor?
My daughter had her deadly choices postponed earlier in the year and we rescheduled it for December. As an afterthought, I rang and arranged for a check up as I was finishing my undergrads. When I spoke to the nurse about what I wanted them to check up, she insisted that I come in ASAP (I called on a Thursday and had to go in on the Saturday).
So really Deadly Choices are good for a lot of things..
What was the biggest challenge of the treatments that you have experienced so far?
I think the biggest challenge for me was the wait between the bone and CT scan and the first dose of chemo (which was quite nerve wracking as well). The Bone and CT scan were done to determine if there is any metastasised cancer. Breast cancer commonly metastasises to the bones and/or the lungs/liver. Having metastasis is never good news and is often a terminal diagnosis. Between having these scans and getting the results was about a week and a half and one of the most difficult times I have had to endure. Anxiety skyrockets, ‘what if’ becomes the newest catch phase of the mind and “Dr Google” is on call 24/7.
In March, I attended my very first chemo administration and while I was being prepped, the registrar came by and let me know that the bone scan and the CT scan were both clear. This was the first time that I had received good news since being diagnosed.
Where did you get the most support during your treatments, what sort of things kept you going?
This is difficult to answer with just one answer. Support was from so many places. My kids were great. They were mindful of the situation but also, they cant help but be themselves as well. My old school friends started a messenger group for me so that I could update everyone at once and chat when ever we were able. The Oodgeroo Unit at QUT were amazing and kept in touch offering support, my family and my daughters’ school were all amazing. The school would call, send care packages and kept a close watch on Ellen. The nursing staff in the oncology outpatients at the RBWH became family and I got to know all of them by first name. Through the COVID isolation, my hospital visits were my social interaction times. I had neighbours do my shopping for me, and IAHA also checked in and made sure I was doing ok.
What advice would you have for other women who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer?
Difficult question. There are many different forms of breast cancer and therefore many different treatments that will have many different side effects. I think the piece of advice I could offer most is talk to your oncologist, accept help from others and take each day as it comes.
Some women may not be able to deal with the diagnosis well even if it is an early stage diagnosis. Other women may get a terminal diagnosis and be dealing with a different outlook and mental process. But I will go back to the accept help advice. Learn to say yes to offers – food, shopping, housework and gifts. It helps.
This month is also Mental Health Month. How has this experience affected you at a psychological level?
I have become far more focussed on being ok with the right now.
The constant onslaught of side effects certainly wears you down. Keeping my mind on the end of each treatment helped me a bit, and having others around who were ok with hearing me complain at times was a huge help (my ex doesn’t cope with others complaining).
Maintaining a sense of humour throughout the treatment was essential for me. Some may not be able to do it – but it was necessary for me.
Being able to find a positive to everything that was happening was another thing that kept me sane – if the silver lining inside your dark cloud is tarnished, turn that sucker inside out and scrub it harder than anything until it gleams.
- My formally straight hair will most likely turn curly
- I realised that I had a good, shaped head
- It was winter so the hot flushes were great at night as they warmed me up in the cold sheets
- I saved money on hairdressers and shampoo
- Everyone else in the world was in the same boat as me – isolated in their own home (admittedly they were not dealing with cancer treatment.. but hey… they weren’t allowed out to have fun either!)
- Retail therapy moments helped a bit sometimes too.
Also during this month, 15th-21st is National Nutrition Week. What advice/information can you share around nutrition regarding prevention and general wellbeing?
One thing I learned was that alcohol increases your risk of developing cancer including post treatment recurrence. When the body processes the ethanol it produces estrogen and your risk of recurrence is significantly increased if you drink every day (even if it is within the suggested health guidelines.
How are you feeling now about the exams and treatments that are yet to go?
This semester I have no exams. I requested that the subject I enrolled in this semester did not have any exam attached (I do however have assignments). The chemo really does affect your memory and I still struggle getting words out and remembering some things. It is frustrating but hopefully continues to get better over time.
The treatment that I am on now is a 5 year medication that supresses the estrogen hormone in the body. There are side effects to this as well but so far it has not been too bad. The hot flushes have increased a bit and later one it is likely that the muscle and joint pain will come back (a side effect I got on the second round of chemo).
So far I am feeling ok with this medication, however it is a hassle still to have all the hospital appointments. They are not nearly as frequent as the chemo and radiation, but they are annoying.
Let’s finish with a message of encouragement – what would you like to say to women about prevention, self-examination and regular check ups?
Check your boobs!
Learn the warning signs – do you have a dimple that wasn’t there previously? Can you feel a lump that doesn’t really hurt? (Painful lumps can often be benign).
Have some fun and ask your partner to check them for you. I sure they will be very obliging….
Do not put off getting a check up because you are scared of the outcome.
Do not put off getting a check up because you are scared of the outcome.
Be strong, be brave and be awesome.
Thank you Laura from your IAHA family. Our deepest and most sincere thoughts are with you and your family. YOU ARE A WARRIOR and we know you can smash this!
Lets see how many ladies we can get to ‘DO THE CHECK!’
October 12, 2020
Categories: IAHA News
Posted by: Renae Kilmister
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