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My breast cancer was diagnosed when I was breastfeeding


Pamela - Breast Cancer Doesn't Discriminate #notjust1in8

Older women are not the only ones to get breast cancerClick To Tweet

At age 40, I heard those frightening words you have breast cancer. I had just sat down to breastfeed my 8-month-old baby girl. At first, I didn’t cry, I thought how do I tell my children – my sensitive 6-year-old James and my spirited 4-year-old Harry? I breastfed all three children and loved every minute of it.

Ten days after diagnosis, I had weaned my little girl, and had a lumpectomy, losing about half my breast with a tumour approximately 4cm x 3cm.  Having to stop breastfeeding so suddenly was very traumatic. I’ll never forget that last breastfeed before a PET Scan, and that night taking a pill to dry up my milk. It was heartbreaking.

After my first round of surgery, I lay in the hospital bed wondering what do I do now? Moments later in walked my beautiful, kind breast care nurse armed with information. I didn’t know anything about breast cancer. What I thought I knew about breast cancer was that it didn’t happen when you were breastfeeding.

Doesn’t it only happen to women over 50?!
Read more breast cancer myths

It was all very daunting. I found anything with the Pink Lady logo very reassuring and helpful.  Receiving the lovely My Journey Kit was extremely supportive and used it as a guide for a long time.

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Where does my cancer journey really start? Was it binge drinking in my 20s, becoming a mother and putting on weight, using Round Up and other chemicals in my garden and on our farm, was it something I did or didn’t do, or is it simply in my genes? Luckily I had always done self-checks in the shower. We have a family history of cancer but no breast cancer in our immediate family.

My life was perfect and when I found the lump in my breast. I thought it was a blocked ducted or mastitis. How can this happen to a mother of three young children?

Travelling to Toowoomba for chemotherapy every 3 weeks for 6 months and then staying in the city for 7 weeks having radium certainly took its toll on everyone involved.   Peter, my husband was very supportive and quickly learnt how to juggle our 3 children and the farm. We always did a day trip to Toowoomba during chemo, three hours down and three hours back. The doctors advised me to get home before the nausea hit. We always took the kids to Toowoomba with us. I felt like I needed to keep them close to me even if it meant they missed out on a lot of school.

How can this happen to a mother of three young children?
Read more breast cancer myths

Organising the 7 weeks for radiotherapy was probably the hardest. It meant being away from home for the entire treatment. It was harvest time on the farm so I had to arrange to have the children in Toowoomba with me. Booking our 5-year-old into a kindy and getting a private tutor for our 6-year-old. He cried when we suggested starting a new school. Luckily Ivy was happily taking a bottle and would feed and sleep for anyone. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support from my sister Margaret. She sent food out for school lunches during chemo and constantly cared for my 3 children and her 3 children for the 7 weeks I had radiotherapy. My brother James, living in London, left work and flew straight to Australia when we rang to tell him the news. And of course, Mum and Dad were very emotional, but supportive, and stayed with me during some of my chemo.  And then there’s my friends. You certainly find out who your real friends are. I am still overwhelmed at their support. It’s the love and kindness from the people you least expect it that somehow means the most.

In that first week of diagnosis, my mind was racing and I couldn’t sleep. Peter, and I would talk into the night or I would wake the poor bugger to discuss something. We spent many sleepless nights discussing how we would manage our business. I said I wanted to continue the office work for our farm during treatment.

We have a family history of cancer but no breast cancer in our immediate family.
Read more breast cancer myths

One night I woke him up just to say “You know, I’m not going to be one of those sad cancer patients. I’m going to do something”. I actually feel guilty for saying this as I now know most cancer patients are amazing, with fantastic spirit, fight and determination.

Another time I warned him that I would NEVER look like a chemo patient. For some, bald is beautiful but I really did struggle with the hair loss. It’s not being vain, your hair is much more part of your personality than you think. Once you lose your hair, eyelashes and eyebrows you feel very exposed, very naked. It was easy not to worry about my bikini line! I got up every morning and put my make up on. This gave me the boost I needed to get on with my day. I rarely let the kids see me without something on my head. For me, this was the right choice and what I was comfortable with.

Young women (20-39) account for 5% of all breast cancers diagnosed in AustraliaClick To Tweet

Most of my friends in their 30s were not aware they should be doing self-breast exams and certainly weren’t getting comprehensive breast exams. Breast cancer in young women is often more aggressive as it’s left undetected for too long.  That’s why I am so passionate about sharing my journey.

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