Giving back to the Newly Diagnosed
In March 2016, just weeks before her 46th birthday Jane, was in the midst of a health kick. She had quit sugar, was tracking 10,000 steps per day and was doing all the right things to keep herself healthy. And it was this health kick that might well had saved her life. A pulled muscle, or so she thought, led her to discover a large lump in her breast. With a history of cysts in her breasts since 18 years of age, Jane was well versed in routine scans and examinations, but after having an ultrasound in this instance, she knew things were serious when she was told to “go and see your doctor tomorrow”.
Jane was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer and with the youngest of Jane’s children only 4 years of age, Jane had a lot to live for. It didn’t curb the questions, however, that were bombarding her mind…. “What did I do to deserve this?” And as someone who had never touched cigarettes or drugs, and rarely drank alcohol, Jane couldn’t help but wonder, WHY ME?
Treatment was intense and there were many decisions along the way that proved difficult. Jane says that she will always be grateful for the introduction to Pink Finss support groups, as meeting other ladies who had gone through similar experiences meant she had invaluable insight to draw on. “Being diagnosed with breast cancer is daunting enough but to suddenly be making decisions like whether to remove one breast or both is something that doesn’t come easy and you are putting all of your trust in your medical team, who at the end of the day don’t really understand how you feel.” At the Pink Finss support group meetings, Jane was able to ask other ladies who had been in the same situation and this made her decision making a lot easier.
Anyone diagnosed with breast cancer knows about the magic 5-year milestone; that is, your increased chance of survival once you reach 5 years post treatment without recurrence. “Getting to this milestone just makes you feel safer and like you can breathe again” says Jane. With this milestone in arms reach, Jane was back to living a normal life when out of the blue, she suffered a seizure whilst sleeping in the middle of the night. The seizure came with no warning, no headaches or other symptoms to suggest anything else was wrong. Jane was rushed to hospital and scans discovered a brain tumour that had existed but remained undetected for years, possibly decades. The tumour was unrelated to the breast cancer diagnosis.
Jane was back in the hospital at 51 years of age with an even bigger fight on her hands. The tumour was located in the area affecting her voice box so surgery to remove 75% of the tumour was the best chance to ensure Jane’s ability to remain communicative post-surgery; but she went into the surgery with no guarantee what the outcome would be. For the first month post-surgery, Jane was unable to communicate with words… her brain was talking to her but she was unable to get the words out, which was terrifying and extremely frustrating. “It was like being a prisoner in my own body and I felt helpless”. I spent the next 3 months in speech therapy and practising like crazy in my own time to give myself the best chance of a quick recovery. It took this much time until I could have a normal conversation again.”
The rest of Jane’s treatment included chemotherapy and 38 sessions of radiation. In addition, Jane was unable to drive for 12 months post-surgery, which meant she was relying on everyone to drive her around to her many appointments.
When asked what felt different with the second diagnosis as opposed to the first diagnosis, Jane said the second diagnosis was easier because she was able to draw on the knowledge that she had done it before and she could do it again. “I felt a strength and understanding that I didn’t have first time around. Having young children also spurred me on to keep getting up out of bed every day”.
Jane still attends Pink Finss monthly support group meetings and loves that she can use her experience with cancer, not once, but twice, to help someone else newly diagnosed. “If my experiences with cancer can help one person in some small way, then my job is done. I am so grateful that I was given that opportunity all those years ago when I was newly diagnosed and this is my turn to give back to help others”.
The Pink Finss is having a support group meeting for newly diagnosed women on Friday 1 April 2022.