My mum's cancer diagnosis saved my life

For Kathy Quigley, getting told she had breast cancer was never on her radar.  At 48 years of age she was fit, healthy, never drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes.  And with no family history of breast cancer, it was something that she thought she would never have to deal with.  That was until her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in Feb 2022.  Hear Kathy’s remarkable story here….

When my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer I was really shocked. I mean she is 76 years of age and has always been really healthy and it was something that she and myself never expected.  Kathy’s mum Barbara had been feeling soreness in her left breast and nipple.  She had always been prone to breast cysts over the years but in previous years these had always turned out to be benign cysts.  In this instance, with her screening overdue because of COVID delays, Barbara was finally able to get the soreness checked out and she was dealt with the news that she had breast cancer.

Hearing that her mum had breast cancer prompted Kathy to get her own breasts checked. I just wanted to know that I was ok and that this wasn’t going to happen to me too as I have a daughter who is 12 years old, and I needed to be sure. I went to see my GP and I couldn’t believe that even though my mum had just been diagnosed I still had to plead my case for having the ultrasound and mammogram because I am only 48 years of age. I was able to get the scans I needed but partly at my own expense.

Only 2 weeks after Barbara’s diagnosis, Kathy had just had a mammogram and ultrasound when the radiographer came into the room and told her the scan showed she had something suspicious show up and it was confirmed she had breast cancer. I could not believe it. I had absolutely no signs or symptoms, no lumps, or bumps, and yet I still had breast cancer. 

I held off from telling my mum about my cancer diagnosis because she was dealing with her own thoughts about her own diagnosis. She was being very positive and saying to us kids that she would be fine, and she would do what she needed to do to beat the cancer. It wasn’t until I took my mum to her specialist appointment that I turned up with my own scans and told her that I was seeing her specialist too. My mum was devastated that I was going through this. Suddenly she wasn’t worried about her own health, she was purely focused on me and my health – as any parent would be.

We were extremely lucky that the surgeon saw the both of us together, even to the point of performing surgery on the both of us on the same day and in the same hospital just to make the process easier for the both of us. The staff at the hospital could not believe that as mum was being wheeled out of theatre, I was being wheeled in.

My mum’s cancer is a little bit more aggressive than mine which means she needs to undergo chemo and radiation which will be ongoing for the next 12 months and will then be on medication long term. I have been so lucky that my cancer is very early stage and I do not require chemotherapy, but I will need to have 5 weeks of radiation. Mum has had her first round of chemo and is not feeling great but is so grateful to know that she is the one who is enduring this and not me. For me, other than being extremely grateful that my cancer was found, I also feel lucky that I don’t have to have chemo and I am well enough to look after my mum while she is feeling unwell.

What I would say to people is to push your doctor and the medical system if you feel like you are not getting what you want and ask lots of questions. If I didn’t persevere on the point of getting an ultrasound and mammogram, they would have made me wait another 2 years until I turned 50 years of age and my prognosis would have been much different. When you haven’t been touched by cancer you don’t realise how many cancer types there are and how quickly things can change and progress and every little bit of time helps your outcome and I am just so glad that I made sure I got the scans I wanted, because I have caught my cancer early and my treatment will be far less evasive as a result.

My outlook on life now is so different.  I constantly tell myself to not sweat the small stuff and to listen to my body. If I am tired, and I don’t feel like doing something then I don’t and I am getting much better at saying NO to things that don’t serve me. And the key is being able to say no without guilt, which is very hard particularly for us as women. But it’s so important to accept and forgive yourself for being who you are. 

My mum has saved my life and even though she is facing the battle of her own life, she takes comfort knowing that it is her going through the intense treatment and not me. And I would be the exact same if it were me and my daughter. A mother’s love knows no boundaries and as mothers we will do whatever it takes to shield our children from pain. On Mother’s Day I will be hugging my mum tight so very grateful that she saved my life.



Back to news items