I found my breast cancer through self-examination. I was preparing to have a shower one evening, and was enjoying that delicious moment when you first take your bra off after a long day. I normally did my self-checks in the shower, but for some unknown reason this day I did it standing in the walk-in robe, next to the clothes hamper. I still had my bra in my hand. I remember every single detail of that moment, because as soon as my left hand touched the lump in my right breast, I knew. It did not feel normal, it did not feel right. I was 42 and had always had lumpy breasts. I had actually had a harmless cyst removed from my left breast when I was 15, so from a young age I’d been hyper aware of what normal felt like when it came to my boobs. Through years of trying to conceive I’d become very familiar with how my breasts reacted to hormonal fluctuations, as one of the first signs of pregnancy for me was breasts so tender I would start walking around with my elbows pointing out like I was about to take flight.
Finding that lump in September 2012 kicked off a period of time in my life that I look back on and think, how the hell did I actually get through that? How did I go to the GP and ask him about the lump? How did I answer that phone call from the doctor and remain standing whilst she said ‘There is no easy way to say this: you have breast cancer’? How did I sit in the surgeon’s office and hear that my right breast would need to be removed the next day, and not run screaming from the room? How did I wake up from that surgery to be told the cancer was also in my lymph nodes, and may have spread further, and not completely lose my mind? How did I get through 16 weeks of chemotherapy, with bone pain so bad that morphine did not even take the edge off, and then voluntarily line up for six weeks radiation which made my skin literally peel off in sheets? How? How?
I’ll tell you how – it is the exact same thing that made the rock-climbing bloke who literally got caught between a rock and a hard place saw his own arm off with a pocket knife. It is the essence of human spirit that pares us back to the core of our being and leaves us with only our pain and our courage left. Even when we think we are dying, we are making decisions about how we are going to live. Checking my breasts regularly was never done with the thought in mind that I might actually find cancer. We do these things blithely, we’re told to do it and like good citizens we do, and once it’s done we move on into our lives. Except that the reason we do it, is that we might find something. Because finding something, and having to face scary, dreadful, awful treatment after treatment is way better than not checking, not finding anything until it’s way too late, not being able to be treated, and dying.
I got lucky in October 2012. I was treatable and potentially curable. The word potentially was, and still is, the key. Until I reach five years post-surgery (11 October 2017 – not that I’m counting) I am not considered cured, but I have made the choice to live now like I am. There are moments of fear, but they are now seldom, and I don’t mentally plan my funeral as often as I used to. So, SO lucky. And I mean that without a hint of sarcasm.
Chrissie Amphlett was not one of the lucky ones. Breast cancer claimed her life on April 21, 2013. When Chrissy developed breast cancer, she wanted her famous song about the power of female sexuality I Touch Myself to become an anthem for spreading awareness about the importance of touching ourselves for early detection of the disease. According to the I Touch Myself Project, as a tribute, Chrissy’s family and friends, her husband Charley Drayton, fellow songwriters, Cancer Council NSW and supporters from around the globe have come together to make sure Chrissy’s legacy lives on to remind women to be in touch with their bodies, and if something’s not right, see their doctor.
Please, know your body, touch it regularly, and go straight to the doctor if something is troubling you. Breast cancer is really bloody scary, but dying is worse.