Month: October 2014

I Beat You This Time

breast cancer awareness month

It’s October 31. Today marks the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I wrote in a post at the end of September about how historically, October has been a really shit month for me. My aim for this October was simple – give the middle finger to cancer and all the other shitty things that have happened to me in Octobers past.

I feel like I’ve succeeded. Sure, I’m typing this one-handed whilst touching wood with the other because October’s not officially over yet, but I do believe I’ve done it. During the 31 days of the month in previous years known as Shocktober, Poxtober and Sucktober, I focussed on doing things to turn October’s nasty little frown upside down.

The biggest thing I did was share the stories of ten amazing women who’ve given raw, emotional, funny and heart-felt accounts of their experiences with breast cancer. Thank you so very much to Alyson, Candy, Meg, Susie, Lise, Emily, Anna, Jenni, Bella and Eliza. It takes courage to put yourself out there, in words, in images, in art and on a bike, in numbers, in hope, in sadness, in hindsight and in science. Curating your stories has been extraordinarily humbling.

The most public thing I did was be the keynote speaker at the Colour of Change luncheon in Toowoomba. The luncheon is a major fundraiser for BreastScreen Queensland, and despite my epic meltdown the night before when reality set in about standing up and speaking in front of 200 people who’d paid good money to hear me be ‘inspirational’, it was a fantastic experience. I am pleased to say that the day raised more than $42,000 (!!), that I didn’t fall up or down the stairs, that I only swore in the retelling of a joke that got a lot of laughs, and that my friend Shauna, who paid $150 to listen to me tell stories that she could hear any time for free, won a raffle prize.

Weird lighting makes it look like I've had a baby's bum transplanted onto the side of my face. I haven't.

Weird lighting makes it look like I’ve had a baby’s bum transplanted onto the side of my face. I haven’t.

The most terrifying thing I did this month was have a mammogram and ultrasound. I must have these yearly now, and whilst I also see my oncologist every three months and go through a physical exam, the mammogram and ultrasound are enormously stressful. I have to go back to the place where I was diagnosed, and over a period of two hours, as I see various nurses and doctors and have a range of tests and do a lot of sitting and waiting in between, thoughts of 2012 run through my mind. On that day, I kind of felt like the lump might be cancer, but nahhhh, there’s no history of breast cancer in my family, so it can’t be, I’ll be fine, right? How naive and ignorant I was. 90-95% of breast cancers have nothing to do with genetics or family history, they are what’s called sporadic breast cancers, which occur for unknown reasons. There’s no comfort in that, which is why people like I was in 2012 like to think that not having a family history will make us immune.

Here’s a photo of me in the waiting room at the breast clinic this week. My face looks so drawn and sad. It is, after all, the mirror of the soul. It may also be a reflection of the fact that it was 39 degrees here on Wednesday, and I was given a lovely thick, fluffy dressing gown to wear while I was waiting. Thank god I’m no longer menopausal, or the heat combined with that fucking hideous green wall may have caused the Seether to come out for a visit.

Before mammo

You can probably tell by the upbeat tone of this post that the results of the mammogram and ultrasound were good – all clear, no sign of any recurrence. This is me after getting the news – the relief is visible. Oh my god, the relief.

After mammo

Possibly the most significant thing I did this month was to start the third year of my remission from breast cancer. There was no parade or ceremony or ribbon-cutting. Instead, I went to work and did my best to contribute to making a difference in people’s lives. I cooked some lovely meals for family and friends. I did housework and washing and bought groceries (and whinged about all of it). I planned a holiday to Thailand, I went to the 40th birthday parties for two dear friends, saw a live comedy show, got a bit drunk and did karaoke, including a duet of Islands in the Stream with my husband. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately), our performance wasn’t caught on tape, so you’ll just have to make do with Kenny and Dolly.

Everything is nothing if you got no-one. Ain’t that the truth. I have so much love in my life, so many things to be thankful for, and lots to look forward to. Hey October, I beat you this time. And I’m determined to have a red hot go at kicking your arse again next year.


Treat Me, Not (Just) My Cancer

breast cancer awareness month

The final guest post for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is written by Eliza, who became a friend after I read about her in the newspaper and made contact (in a non-stalkerish kind of way!). Eliza is a biomedical research scientist who put her skills as a researcher into action in a very personal way when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28 years of age. This is her story.

I remember the day that my life changed forever, but not the exact date….it was a Friday afternoon in July 2002. I was home with my two-year old darling son (DS), recovering from the breast lumpectomy that I had three days prior. My darling husband (DH) came home for lunch and asked me if I’d heard from the surgeon regarding the pathology of ‘the lump’. I replied that if it were anything nasty, I would have heard and I hadn’t. He insisted that I contact the surgeon’s rooms while he was home. I did. Life changing phone call……

I’m really sorry but you have breast cancer, quite aggressive and advanced… require immediate surgery….removal of the entire breast and underlying muscle, all of the lymph nodes under your armpit and above the breast, you should seriously consider having your ovaries removed at the same time because your cancer is highly responsive to hormones….. you will need chemotherapy and radiation……., bone scans, CT scans……it is most likely to have spread…..’

NO THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING…..we are planning another baby….I’m too young…

I had initially found a lump in my right breast in January 2002. I monitored the size of the lump for a little over a month to ensure that it wasn’t simply a hormonally responsive cyst or other innocuous tissue. I went to the GP, we monitored for another month, then I had an ultrasound. Nothing to worry about  – five benign (not cancer) masses that presented as fibroadenoma and a cyst ….largest ~2cm. I had no family history of breast cancer, I was 28, I’d breast fed my son for 12 months… only ‘risk factor’ was that I was female. Recommendation was to continue to monitor and return if anything changed.

Well, I was too busy to get a second opinion and didn’t care for a different opinion anyway – benign lumps suited me just fine. It was only at the insistence of my DH and prompting by my dear friend (and offer to mind our DS) that I had another ultrasound in June. This time the finding was ten masses, the largest ~5cm and a blood supply evident in several of the masses. Angiogenesis (the formation of blood vessels) is a hallmark of cancer. This worried me, however the breast surgeon did not seem concerned. We pretty much insisted on the lumpectomy ‘just to be sure’. The surgeon’s expert opinion was that he was 99.9% sure that it was not cancer so the lumpectomy surgery was booked for a few weeks later.

Fast forward to the Tuesday after that phone call. The breast surgeon was so sure that it was not cancer that he was going on holidays for six weeks on the Saturday so we had to see another surgeon on Monday who booked the surgery for 7am the next day. This was the first of more than ten separate surgeries over the next 18 months….

So back to the title of my story – treat me, not (just) my cancer. Breast cancer incidence is highest in women over 50 so all of the survival statistics and long-term side effects related to treatments have been largely determined using this age group. Most chemotherapy regimens and of course removal of the ovaries will lead to early menopause. Although this is an awful side effect for a woman in her 40s or 50s, it can be devastating for a younger woman and her partner who want to have children in the future.

Thankfully the landscape around fertility concerns of younger women with cancer has changed quite a bit since I was diagnosed and actually some of it has been led by one of my medical oncologists. For me, it was a struggle to get my medical team to understand my perspective. Of course I wanted to survive and I would do everything that I could to increase my chances of survival however I also wanted to explore other treatments that would eradicate the cancer AND preserve my fertility AND not impact too much on my long-term quality of life. DH convinced me to research other treatments and ensure that I was comfortable with our path forward.

Thankfully I found a very caring medical oncologist who was part of an international clinical trial that was comparing the gold standard chemo drugs for BC (infertility-causing) with a new combination of chemotherapy drugs (Carboplatin, Taxotere and Herceptin) that was less likely to cause infertility in someone my age. I enrolled in the trial. I said no to the ovary surgery. Six cycles of C and T, six months of weekly H followed by six months of H every three weeks. After 12 months of chemo, several more surgeries (including a mastectomy of my left breast), my scans were clear however the next step was radiation therapy – five days a week for five weeks.  My mastectomy surgery had left me with a thin layer of tissue covering my ribs and my research of the medical literature led me to conclude that the risks of radiation to my chest wall outweighed any benefit, that is, preventing a local recurrence of breast cancer (it was highly unlikely that I had any breast tissue remaining).

I said no to radiation therapy.

Unfortunately my medical team were not used to patients saying ‘no’ so numerous oncologists tried to convince me (and my family) to have the treatment. With the support of DH, I stuck to my decision.

The next recommended treatment was five years of Tamoxifen hormonal therapy but whilst taking this drug I would have to defer my dream of becoming pregnant. There was very little data on the safety, long-term side effects and survivorship outcomes of someone in my age group taking Tamoxifen.

So I said no to Tamoxifen……again arguments with the medical team but with the support of DH, I stuck to my decision.

Fast forward two years and my dream came true. I fell pregnant and our beautiful daughter came into the world.

I have been deemed cancer-free for 11 years now. At times it has been really scary to take the path less-followed however I feel that I am solely responsible for my decisions regarding my treatment. For me, I needed to consider the whole of me not just the fight against the cancer. I wanted to ensure that I could enjoy long-term quality of life and always, always believe that ‘long-term’ was in my future.

Eliza and her gorgeous daughter today.

Eliza and her gorgeous daughter today.

A Family Affair

breast cancer awareness month

This guest post is written by Bella, who provides a different perspective on breast cancer. Bella is the adult daughter of a mother diagnosed twice with two different cancers, and has experienced all the fear, anxiety and worry associated with a cancer diagnosis in the family.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Let me tell you, as someone who is dealing with breast cancer in a family member (and as someone who has to combat cancer for the rest of her life BEFORE she even gets it), cancer awareness months are complete bullshit. People with cancer, and people who are related to people with cancer, deal with cancer every single day, when it’s not a cancer awareness month.

The worst day of my life was 29 January 2014. I was 17 days past my 41st birthday. It was worse than the day I was diagnosed with fibroids in 2006 and my then partner left me. It was worse than the five days I spent in hospital to have my huge fibroids (the largest was 1.5 kgs, the size of a foetus at six months gestation!) removed in 2013. It was worse than the day that Dad called me to say that they’d had to put a beloved family dog to sleep because of spinal cancer. It was worse than the day I had a colonoscopy and the gastroenterologist removed a benign polyp.

29 January 2014 was the day I had a mammogram. It was the day the radiologist found a suspicious lump in my breast. How was I going to tell my parents that I possibly had breast cancer? My family has a convoluted history of “female health issues”. Mum had fibroids ablated, and one of my younger sisters also needed fibroid ablation. When I finally sought treatment, I couldn’t have my fibroids ablated because they were too large; I’d left it too long to have them treated with anything other than major abdominal surgery. Mum hadn’t told me of the fibroid issues, and my maternal grandmother needed a hysterectomy in 1952 after abnormal uterine bleeding after her second pregnancy (there was probably no other known treatment then). My maternal medical history involves a history of colon issues as well.

My mum was then diagnosed with breast cancer 3.5 years ago … she’d delayed a scheduled mammogram for four months and the mammogram found a lump… Mum had a mastectomy and lymph nodes removed. If she hadn’t left it so long, she may have been able to have a different form of treatment. My parents didn’t want to worry their five kids about the diagnosis until Mum had the all clear from surgery, especially after Dad had previously had a stent put in his heart, after his brother had a heart attack and brother’s his wife had a quadruple bypass, and my Dad’s sister had a brain aneurism that needed surgical intervention.

So I didn’t find out my Mum had cancer until after her first surgery. Then my mum broke her elbow and needed more surgery. Her bones were “probably” weakened by her chemotherapy, and she needed pins put in her elbow, which she’ll need for the rest of her life. Then her oncologist found colon cancer. Mum’s gastroenterologist tried to save part of her colon, but couldn’t. Mum’s now had a complete colectomy and a stoma installed. In other words, my mum now poops in a bag outside her body and she will do so for the rest of her life. My siblings and I were told about Mum’s colon cancer before treatment began.

Timing is a bit iffy for me over the last few years have just been a bit of a blur with all the medical treatment my mum has needed. I’m not 100% sure that my mum’s fibroids, breast cancer or colon cancer were unrelated, given my maternal family medical history.

So, I had a mammogram and colonoscopy because it was recommended for people who had an immediate family history or breast cancer and colon cancer. After my mammogram, I had a fine needle biopsy done a couple of weeks later, to determine whether the lump was cancer, or not. It turned out that the lump was just a cyst. I didn’t have to tell my parents I had cancer. I didn’t need a lumpectomy and I didn’t need a mastectomy. The relief at the time was significant, but of course  given my immediate family history, I’m going to have to be tested regularly for the rest of my life for breast cancer and colon cancer, as are my siblings. Trouble is, some breast cancer screenings will be “refused” before a woman turns 40, despite a family history (as one of my sisters has found out).

I write this having just found out that my mum has the all clear from her oncologist and after I tell her that I have received the all clear from my own cancer specialists. I’m 41, I’m single, and I want children. I’ve just told my mum, a staunch Roman Catholic, that I now want children and I’m probably going to get pregnant by myself as a single woman via sperm donation. Mum told Dad. I didn’t think they’d accept my decision. Now they are both sending me recommendations for fertility specialists and articles about pregnancy health and lactation for “older mums”. Parents are WEIRD PEOPLES! Seriously. Parents are weird peoples.

But, as an adult child of someone being treated for cancer, it is easier to talk about medical issues as they happen and even easier to talk medical issues before they happen. The discussion will, no doubt, be different for parents with young children.

Families need to have discussions about medical histories. Whether your chid is young or old, parents need to find a way to discuss medical issues with their children. Children need to find a way to discuss medical issues with their parents. Please ask about medical histories! If parents don’t want to talk about it, tell them it will save them loads of worry about their children! If children don’t want to talk about it, tell them it will save them loads of worry about their parents!

You Decide

breast cancer awareness month

At 41, Jenni was chugging along working in retail fashion, raising two teenage sons and loving her husband when she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. What followed was a whirlwind of doctors, a mastectomy and other surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. During this time, Jenni felt she had nowhere for me to turn for good, everyday practical advice, so she started Your Life Needs to educate, empower and enlighten others. More recently, Your Life Needs has grown into a community providing information, real life stories, tips, advice and links for those with breast cancer and their carers, family, friends or co workers.

your life needs

Before I had cancer I didn’t give the disease much thought, it was something that happened to others. I was too young. Truth is, I probably didn’t give a lot of things much thought, I was too busy trying to fit into the cookie cutter mould that I perceived society expected of me. I reckon I lost a few years there when raising my little boys because I wasn’t following my own instincts but rather I was conforming to what other mothers were doing, what schools expected and what family expected. Sure I did my own thing too but in amongst that I was on the treadmill of life. Work was consuming, my home wasn’t always a true expression of us and I was controlling and being controlled.

Having cancer was the lightening bolt I needed to awaken me to what life really means. I wouldn’t wish cancer on anybody but in amongst the awful curse there are definitely blessings. This disease has allowed me to be happy in my own skin, it has given me a voice, a higher purpose. I now do more for others, think of others more, listen more (hard to do) and find pure joy in life. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to not be concerned with what others think of me. This used to consume me, I was always worried about living up to expectations.

But here’s the thing, the only expectations are the ones we put on ourselves, I’ve worked out that if you are doing good then good happens. When I run my own race I’m never let down or disappointed. Yeah cancer sucks, it can kill and it has left me with life-long side effects, but it gifted me the strength and insight to now truly live life, appreciate life and love life. Perspective is a powerful mind tool, it’s all about how we choose to look at a situation that determines how we deal with it.

From Breastfeeding to Mastectomy

breast cancer awareness month

Anna is a member of an Internet parenting forum that I joined when I was trying to get pregnant for the first time. I remember seeing her online signature then, which made reference to surviving breast cancer, and thinking – wow, imagine having to deal with that whilst parenting a small child. And then it happened to me. Anna is now more than ten years on from diagnosis, which gives such hope for those of us still in the early years. Thank you Anna for sharing your story.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2003. My son was 6 months old.

How the cancer was found is perhaps the most interesting part of my story.  I had grown up on a farm, surrounded by animals , so I knew a fair bit about reproduction and the cycles of life. I was paranoid about getting mastitis.  My son had been feeding really well, and then started rejecting one breast by just biting at it rather than feeding.  I must admit did not think much about it at first, rather than a very big OUCH.

But as time went on and he still refused to feed from that breast, I noticed a lump. Still terrified it was mastitis coming on ,I went and saw my GP. Thankfully, she took the lump very seriously and didn’t simply put it down to the normal lumpiness associated with breast-feeding. Instead, she sent me for an ultrasound, which came back with questions, and then on to a fine need biopsy and mammogram. Neither are fun when you are breastfeeding.

My son had his last feed the next day, as I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a mastectomy a few days later.

My surgeon was brilliant. Originally it was thought the cancer was only in the ducts (known as ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS), and so she was happy for me to try continue breastfeeding on the other breast post surgery, but I must admit it all seemed too hard (both physically and emotionally), so I was given drugs to stop the milk. The fact that my breasts were producing milk made me more susceptible to infection, so the stay in hospital for the mastectomy was longer than expected. I also had a second operation the next day as pathology showed the cancer was actually invasive ductal carcinoma (or IDC where the cancer has spread outside the milk ducts), so I needed to have lymph nodes removed.

My son was  suddenly was weaned on to bottles, and cared for by my husband for 1o days while I was in hospital.  They would come in to the hospital each day, I had the portacot in my room for my son during the day, with my husband there to help me care for him.

I had chemotherapy post mastectomy, which finished before my son’s first birthday.

At his birthday party my hair, which had just started growing, was the same length as my son’s. I was happy to tell my son’s god father, that whilst our hair was short, at least it was growing, unlike his…

Embracing the Body I’ve Got, Whatever the Weather

breast cancer awareness month

Emily, who blogs at Puddleducklane, is another member of my very special online cancer support group. She is a wife and mother of two young boys, who also writes beautifully and takes the most amazing photos. I’m so pleased and honoured that she wrote this post especially to share here.

When Julie first asked me to do a guest post for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought sure, why not, I’d love to. Then I got to thinking about a meaningful topic and went entirely blank. I tend to go blank a lot these days. Before cancer I blamed baby brain for any occasional forgetfulness but I prided myself on being uber organised. These days, thanks to a healthy dose of chemo brain……………I’m sorry, what was the question again?

I realised (eventually) that I wanted to write about embracing the body I’ve got. We all battle with self-image at different stages of our lives and Cancer creates a huge shift in self perception. I know it did for me.

Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36, I was in a pretty comfortable place within myself. I certainly didn’t lose sleep because I didn’t resemble a Victoria’s Secret Angel. My husband loved my curves just as they were. There were times when I wished I wasn’t so vertically challenged, but generally, I was happy with my health and didn’t subscribe to the narrow definition of beauty created by magazines and Hollywood heavyweight.


I thought my body was pretty freaking amazing for creating, carrying, birthing and breastfeeding two little human beings. I admired the truly stunning metamorphosis that my body went through during pregnancy.


I loved my boobs.

I loved them pre-pregnancy when they were perfectly pert. I loved them when they were gorgeously full with breast milk and I even loved them when they’d deflated and downsized once the milk bar officially closed.




I deemed them beautiful, productive and pleasurable.

For almost two years now, my body has undergone another huge metamorphosis and I have had to learn how to embrace the new me that has evolved out of breast cancer. It’s been an immense learning curve.

Losing my right breast and all my hair within the first 6 weeks of diagnosis was somewhat soul-destroying.


It felt like my femininity was being sliced, poisoned and burnt away with a torrent of surgery, chemo and radiation. My vanity took a big hit and that hurt but it also redefined how I saw myself. In the early days of chemo I felt a sense of shame being bald. I kept telling myself that it was just hair, it would grow back but despite the pep talks I still felt exposed and vulnerable to the stares of others.

My perspective took a shift during my time stuck in the Oncology ward at Canberra Hospital. I was the only one in my room who wasn’t terminal. I witnessed women planning funerals with best friends, families saying goodbye for the last time and doctors explaining what death would be like. I listened to the MET teams working frantically to stabilise heart rates, temps and resps in the lonely hours before dawn. It was agonising and frightening. Losing a breast and my hair didn’t seem like such a terrible thing after that. Being alive. Embracing the body I had right there, right then because I was alive became a priority. It was LIVING that was beautiful.


I dared to go out in public without my headscarf, I grew bold with my personal style and shook off the pity stares and discomfort of others who saw my bare head.


That’s not to say that I didn’t have moments of ‘enough already!’.
There were times when I felt crushed from treatment, I felt physically defeated and I longed for my pre-cancer body. But then I’d pick myself up, brush myself off and go on. After recovering from severe radiation burns I accepted the permanent shadow that it left on my skin. It honestly didn’t bother me that my reconstructed breast looked worse for wear after treatment. I was excited to watch my hair grow back and revelled in my pixieness. Every new eyelash was a cause for celebration.
When lymphoedema developed in my right arm it felt like my body was under attack again. It was a set back but with physio and daily compression sleeves I learnt to manage what is now a condition for life.
I started gaining weight shortly after beginning Tamoxifen in September last year but I figured that I’d just have to give my body time to adjust to the medication. The menopausal hot flushes, loss of libido and weight gain became increasingly worse. One year and 15kgs later I found myself loving my body less and less. I resented the body that cancer had left me.
I had a preventative mastectomy and reconstruction on my left side two months ago. While the surgery was a success, it triggered the end of 20 months of telling myself “I’m doing just fine” and emotionally I came crashing down in a spectacular post traumatic heap.

I was exhausted and depressed. I realised that at some point in time I’d shifted from embracing my body to resenting it. I’d stopped caring about my health and lost the motivation to exercise and eat well. Somewhere in there I’d lost my identity. I wasn’t my pre-cancer self, I wasn’t a cancer patient anymore and I still had three years to go before clicking over into remission.

I’m finally allowing myself to properly grieve my loss and acknowledge the trauma that my body has endured because of cancer. I’ve started counselling to help me process what I’ve been through and I’m coming to terms with my post treatment self. I’m establishing my new identity for the ‘me’ that I am now, in this moment.

I’m learning to love myself all over again, breast cancer battle scars and all.


Boobie Doodler

breast cancer awareness month

Today’s guest post for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is written by Lise, and was originally posted on her hilariously-named blog Shittytittiebangbang. Lise was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37, and writes with incredible honestly and humour about her life. Shevery generously allowed me to choose whichever of her posts I fancied to share here. I chose this one because it rings very true for me but is not something I’ve seen written about elsewhere – an exploration of the intense attachment that cancer patients have for their doctors.

I think I am in love.

Today she listened to me.  Smiled at appropriate times.  There were even outbursts of laughter. I know she would have brushed my hair from my face if I had any.

For this consult she had researched some literature for my individual case.  “I know that you like statistics so I’ve done some research for you” she said.

See, she is thinking about me even when we aren’t together.  She even answered all of my questions in great detail.  Time stood still.

There was an acknowledgement that going straight to implant with this next mastectomy might be difficult. “You fit types with strong pec muscles make it hard for plastic surgeons” she said.

Oh she does make me blush!

She again said “We want you to be around for a very long time.”

Let’s not kid ourselves.  She wants me to be in HER life for a long time. That’s essentially what she meant.  No illusions necessary here.

We lingered longingly, even though other women had already waited too long in the waiting room.

There was an apology about her criticism of my nipple position at our last consult. “I was getting ahead of myself” she said.  She is just beginning to truly appreciate my uniqueness.

This was by far our most successful encounter yet!

I wouldn’t be surprised if I get a post date text message tonight.  If only I wasn’t living so far away and wasn’t married, maybe, just maybe we would have a chance.  Another life perhaps.

She is mesmerizing and extraordinarily impressive and out of respect for her privacy, I’m not posting a picture of her shoes today.

Can’t wait for our surgical date! August 13th is just so, so far away.

The image below depicts installing a zip to the side of my breast, criss-crossing it with black pen, and watching black arrows explode from my nipple.  Well not really.  More like location of the incision site, removing all of the breast tissue and scraping the inside of the nipple to test for cancer while still in surgery, and taking it off if it tests positive for cancer.  That my friends is a nipple-sparing subcutaneous mastectomy right there.

lisey boobie doodle

600K per year and she gets to doodle boobies. He he!

Ride for Life

breast cancer awareness month

This post is written by my friend and work colleague Susie, a who has recently completed the Ride to Conquer Cancer – an absolutely amazing feat on its own, but especially gutsy considering Susie went through treatment for cancer two years ago. 

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, two years ago, I got on my bike and rode …. and rode. My mind was full and I was now a member of a club that I didn’t even want to join, so I rode to take my mind off it all! Eventually, my husband pointed out that I couldn’t ride 24 hours a day – the avoidance had to stop.

I’m a cyclist, (yes, one of those!) and I love it! I love the pain of grinding up a long steep hill and the thrill of speeding down the other side.  I love the wind in my face and the endorphins flooding through my body after a gruelling ride. I love getting up early and seeing the sun rise …… actually, I don’t really like getting up early, but that endorphin fix will drive you to do some desperate things! And I especially love the people I ride with – a few gutsy girls and a considerable number of very likeable, crusty old MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra).


As soon as possible after my mastectomy, I was back riding.  Life was normal on the bike and I could pretend all the other stuff wasn’t happening.  Even in my non-chemo weeks there was always someone to ride with me, no matter how slowly. The MAMILs joked, in their pragmatic way, about my ‘drug-enhanced’ cycling performance and whether my haematocrit levels would see me ‘kicked off the tour’. They turned a blind eye on the days when, in the rush to get out of the door, I couldn’t find my prosthesis and rode lop-sided….

……”Sorry I’m late, I couldn’t find my helmet/gloves/boob?” ….It certainly brought a new meaning to “I’ve got a flat.”

Even my bald head was not out-of-place amongst those formerly hirsute gentlemen. But there was always a helping hand on my back to push me up a hill when I needed it and an unspoken acknowledgement that thank God this wasn’t their wife/girlfriend/daughter.  Cycling gave me such a positive boost –not only the exercise but the social interaction and the coffee-shop banter afterwards really kept me going.

When I was going through chemo, I saw an ad on TV for the Ride to Conquer Cancer – a 220km bike ride raising funds for cancer research. That became my goal.  The bike and all that went with it had helped me through so much and this was the perfect way to acknowledge it.  It took two years before I got there. The gutsy girls and the MAMILs saw me through further surgeries and trained with me on beautiful winter days and on dark, freezing, windy mornings.

The weekend of The Ride finally arrived and after months of drought…….it rained! We had ridden just 950 metres when I felt the rain trickling between my bum cheeks …….”only 109km to go ….. it’s going to be a long ride!” However, it’s incredibly motivating to ride with over 1,100 other people who are there for the same reason……riding for themselves, a friend or a loved one who have experienced cancer…….and what they all went through was much harder than this. We laughed off the wet weather and embraced the moment.

Cheering supporters stood in the rain to encourage us along the 110km route to our overnight camp where our tent accommodation came complete with running water …. luckily, not down my side of the tent! The party atmosphere continued with yoga and massage to ease the aching muscles, music, laughter and the collective celebration of raising $3.8 million for cancer research. The next day was fine and sunny, the mood was high and the ride was easy.

Arriving home that night with a bag of sodden gear and a filthy, gritty bike, I reflected on a journey of two years and 220km.  Thank you to the gutsy girls and the MAMILs. Thank you to the bike……..I couldn’t have done it without you!


The Numbers

breast cancer awareness month

Megan is a member of my online cancer support group, and has become a close friend and confidante. This week she finished active treatment, consisting of almost eight months of chemotherapy and radiation, all done whilst juggling the care of three young children and working with her husband to manage their business. This is her story, in numbers.

11 March.
Discovered. 1 lump. Left breast.

19 March.
In the car. Driving to school pickup. Phone call. My GP.
“You need to pull over ……… sorry ……… you have cancer.”

23 March.
Celebrated? My 40th birthday.

27 March.
Mastectomy. Left breast. Gone.
I wake up and ask my nurse “How many drains do I have?”
“Just one.”
I smile.
I take a deep breath.
The first in 16 days.
That number.
My lymph nodes have not been cleared.
My cancer has not spread.

1 husband. 16 years together. 10 years of marriage.
We made a vow “In sickness and in health”.
We didn’t expect to test it so soon.

3 children. 2 boys, 1 girl. Aged 7, 6 and 4.
Growing up. Asking questions.
Adding grown-up words like ‘chemotherapy’ and ‘radiation’ to their vocabularies.
Treatment takes so long that now they are 8, 7 and 5.

2 parents. Both cancer survivors.
Watching. Loving their child.
A cancer patient.

1 mother-in-law. Lost her husband to cancer. 8 years ago.
Watching and loving her child.
The spouse and carer of a cancer patient.

5 siblings and their spouses.
4 nephews. 5 nieces.

I’m lucky.
So much love. So much care. So much help.
There are no numbers for that.

My Team.
2 General Practitioners.
1 Surgeon.
1 Medical Oncologist and his 3 Registrars.
1 Radiation Oncologist and his 3 Registrars.
1 Cancer Care Coordinator.
3 Breast Care Nurses.
5 Oncology Nurses.
4 Radiation Therapists.
2 Physiotherapists.
1 Psychologist.
All looking after me.
And my cancer.

6 cycles of chemotherapy.
My drugs have a number name. FEC-100.
18 weeks.
Easy start.
Brutal finish.

25 sessions of radiation.
Now there are numbers everywhere.
“Riding through 15. Tabletop set to 20. 8 to the left.”
It goes on.
Dressings need changing 3 times a day.

8 sessions of physiotherapy and 6 sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy. Daily practice.
One gave me back my arm.
The other released me from my fear.

Old Friends. So many.
Banded together. “Megan’s Mob”.
Months of meals. Home cooked. Delivered.
Gifts and activity packs for the children.
I tried but I lost count of all we received
And I couldn’t keep up with the thank you cards.

New friends. 11.
There will be more.
Found online. Our ‘Cancer Clique’.
Understanding. Belonging. Grieving.

Friday 10 October.
1 day short of 7 months since discovery.
Active treatment will be over.

The wait begins.
Survival or recurrence? Which will it be?
3 monthly reviews.
6 monthly scans.
And Tamoxifen.
10 years of Tamoxifen.

With cancer the numbers never stop.

megan thomas

Three Steps Back

breast cancer awareness month

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month guest post was written by Aunty Annie, and was originally published on her blog Fighting the Freeloader. Please go over to Annie’s blog and have a look around, it is a fabulous read – so honest, open and funny. 

It’s while I’m running the filleting knife down the rib cage of the freshly slaughtered turkey that the analogy hits me between the eyes.I am, for all intents and purposes, performing a posthumous mastectomy on this poor creature.

It’s hard to get every last scrap of flesh off those ribs. The only thing at stake, in this case, is household economy and my own idiotic perfectionism; the older I get, the more I become aware of my underlying OCD. DrGoodguy, on the other hand, would have been leaving me vulnerable to recurrences if he left a single strand of breast tissue in place.Just as well he’s the surgeon and I’m the amateur butcher.The knife slips, slicing into my left middle finger. Fuck. I’m covered with little nicks, thanks to the Lyrica making me sleepy and uncoordinated. I reach for yet another Band-aid, pushing away the knowledge that I’m meant to avoid breaking the skin on any part of that arm.

This is reality. I can’t sit here swaddled in cotton wool for the rest of my life. We still have to eat.


The human breast that Dr Goodguy filleted away two weeks ago is definitely better gone. My ovaries were as pure as the driven snow, and for that I’m immensely grateful; changes there are symptomless and frequently deadly. But the pathology on my right breast did show some small aberrations – not anything that could be classed as pre-cancerous, nothing to cause undue concern, but any changes at all make me damn nervous after the year and a half of crazy I’ve endured. I think of the white spots on my last mammogram, which didn’t set off the alarm bells in anyone but me, and know that we’ve cut off the Freeloader at the pass this time. He won’t be slipping any messages into Paul Revere’s saddlebags, bound for my lymph nodes, before we even know he’s arrived.

And there’s that, isn’t there? My last mammogram. I have no regrets about a future in which my sexual parts will not be slammed between two icy plates and flattened till I wince. For long, long minutes.

Honestly, men complain about a finger up their arse to check their prostate? Been there, mate. No comparison. Come, let me take my hair straightener out of the freezer and apply it to your nuts, and we’ll talk.

But I digress.


There are things I’d forgotten about post-mastectomy recovery. The scales tip this way and that; to balance the load of crippling fear I carried through the last mastectomy, I have my brand new and total lack of tolerance for being ill or incapacitated. In hospital I ran on equal parts of adrenaline and denial, refusing pain killers completely by the second morning so that they sent me home on day three with nothing but a drain bag and a cheerful wave. It felt like a win.

Bloody-mindedness continued to be my friend for some time. I spent the first day at home sort of in bed relaxing, then normal service was resumed as I started to cook and do a few chores around the house. Realising I wasn’t sleeping all that well – I blamed the annoying drain in my side, which made lying down singularly uncomfortable – I dug out an old packet of Targin and started dropping one each night.

It didn’t help much, but still the penny didn’t clang on the bottom of the piggy bank and bring me to my senses.

Day seven, and the drain came out with a cheerful ‘see you in six months’ from Dr Goodguy. I am Superwoman! Nine days out from the operation I was walking four kilometres to our creek and back on my own, bush-bashing and climbing trees on the way.

And still not sleeping.

Well, that was only to be expected, right? I haven’t been able to sleep on my left side since the axillary clearance – the ache in my arm becomes unbearable within minutes if I lie on it. And obviously my right side was going to be sore after being filleted. I’m really not a back-sleeper – I’ve always curled up on one side or another, or even slept face-down (not an option at present). So of course I wasn’t sleeping well.

Ten days out I started to crash, as the sleep deprivation hit me. It finally struck me that the pain over my new scar was getting worse, not better. I checked for redness, but no – it all looked perfectly normal. But anything touching the wound was agony, and that included clothing. (Sadly, running around nude in the middle of the Bungy winter is not a viable option unless I want snap-frozen spare ribs. Very, very spare ribs.)

But wait. Anything touching… where have I heard this before?

I’d forgotten about the nerve pain that accompanied Round One, making it impossible to even rest my poor gutted wing on the arm of a chair. I’d forgotten about it to the extent that I didn’t recognise the sensation that was driving me crazy as nerve pain, simply because it was in a different place – under the arm and across my chest, rather than running down from shoulder to elbow.

And so, back to the Lyrica, which makes sleep possible at night and turns me into a zombie by day. If I only take the evening tablet, I can sleep at night and sort-of function during the day.

Sort of. If I don’t count cutting my fingers to ribbons while processing a turkey.


Along with the zombie mode which lasts well into the morning, along with the deep reluctance to get out of bed, comes the Black Dog sniffing around my heels. You’re failing, he snuffles. You’re backsliding. You’re lazy. Knowing it’s bollocks doesn’t help me when I’m this flat. I can’t even shout at him.

I know exercise would help, but I just can’t find the ergs. Riding my bike seems too risky; breaking the scar open would set my reconstruction plans back to zero. Walking seems too slow to make a difference to my mood. My motivation feels like it’s gone in the incinerator with my fine sections.

I get on the scales to see how much ground I’ve lost, but of course I’m well over a kilo lighter thanks to the missing breast; small comfort when your two steps forward are surgically achieved. Should I be trying to lose the rest of this weight? Should I say fuck it and just turn back into a pile of lard on the couch? Should I try to find the middle road and somehow maintain this weight till the reconstruction surgery?

And that, of course, is a whole new can of worms to deal with; another surgery, at this moment, seems as desirable as an anchovy and Vegemite sauce on my ice cream sundae, but I know it has to be arranged. My reconstruction requires a whole day in theatre, and if I don’t book that theatre well in advance I’m screwed. Within a week of the mastectomy I’m on the phone and lining up the reconstruction for November 21st.

“What’s the hurry?” grumps the Bear. “You’ve just been through one surgery. Why the rush to put yourself through it again?”

Because I hate the way I look. Because I’ll have to pay another excess on my health insurance if I wait till next year. Because I want this to be over. I have many genuine, heartfelt and logical responses, but none of them fix the real problem at the heart of this conversation: my Bear is at breaking point. He’s had enough. Three rounds with the Freeloader in his life, killing and maiming his women, and he wants it to stop. No more hospital, no more anaesthetics, no more surgery and recovery and watching people he loves in pain. He’s started to believe he’s cursed. He’s started to believe he’s caused it somehow, and seeing me go through this shit all over again is undoing him.

“You’re not your boobs,” he says to me. “You were blessed with wonderful breasts and I enjoyed them, but they’re not you. It’s you I love.” And he’s saying all the things a dream man would say in these circumstance, and I can’t fault a word of it, and it’s never going to change my mind. Because that’s how I am. My body, my decision.

I’m even dreaming of having breasts again. I wake devastated to find it was just my subconscious playing tricks. I drag myself to the bathroom, look at the wasteland of my chest in horror. The slashes, the knobbly ribs- I look like a goddamned turkey carcass. I may as well feed myself to the dogs and be done with it.

Dressing to go out, I put on an ah-bra and the old teddy bear tits long before I should be putting any pressure over the wound- just to feel normal, just so people don’t stare, just so I don’t hate my own reflection. At the end of the day they’ve ridden up to my chin, and it’s hilarious and ridiculous, and under the laughter I feel like a freak.

And so we’re sinking together, my Bear and me- him from sheer emotional exhaustion, me under the weight of our combined physical and mental pain and my desperate attempts to keep our relationship from imploding. One step forward, three steps back.

Throw me a lifejacket, someone.