Three-time cancer survivor, Laura joins us as a guest blogger to tell us about her experience with breast cancer and the importance of breast cancer health checks.
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and twice as beautiful as you’d ever imagined.
Hi there, I’m Laura. I am a Mum to Taylor, Wife to Mat, Step-Mum to Cierrah and a three times cancer survivor… all by the time I was 37 years old.
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 21, Thyroid Cancer at 32 (I was diagnosed the day after I found out I was pregnant with Taylor… but that is a whole other story right there!!), then most recently Breast Cancer and that is where my story picks up.
In October 2019 we had just returned from an amazing family holiday, 10 days laying by the pool, sipping cocktails, daily massages, and simply loving life! I mention this because I spent those days in my bathers with no issues. We returned to Perth on a Saturday evening, by the Sunday night our lives had taken a major turn.
I was getting ready for bed and taking off my bra when the back side of my hand brushed my right breast. I felt something that I thought was a lump, so I had Mat check. Unfortunately, he felt it too. Given my history with cancer, and depression, Matt suggested I go to the emergency department.
This choice may seem a little strange or even drastic to some but given my history we thought it best. After the usual wait time, understandably I wasn’t an emergency. I was brought through and got to see a doctor. The doctor I saw didn’t seem too concerned, in fact they told me that ‘cancer doesn’t feel like that’. If I was still concerned the next day to go and see my GP.
I swear I have the best doctor ever! I got in to see him the very next day and things got moving. He got on the phone and made all the necessary appointments, three days later I was to have a mammogram, ultrasound, and a fine needle aspiration. He mentioned that if the doctor decided to do a core biopsy it wouldn’t be a good thing.
Fast forward 2 days and I was in my gown having my tests done. Fortunately, though he couldn’t be there for my mammogram, Mat could be by my side for my ultrasound and fine needle aspiration. The nurse and doctor were talking and mentioned a core biopsy, I looked at Mat and said ‘that’s not a good thing is it’ he just shook his head.
The wait to get my results was over a week, and those days were a nightmare, both Mat and I envisioning the worst. On Thursday 31st October I got a call from my doctor, he told me to come in and see him, that it was best if I brought my husband with me. Unfortunately, Mat had just come off a string of nightshifts and I couldn’t wake him even if I tried. So, Tay and I trundled off to the Doctor knowing what to expect. I had Breast Cancer in my right breast, not just a lump but also further cancer growing at the back of my breast.
Can I take a minute here and point out that I would not have been aware of the secondary cancer if it weren’t for the lump that came up. #silverlinings
I saw my surgeon that night, and it was decided that I would go in for a bilateral mastectomy. I thought it best as it would hopefully reduce the chances of it coming back in the other breast later in life. I wasn’t quite ready to have them cut off completely, so I chose to have the skin saving operation, where they remove the inside of my breasts but keep the skin, they then insert implants.
Now seems like a good time to mention that but before our holiday Matt and I had decided to try for another baby, as it turns out I quickly fell pregnant. Can you imagine being told that you’re pregnant a week after finding out that you had breast cancer and that surgery was imminent. I had a horrible feeling of Déjà vu, seriously the universe couldn’t be that cruel. After some testing it was found that it wasn’t a healthy pregnancy, I miscarried a week later.
November 16th, 2019 was lose my boobs day. Matt and I went into the hospital early in the morning, my parents and sister Gemma met us there. One of my oldest friends Kelly also came in briefly to wish me luck. I was fortunate to have a cousin working on the same ward, I found comfort in this.
Surprisingly my body seemed to recover well post-surgery, and my mind was in a good place, as when I looked down I still had breasts. After a week in hospital, I went home to recover. All was going well until one evening three weeks post-surgery; I was freezing one moment and was sweating the next. I went to see my surgeon the next day, there was nothing to be done they had to come off.
Mat and I dashed home packed a bag and raced back to the hospital, I was admitted that evening and had surgery the following morning.
At this point I was trying desperately to stay positive with a smile on my face, but behind that smile I was hurting, my heart was broken, and I feared so many things. What if the cancer came back, what if I didn’t get to see my baby girl grow, and what if my husband no longer loved me because I was no longer the woman he fell in love with and married?
Again, I was in hospital for about a week, then home to recover. Boy did I have the best support network EVER. Mat, my parents, my sister, best friends Amanda and Denise and so many family and friends linked arms with me and helped me through this traumatic time. I also found comfort in sharing my story on social media via my Instagram page thelifeofmumandtay, encouraging others to get checked, from here came the hashtag #getyaboobschecked. I also found myself receiving the support from an amazing organisation Breast Cancer Care WA, and in particular the Breast Care Nurse Diane. These ladies are angels on earth that bring so much comfort when we need it the most, for their support I was and still am so grateful.
Fast forward to January 8th 2020, the first day of my chemotherapy. My oncologist and her team had decided that because I had previously had chemotherapy in 2004 that one of the drugs couldn’t be readministered so instead of having 16 rounds of chemo that I could only have 4, 1 every 3 weeks. I also couldn’t have radiotherapy because I had also had it in 2004. The plan was then to go on medication post treatment to help suppress my ovaries, reducing my oestrogen production and hopefully keeping the cancer away for good.
During my first session I opted to try the cold cap, some people have success in saving their hair with using it, unfortunately I wasn’t one of them. So on January 27th Mat took to my hair with clippers to save me from the pain that my scalp felt from the weight of my hair pulling.
The next few months were kind of a blur, I know that I stayed very positive… I was going to go through it regardless so I might as well do it with a smile on my face and a positive attitude!
I remember during this time feeling really robbed of time with Taylor, time when she was so little that I could never get back. Yes, I know I was alive to have a future with her, but I was missing out on the now….. Then Covid 19 hit.
In the initial stages, when there was so much confusion, I made the decision to withdraw Taylor from day care and for her and I to isolate. Mat was deemed an essential worker so still went to site to work. In a way this gave me added time that I may not have had, so I choose to see it as a positive.
During all this Mat and I were trying to decide how to proceed with my reconstruction. Did you know, that even with private health cover that to have a reconstruction post breast cancer will see you out of pocket upwards of $20,000 if you chose to go private. This wasn’t something I could even entertain, I’m sorry I didn’t choose for this to happen and I certainly wasn’t going to go through the pain of a bilateral reconstruction just for shits and giggles, mate… I lost my boobs to cancer.
Anywho, in Australia we are really blessed with a wonderful public health system and I was fortunate to be referred to an incredible surgeon within it. After a consultation and some tests, I was waitlisted for surgery. On my surgeon’s recommendation I chose to have a DIEP surgery, where they use the flap, skin, fat and blood vessel from my stomach to reconstruct breasts… seriously how insane in that! I made this decision because I had a heighted risk of getting Lymphoma again had I chosen to go with implants.
As I was quiet a small frame, I needed to gain wait for my surgery. Though it was for a good cause I really struggled with the weight gain mentally. Each time I looked in the mirror I no longer recognised myself, I was bald, boobless and was carrying an extra 14 kilos. Who was this person staring back at me?
Thankfully, I had an old school friend, Sarah I’m looking at you girl, who had previously been through it and guided me through. Ensuring me that the change in my body would be worth it once I had my reconstructive surgery.
Time rolled on and I received a call from the waitlist team at the beginning of December 2020, notifying me that I had been booked into surgery for January 4th, 2021. I seriously could not have asked for a better Christmas present!!
December went in a blur, we had just bought a new house so between moving, unpacking, Christmas and new year, my surgery day was upon us before we knew it.
On the morning of my surgery, Mat, Tay and I got to the hospital nice and early. My sister again met us there to wish me luck. This time round I don’t think I was as nervous, the outside support I had received was incredible, just quietly how AMAZING is the insta community we are apart of! I had so many beautiful caring women that before a year ago were a just a face on a screen yet they reached out and sent me so much love.
I’m not going to lie, post-surgery was a bloody nightmare, the pain I felt for that first week was on par with childbirth. It isn’t something that I would wish on anybody. Since then, my recovery has been slow, but coming along nicely. I am so incredibly lucky to have been in a position to be diagnosed early, giving me chance to fight it. To fight the cancer, to fight for my future and to fight for the opportunity to grow old with my husband and watch our girls grow.
I can’t possibly stress enough the importance of regular breast checks, regular checks for anything really. Being on top of it and knowing your body is the key to early diagnosis and a better chance of survival.
I encourage all women, young and old to get checked. I know that society speaks of breast cancer as an older woman’s disease, but I’m here to tell that, that simply is no longer true. 3 women in my year at high school have had it all before the age of 36.
If you don’t know how to do a self-examination, that’s ok. There are so many wonderful resources at your fingertips to help. In reality, it sure would be helpful if we learnt how to do it during health class in school!
The best place to start is with your GP, ask them to do an examination and at the same time they can show you how to do a self-check. If you ever have a worry insist on further testing, both ultrasound and mammogram have their place. I will pop a few helpful links below.
Before I sign off I want to thank you for taking the time to read my story, I hope that it has given you the encouragement to get on top of your breast care health checks (if you are not already).
YOU DON’T WANT THIS JOURNEY & I DON’T WANT THIS JOURNEY FOR YOU. #getyaboobschecked.
Much love and thanks
A few helpful resources to for further information;
Breast Cancer Care WA also donate food and fuel vouchers along with many other services to both men and women during there cancer journey, so if you are in the position, I would encourage you to donate to this amazing organisation.