Robyn – “I had a 15% chance of long term survival.”
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, Robyn (pictured left with daughter Karen) shares her story with us to help other women who might be facing the changes and challenges that come with a breast cancer diagnosis.
Scheduled to have shoulder repair surgery on February 9th 2007, I didn’t give too much serious thought to a call back by Breast Screen SA for further checking. The nurse explained that only one in ten women who were called back ended up with a cancer diagnosis. My husband accompanied me to the appointment on the 8th February, wanting to be with me “Just in case.” After another mammogram, an ultrasound and a fine needle biopsy, the news was delivered. The shoulder surgery was cancelled.
Our lives were in turmoil. I could hardly wait to be admitted to hospital once the surgery was scheduled – eleven days on from diagnosis day. My surgeon decided a partial mastectomy, despite the size of the tumour which was 2.8mms across, should take care of the cancer. I was told I’d need six weeks of ray treatment.
Fast forward to the post op visit with my surgeon. “I’m sorry lass, we’ve got some hard work to do. You’re going to need chemotherapy and Herceptin, the tumour was HER 2 positive, I’m sending you to an oncologist.” My world shifted on its axis. I felt I’d stepped into someone else’s nightmare, I wanted to push the rewind button and safely go back to my steady, secure life.
On the day of chemo treatment number four, more bad news. My oncologist told me that further pathology testing had discounted the HER 2 positive diagnosis. The result was now Triple Negative, the cancer drug Herceptin would not help. My oncologist told me that I had a 15% chance of long term survival. My brain didn’t take that information in, I was in denial. I was given “the high end of chemo delivery”. My amazing family and friends were there to support me. On mentioning that I found I could enjoy soup in the days following chemo treatment, our fridge would be filled with so many varieties of soup – my friends delivered pots of it!
Earlier on in the treatment, I’d made the decision to live life to the fullest and appreciate every wonderful day that came my way. I started to think seriously about writing a novel. Each time I came home to rest after chemo treatment, I’d visualise my characters, give them names, personality traits and develop a story – it was good therapy for me. Five years on, I’ve written 60,000 words and the end of my novel is in sight.
In 2009, after careful consideration I made the decision to have a double mastectomy. My surgeon and oncologist applauded the decision. I didn’t go down the path of breast reconstruction, I’m happy with the prostheses I have. Both my surgeon and oncologist are optimistic that I have joined the ranks of the 15% who survive Triple Negative breast cancer. They and I both know though that there is no iron clad guarantee. That’s life though!
Five and a half years on from the diagnosis, I am leading a full and interesting life. I’ve learnt to take each day as it comes. I’ve packed a lot into my life, lots of overseas travel with my husband, having very special times with friends and family and volunteering with the Arthritis Foundation.
For other women who may be facing the prospect of chemotherapy for breast cancer, it is nowhere near as bad as one’s imagination builds it up to be, yes, it’s a slog and yes, there are side effects but chemo treatment has come a long, long way and there is so much in the way of medication and complimentary treatments to alleviate the symptoms.
I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for a breast cancer diagnosis. As Helen Reddy sings in her song ‘I am Woman’ – “Yes I’ve paid the price, but look how much I’ve gained!”