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Stories

I found a lump

I thank my specialist, anaesthetist, local doctor and nursing staff at the Royal Womens Hospital as they were exceptional

Janice - Aged 37

After my monthly cycle I noticed a twinge in my right breast every now and again and as this was not normal I examined the area but found nothing. The twinges were still occurring and after 3 weeks I found a lump. I made an appointment with my doctor who then sent me off for a mammogram. This was very scary as I had to have a second set done and an ultrasound. They had found more than the lump I had found. They told me they suspected Papiloma's and suggested a biopsy. My doctor decided to send me to a specialist in Melbourne. An appointment was made for 8 days time. In the mean time my lump grew in size and became increasingly sore. I then noticed a very prominent red line and promptly visited my doctor who confirmed an infection and prescribed antibiotics.

I saw the specialist and he examined me and then explained a biopsy would be necessary to confirm possible papiloma's but felt the lump was not one. I was scheduled for surgery 10 days later. I had never had surgery and was dually petrified, so much so that it was all I could think about. When the day came I didn't think I could go through with it but I did and the staff were wonderful, surgery was nowhere near as scary as I had believed. I came out fine and 2 days later the results were in, 21st December 2001, I had duct ecstasia and an abcess had formed, there were no papiloma's and most of all no malignancy. My story has a very happy ending just in time for xmas. My husband was my strength and I am so lucky. I thank my specialist, anaesthetist, local doctor and nursing staff at the Royal Womens Hospital as they were exceptional and very reassuring.

I found my lump by accident

Vicki - Aged 34

I found my lump by accident in Jan 2001 and have since had chemo and radiotherapy following partial mastectomy. My journey hasn't been smooth, about to have my fifth visit to hospital this year. Two major infections, one collapse and a few other hiccups, but my message is to hang in and take care of your body. Take your temp regularly and take supplements to assist your immune system. I finished my treatment in August 2001 and I now Dragonboat race in a breast cancer team as well as all of the other things that I did before ( I have a pretty frenetic life!!) I had a great time with my 'grunge' look with no hair, fake body piercing jewellery completed the look!! I would like to see some sort of concerted media campaign aimed at young women, as there is no screening and generally young women aren't thinking about breast cancer because the media is aimed at women over 40 or 50. Tell your young friends to check themselves regularly and get their doctors to check, don't take no for an answer if you find a breast change!!

The first sign was a brownish discharge from my nipple

Dianne - Aged 34

Dianne was 34 when she was originally diagnosed. She had a lumpectomy and radiation treatment to her right breast.

About this time four years ago, my journey with breast cancer began. I noticed a light brown discharge from my right nipple. At first I ignored it, which was the wrong thing to do, but after reading a newspaper article during breast cancer awareness month (October 1997) I immediately had it checked out. I was referred to a breast cancer specialist and was initially told that it was a blocked duct and nothing to worry about it-wrong! Three operations later I was left with a lumpectomy, removal of my right arm lymph nodes and 5 weeks of radiotherapy. This all happened over the Christmas/New Year holidays and I was off work for most of that time. My emotions were very mixed as I came to terms with what had happened. What got me through was the wonderful support I received from my friends and family.

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The scar tissue didn't look right

Diane - Aged 38

At 38, four years after her initial lumpectomy (at 38), Diane had a recurrence in her right breast and had a mastectomy, reconstruction and chemotherapy.

I was pedantic about following up all of my check ups, having regular mammograms, as well as 'trial and error' self-examinations. I was due for my 6-month check up in June of this year. Towards the end of April, I noticed that the scar tissue around the side of my right breast didn't feel right. I rang my specialist and asked to see her as soon as possible. A mammogram and ultrasound revealed two new tumours growing in the same breast. I still remember walking from my specialist's rooms to the biopsy sniffling and thinking 'What if? What if? What if?'

Because my right lymph nodes had been removed, I had a lymphocentigram (checking the lymph nodes along the chest near the breast) prior to the mastectomy. This was very similar to the sharp stinging from a biopsy, but was helpful in determining that the cancer had not spread to any neighbouring lymph nodes. I also had a bone scan and CT scan to check for spreading. I cannot say that I enjoyed the CT scan, but the peace of mind when told that they were all clear far outweighed the process!

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They found a lump when they aspirated a cyst

Denise is now 50 and was diagnosed at 47.

At the time of diagnosis I was a senior nurse working with women who were experiencing the "journey" of breast cancer. So it came as a complete surprise to me to be told I also had developed breast cancer, especially as I had regularly checked my breasts and had mammograms at two year intervals. Indeed, I had undergone mammography investigation in the August of 1997 and was told everything was clear. The following April 1998 a breast lump appeared in my right breast, which I thought, was a cyst. Off I went to the surgeon who confirmed my suspicions. Thankfully, he decided that I should have the cyst aspirated under ultra sound conditions. That is when "something suspicious" appeared on the scan of my left breast! At that stage everyone was minimally concerned so I went off for a core biopsy with a very relaxed attitude. This didn't last for long because on the 21st July 1998 I was diagnosed with lobular cancer of the left breast.

What followed was a "roller coaster ride" of emotions, which I know many women experience. Thankfully, because of my background in nursing and knowledge my questions were fewer but perhaps more technical! I probably drove the surgeon and the oncologist around the bend - and still probably do!

Following a lumpectomy and axillary clearance I underwent a total mastectomy, chemotherapy for six months followed by Tamoxifen for the obligatory five years. Eighteen months later I chose to have a prophylactic mastectomy on the right side (remember neither my surgeon, or myself had felt the cancer residing in my left breast). Earlier this year I chose to have bilateral reconstruction, and I am so pleased with the results. I have been very lucky to have a caring and loving family and friends, plus fantastic doctors and nursing staff. Without all these people the pathway would have been considerably harder to transverse.

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Taking a friend with me to my biopsy and test results helped enormously

Russ 's mammogram showed some possible problems which a core biopsy revealed to be two small tumours.

The beginning of my story of breast cancer, in the middle of this year was one of disbelief-not denial – or at least not consciously- I was not concerned in the couple of days I was waiting to go for a more detailed mammogram, as I had been told on many mammogram results that I had “gravely tissue” However, the opposite was proved and I had two small lumps which proved to be malignant on fine bore biopsy.

What is worth relating , is that I had failed to change my address on the Breast screening records and so it had been over three years since the last one.

When I went for the biopsy I took a close female friend with me and I realised that this was a very smart thing to have done. I’m sure that many others will identify with me when I say it was something of a shock to be told that one has cancer of the breast, and to have an intelligent and sympathetic “other “ with one is a wise thing to do. Psychologically, this ally;friend.support person; listener; and recorder of the experience is further away from the level of stress we are experiencing and can report back to us what had actually been said if there is any confusion, or lapse of memory ,which can occur with us all when stressed. She was in fact acting as an advocate for me. I would suggest that this is what most of us need, in hindsight, and it would be great if we were aware of this and could find such a person. In my opinion this is a role for people within breast cancer support groups- maybe this is already happening out there!

At the Breast Cancer Screening Headquarters I was most impressed with this fine centre- all aspects of their care; time given in information; empathy and understanding of how one was feeling ; and excellent level of expertise. I followed up the surgeon they suggested on my request for a referral and got into see him very quickly.

I then sought another opinion, with another surgeon who in some ways made it more complex in deciding who I would choose to do the surgery and look after me medically.

However, I am very pleased I did this and I think what I learned is something all women should have explained to them and be given the opportunity to consider this alternative procedure for some breast cancers - the sentinel node biopsy

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I didn't push the doctors for a biopsy when I found my lump when I was 38. It was only due to my own persistence that the cancer was diagnosed about 5 months later.

Caroline - Aged 38

Caroline was aged 38 when she found a small lump in the upper inner quadrant of her left breast.

"At first I thought it was just some sort of pimple or bite as it was a little bit itchy. However, it started to grow and harden. At that point I thought it was a cyst, as I had previously had something similar on my back when I was a child. As I have a fairly small chest, it got to the point when the lump was 11mm long that it was quite visible through my T-shirts. I then went to the doctor just to check it out. She was convinced it was just a cyst but sent me off for a mammogram and ultrasound. As is usual with small breasts in younger women, the tissue was so dense the mammogram was blank and useless. Via the ultrasound the opinion was "just a lymph node" or something similar. On reviewing the results my doctor was still convinced it was a cyst and just suggested leaving it and keeping an eye on it. She said she didn't think it was worth doing a needle biopsy.

The lump grew fairly fast and I went back to the doctor a few months later. She still thought it was a cyst, but indicated that if I really wanted it removed I should have another ultrasound and mammogram. It was immediately clear from the second ultrasound not all was right, so they did a needle biopsy on the lump, which revealed Grade 3 Cancer.

While I understand a needle biopsy is not always conclusive, it is a very quick and simple procedure. I was just lucky that despite the delay, the cancer didn't appear to have spread beyond the breast.

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Now I know there is no truth about painful lumps and definitely no truth about no-one surviving breast cancer!!!

Lily was diagnosed with breast cancer on November 18, 1989. Her husband had found a lump on her left breast and it was a painful lump. They were told that painful lumps were not cancerous.

Fine needle aspiration revealed malignant breast cancer. My road to recovery was very difficult. I thought that no-one survivied breast cancer as I have not heard of anyone with breast cancer.

I was worried. My three children were still young and at school. We have just migrated from Singapore six years ago and we had no family here in Australia. I had a lumpectomy and it was fortunate that there was no lymph node involvement.

I was still in hospital when my husband got a call from Singapore. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with 4th stage throat cancer. My husband and children returned to Singapore to see my mother-in-law. Two weeks after my own diagnosis, while I was recuperating at home, I had a call from Malaysia -my mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer - again 4th stage.

Prior to my diagnosis, we have not even heard of cancer in the family. Three cancers diagnosed in two weeks was too much. Again, my family had to leave Perth and I soon learnt to pick up the pieces.

My mother-in-law passed away while I was undergoing radiotherapy. My mother passed away soon after I finished treatment. Needless to say, it was a very difficult time for my family and I.

But we coped and now, 11 years later, I have seen our three children graduate from university, am enjoying our two grandsons and I am working part-time and is a volunteer with the Breast Cancer Support Service in Western Australia.

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I'm glad I persisted

In 1988 Lorrie I found a small pea size lump above her left breast.

I went to a doctor who sent me for a mammogram. On my return visit he stuck the x-ray up to the light and said "it wasn't much of a lump, was it". His attitude made me feel like a hypochondriac, so I went away and forgot about it.

Many months later, while at a different doctor I asked her to have a look at this lump, by this time it was visible through my shirt. I could tell by the look on her face it was serious. A week later I underwent a radical mastectomy. We know now, that when my breast was squashed in the first test, it was moved up out of the picture. I wanted to kill that first doctor.

Again in 1992 I found a lump, this time it was in my armpit, again it was cancer, neither of these lumps were in the actual breast.

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I wasn't expecting the diagnosis after several false alarms

Marion - Aged 54

Marion was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2000. She had found lumps in her breast in 1996, then again in 1998. In each case, they had been pronounced harmless, and she became complacent and did no further breast self examination.

My GP discovered a lump when I went in for a pap smear. Having had two false alarms, and no history of breast cancer in my family, I was not worried but dutifully reported for a mammogram. At the time of the mammogram, they were uneasy about the X-ray, and immediately did an ultrasound, followed by a fine and a coarse needle biopsy, which hurt. I had no-one with me to support me, as I hadn't thought I would need them. On my way back from these tests, I drove through a red light and was lucky I didn't cause a car accident!

The diagnosis came on 31 March 2000, just after I had travelled from my home in Canberra to Cairns, for a week's field work looking at landslides after a record wet. I learned that I had breast cancer in between meetings with the State Emergency Service and the Cairns City Council. The Deputy Lord Mayor probably wondered why I unexpectedly hugged him! I was very scared, but I didn't tell anyone because I didn't know how bad it was.

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