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Stories of Hope

Natasha’s Story

Natasha Sampson

The words ‘you have cancer’ are some of the most fearful words we can hear. To hear these words once is life-shattering. To listen to them twice is no less challenging. The only difference is the second time around; you know what you are in store for. When I was first diagnosed in 2001 with triple-negative breast cancer, and to say my world turned upside down is an understatement. At the time, I was 35 with a two and half-year-old and an 11-month-old baby still being breastfed. My breast cancer diagnosis was the last thing I expected to hear. I had breastfed both my boys, never been a smoker, only drank modestly, and rarely got sick.

I came under the care of my specialist cancer surgeon and Professor Arlene Chan with my first diagnosis. My medical team had a plan; I would have a lumpectomy with lymph node removal, six rounds of chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiotherapy. My specialists continued to reassure me that I would get through the treatment. Off I would trundle to chemo sessions with a toddler in tow, who suffered enormously during this period with separation anxiety. The only solution was to be patient and take him with me. The fabulous chemo nurses took it all in their stride, feeding Charlie with icy poles from the freezer that they used for the patients. I want to publicly thank both my surgeon, Arlene and the fantastic staff behind them. Their dedication and research efforts allow people like me to fight this disease. The diagnosis made me realise what was truly important, and I vowed that I would value health as the most important asset. I knew I needed to get through treatment and get on with raising the boys.

To all young mums in the same position as I was in, “you’ve got this, and you can do it. Some parts won’t be fun, and it will be hard, but you will find the strength you never knew you had.” The boys are now fine young men with good hearts and great work ethics, each pursuing their careers.

In 2018, I hear those three words again. In a way, this diagnosis wasmore challenging; telling the boys Charlie and Max, who were by this time 17 and 19, was the most difficult discussion I’ve ever had to have with them. The most important thing was getting a plan to work through – one foot in front of the other. This time around involved a mastectomy and another six rounds of chemo. At this time, I came to appreciate the advances made in treatments since 2001. The anti-nausea meds, the cold cap, and immunotherapy are some of the enormous strides made. Initially, I thought I’d give the cold cap a go and see how I coped with the cold. To my surprise, I could handle the cold, and to anyone offered this option, give it a go. I now have a great head of thick, soft curls. I can honestly say I’ve never had such a great head of hair! Thanks, Arlene!

The boys really stepped up to the mark and were a tremendous support and again were my inspiration to push through the hard days. I want to thank them and my team of family and great friends for all doing their part. Charlie decided to get a mullet during my treatment! All I can say is if the boys in your life ever want to get a mullet, do it while the mother is two rounds deep in chemo, care factor zero! Trish thought it was hilarious in the chemo ward, and there was much banter between the two of them.

Charlie and his friends did the 2020 Rottnest Channel Swim. The swim was important to Charlie; he turned his shock into something positive as a young man coping with his mother’s diagnosis. What a brilliant day and effort by all the boys. If only you could bottle the energy of the day, what a great place the world would be. They raised $7,500 for BCRC-WA, and I felt humbled by their efforts. I hope that writing ‘my story’ helps others in my situation to have hope. You will meet incredible people along the way who are so dedicated and passionate about fighting this disease, and your diagnosis and treatment are at the core of their determination.

Love to all,
Natasha

We’re working to increase survival rates, with your support.

Please donate today or call our team on +61 8 6500 5501.

SUPPORT BREAST CANCER RESEARCH CENTRE-WA

Joanne’s Story

Joanne MacDonald

 

My name is Joanne MacDonald and I describe myself as being in a significant long-term relationship with Arlene Chan. I’m a fan. There are many stories like mine. This is a little of our shared story…

I first met Arlene in 2001. I was 39, a recently single parent with two primary school aged children, just weeks into a new job. Arlene appeared at my bedside when I had hoped mastectomy and reconstruction would end my encounter with breast cancer. She smiled, but was very straightforward. Because cancer cells were found in one of twelve lymph nodes, Arlene recommended adjuvant chemotherapy. Because I was young, otherwise fit and healthy, she said she would “hit me hard”. She did. The night after the first dose, I lay on my bathroom floor, wiped out from hours of puking and remember her voice – ‘call if there are any problems.’ It was mid-night, yet she answered the phone immediately, calmly giving me a list of specific instructions… crisis resolved. This early episode became, for me, a template for living with breast cancer – get expert advice, simplify life where you can, and doggedly hold on.

I waded on through six months of chemotherapy, side effects and bonejarring treatment for neutropenia, then five years of Tamoxifen—more side effects. I saw Arlene in her practice – every three months, then every six months, then every year. I looked forward to our appointments. She was inscrutable, yet warm. Examinations were reassuring – her fingertips earnestly palpating to search beneath my skin in lines running down either side of my neck, across my collar bones, arm pits, arms, over my ribcage – her touch, light and fast like the pitterpatter of rain on my skin. And I liked her flair – though small, she radiated strength in her fabulous collection of towering stilettos, wielding her fountain pen to sign off scripts and charts in distinctive purple scrawl, ink all the way from Hong Kong.

Eight years after my original diagnosis, bone pain means I ring for an urgent appointment – ‘I wasn’t expecting you’, she says, her restrained surprise mirrors my shock. So much of this diagnostic process feels darkly familiar. I ask about prognosis, knowing it’s much worse. She deftly batts my question back, “What are you thinking?” I recognise Step 1 of communicating bad news – Establish the patient’s expectations. Then I grimly imagine two, maybe three years of stumbling through a series of harsh chemotherapies, becoming sicker, more debilitated. “I think I can get you ten good years. You have a life limiting disease, but we are not yet at a point where we could consider this the terminal phase.” She meets with my children, now teenagers, and explains, “The bad news is your Mum has a chronic health condition, not so different from someone who has diabetes or a number of other illnesses. The good news for me is that I am going to be seeing a lot more of your Mum”. I notice her careful use of words, her self-assurance. She instils hope by projecting a realistic view of the future.

It is 2009, the year Breast Cancer Research Centre-WA (BCRC–WA) begins. There are new options on offer, the science is growing rapidly. Everyone is less anxious once there’s a plan to hold onto, and the plan is to join the clinical trial of a biologically targeted drug…if my cancer fits the profile. A sample of my original tumour is sent to England for analysis. Tests come back equivocal. There is further reading by a Professor of Histopathology somewhere in the world. Next, a test examines the mitochondria, way inside the cell. The technical aspects are so complex, even with the aid of pages of Arlene’s hand drawn diagrams, I find it mindboggling. A flurry of activity hides the waiting. With kind and gentle expertise, a radiologist plunges a biopsy needle through seven centimetres of bone in my hip. In day surgery, an infuser port is inserted. Finally, the necessary protein receptor is found. Chemotherapy, plus the trial drug, can begin. I am introduced to the nurses in the Breast Cancer Clinical Trials Unit (BCTU) down the hall. Warm, practical women who welcome me into a squashed cubicle to collect my numbers – weight, blood pressure, temperature; and ask lots of questions: What other drugs have you taken? On a scale of 1-10, how tired are you? What rating would you give that side effect? On top of data collection, authentic snippets of life are shared. Jeanette encourages my travel plans, even providing restaurant recommendations in Sienna! The routine of living within a three weekly treatment schedule, becomes part of my new normal.

Three years later that trial ends, although my treatment continues. In 2016 I huff and puff through another short-term study on the impact of exercise in fatigue management. In 2017, another progression is identified. But I continue to surf the wave of new science, offered an opportunity in another trial of another new drug. Appointments with Arlene, now a Professor, are back to every three weeks – once again, life on trial contains me. The rabbit warren of spaces tucked in downstairs under the chemist at Hollywood buzzes with new offices. Experienced wise women from the chemo suite take on the new role of breast care nurses. Research staff are checking protocols, the phlebotomist is in a cupboard drawing blood and I’m back under the wings of thentrial nurses who are still gathering numbers and presenting questionnaires. Genuine greetings, staff acknowledging each patient, are part of the buoyancy of this system. You don’t feel like just another case. So, I’m back to looking for my new rhythm – “Goodbye coffee, goodbye laksa; hello side-effects, a trillion more scans and endless vials of blood”. In a few months, things begin to settle – and the window for an adventure opens up.

Joyfully I stride around the Isle of Skye witmy now adult daughters. I am a person with breast cancer, I’ve tried not to be defined by it. I am responding to challenges that feel way down the list of life’s worst possible  complications. As a long-term patient, I’ve had surgery, chemotherapy more than once, genetic counselling, radiotherapy. I’ve taken old school heavy hitting drugs, hormone inhibiting drugs, and sampled from the raft of promising new drugs. Along with loving support from my parents, my daughters, a network of friends, and my GP, counselling has provided me with a safe space to untangle my feelings, find grounding when I need it. After diagnosis – life on trial means frequent scans. Bone scans, CT scans, MRIs, pool gated blood studies, heart scans, port scans, bone density scans…previously films piled up into towers . Appointments used to be all over Perth.

Under Arlene’s care, I am secure in the knowledge that my results will be interrogated, translated and discussed. Our exchanges are reciprocal. We each listen carefully. While our conversation is often short, she has a waiting room full of patients; I ask her questions, she asks me questions – we both do our best to be clear and detailed. She is responsible for the plan; I am responsible for consenting and keeping her informed so necessary adjustments can be made. My experience of life is inextricably linked to her. I am 59. Although often unpredictable, life goes on… and aging has its own side effects. I celebrate all occasions. Precious moments are held close – the birth of a grandchild, the death of a parent. I’ve learnt to slow down. Look for grace, reflect, savour, persist through the hard patches. Amidst the ongoing threat of Covid, like everyone, I am grateful to be in WA – but I also recognise I am practiced at adapting; living with uncertainty is familiar. Each new normal is to be cherished. It is only ever a pause. A moment before the next moment. Over all these years Arlene has continued to harness her relentless curiosity and optimism, pursuing her research agenda and transforming knowledge into advances in patient care. She has gathered andsurrounded herself with the expertise of so many like-minded and committed colleagues. It takes many teams of people to deliver the range of services that now make up BCRC–WA. At this level of practice, medicine is more than a job, more of a calling. This description is a small reflection of the scope and generosity of her passion, her energy, her focus. The attributes that gained my trust in 2001; those first operationalised in the vision of BCRC–WA in 2009, that have now grown these magnificent spaces, to include these magnificent people.

On behalf of all the patients grateful for their relationship with Arlene and all the other experts at BCRC–WA, for those who recognise the comfort of a home base for their treatment, a one stop centre, and all those future patients yet to benefit from all this work …thank you.

Meet Joanne’s for BCRC-WA, in the video below.

We’re working to increase survival rates, with your support.

Please donate today or call our team on +61 8 6500 5501.

READ MORE ABOUT OUR CLINICAL TRIALS

Julie’s Story

Julie Abbott, patient

“My name is Julie Abbott and this may sound rather strange . . . but my cancer journey commenced with a guardian angel in December 2017.

It all started when I was woken up in the night a couple of times with my fingers on my breast and I was convinced I had heard a voice telling me to ‘go and get that checked.’  Following a visit to my GP before Christmas, for a totally unrelated issue, I nearly forgot to mention it.  I was examined and informed that a lump was probably nothing, but it was wise to get it checked anyway. Christmas came and went and on the 5th of January 2018, my world turned upside down.

I am a nurse, and as always in healthcare, you look to your colleagues and friends for the very best people in our profession to take care of us.  I was so fortunate that everyone to whom I sought advice came up with the same recommendation – Dr Willsher (Specialist Breast Surgeon) and Professor Chan (Medical Oncologist). As a nurse you think you have a good medical knowledge base, but I had to admit that oncology was not my area of expertise and I remember feeling very naive about breast cancer and oncology.

I arranged to see my breast surgeon who conducted some tests.  I must admit that I hardly absorbed what he told me.  Thankfully, I had taken a dear friend with me (also a nurse) and she took over asking the important questions on my behalf as I sat in a bit of a haze of shock. Following the appointment, I was referred to a specialist breast nurse, Dawn, who was wonderful.  She was my shining light that gave me hope.  I’ve never forgotten the words she said to my mum and I before the surgery to ease my anxiety, ‘Tuesday you have breast cancer, Wednesday it is removed, and look at the chemo as a cleansing to get rid of anything unwanted,’ she said. She has been there for me through this journey and has been amazing.

My treatment took two and a half years of my life, and throughout that time I cannot deny that it has been tough in places.  My dad suffered with dementia and I would often take him to my chemo sessions in order to give mum a little break.  Sadly, he passed away during my treatment and then my mum was diagnosed with cancer.  However, we are a family of fighters and are not giving up yet.  How strange life is that I now find myself using my knowledge and experience to help my mum as we fight her battle together and she calls me her guardian angel.

I have not at any point given up and do try to stay positive and busy.  I started studying and completed a teaching qualification, bringing my books into the hospital to study whilst having my treatments. The chemo nurses could not believe what I was doing as I pushed on and completed it when I could have so often given up.  My family are so proud of my achievement, as am I.

Over the last few years, I have been so pleased to watch BCRC-WA grow.  I hope that I have played a small part in this by attending a focus group meeting to share ideas for the new centre.  I personally got a lot from the meeting as the ladies present were going through the same experience as myself, albeit at different stages.  This really helped, as although you go through this journey with supportive family, friends and colleagues who try to help in so many ways – it can still feel a lonely journey.

It has to be said that the care of my specialists has been overwhelming and to say thank you did not seem enough.  I wanted to do something more – so I signed up for the City to Surf 4km walk to raise some money for the excellent work of BCRC-WA.  Much to my amazement, my initial target was exceeded and quickly reached $5000.   So, whilst undergoing my treatment, I set off with family (even my sister from England travelled to join me), friends and colleagues to walk the 4km in order to hopefully help others who find themselves in the same position as I did with this dreadful disease.

The team at BCRC-WA are doing an outstanding job to enable people like me to carry on with life.  Admittedly life will never be the same again, but that is okay . . . as I still have that life!

Please support breast cancer research at BCRC-WA, your gift will help save more lives.”

Julie Abbott, patient

We’re working to increase survival rates, with your support.

Please donate today or call our team on +61 8 6500 5501.

Nat’s Story

Nat and Darren Beard and their three children

Hello, my name is Nat Beard. My husband, Darren and I are farmers living north of Cunderdin- two hours from Perth. My first diagnosis of Breast Cancer was in 2013, at the age of 32. This was a complete shock to our family, having three children who were 9, 7 and 3. Living in a rural area presents many challenges but small communities are amazing as dear friends held weekly sleepovers for the kids while Darren and I attended chemotherapy at The Mount Hospital.

Meals, lunchbox snacks etc were donated and we certainly felt blessed to live where we do. I found online BC chat groups very helpful, I didn’t know anyone in our community who had breast cancer, let alone anyone close to my age. At the beginning of 2014 I stayed by myself at Crawford Lodge beside SCGH to receive my five weeks of radiotherapy. The kids were juggled between Darren on the farm and my Mums house in Perth. It was the most lonely point in my life. Thankfully my schedule allowed me to attend our youngest child’s first day of school. The end of my active treatment came in mid 2014, as I was receiving Trastuzumab infusions three weekly for twelve months.

For almost five years post initial diagnosis we lived a very full life, taking opportunities to travel as often as we could. My lifelong dream of attending the Tour de France became reality as we spent seven weeks travelling Europe, we’ve visited theme parks in Queensland, and attended the AFL grand final. I was fortunate to go to Singapore and Sydney on girls trips. Late 2017, we travelled to Victoria to spend Christmas with my extended family. After attending the Ashes Boxing Day Test, we went on to visit Tasmania. I had become quite ill with a terrible cough and struggling to breathe. It was in Hobart on New Years Day 2018 I was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. My whole world seemed to crumble down around me. I was in the hospital alone as Darren had gone back to our holiday house to look after the kids. Having to tell Darren, then our children and my parents (via phone), was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. We cut the trip short and flew back to Perth for further testing. It all seemed so grim, until Professor Chan gave us a treatment plan. Her complete and unwavering commitment to me and my health always fills me with such positivity. My mantra is to just do exactly what Professor Chan asks of me!

I’m not going to lie, treatment this time around was very tough. Our eldest was already away in Perth at boarding school and our middle child was due to start. The boarding school community were wonderful and took extra special care of the girls. CanTeen are also a great help for the girls. My body responded well to the chemotherapy, after 15 doses we were able to stop, I was then successful in gaining a place in a trial. The trial was a huge commitment, extra travel and testing was required.I swear my car could drive itself from home to Hollywood Hospital by itself! We bought a camper trailer and have spent time travelling our beautiful state. Our love of music has meant we’ve downed tools to attend concerts and shows.

I started attending the PYNKS coffee catch ups. I’ve met and made friends with some wonderful women, it is a long drive for me to attend but I believe the friendships I’ve made is worth it. I’d urge anyone who is Stage 4 living in a rural area to reach out to the breast care nurses and to try and attend the PYNKS catch ups, we have such a unique connection. I leave the meetings feeling as though my ‘cup’ has been filled, ready to tackle the next month! Some of the members even came to visit me for lunch on the farm.

The trial medication stopped working towards the end of 2018, I was taken off the trial and we started a new treatment course, which I’m still receiving now. I travel down every three weeks to receive the transfusion in the Starcevich Suite. The nurses in there are amazing and I love having a chat and a laugh, you will often find the PYNKS ladies crowded in one cubicle having a mini catch up and sharing our recent adventures. The support we receive from Amanda, our advanced breast cancer nurse is amazing and I love catching up with all the staff in Professor Chan’s office. In case you hadn’t noticed I love to have a chat, it can get lonely living in an isolated community.

Recently, I celebrated my 40th birthday, each milestone brings with it such wonder that I’m still here but is also tinged with sadness as I wonder which ones I’ll miss in the future. I had the most wondrous evening surrounded by family and friends. I was also happy to be able to fundraise just over $7000 for the Breast Cancer Research Centre- WA, an organisation so close to my heart. I’m not planning on going
anywhere fast, I’m remain eternally optimistic that someone will find a cure and my girls won’t have to worry about this terrible disease.

Nat Beard – Patient

If you are a patient living with Metastatic Breast Cancer under the care of the PBCI and would like to find out more information on the PYNKS visit here.

Tanja’s Story

My name is Tanja, and I am a cancer survivor!  

Tanja – (Photo Credit: Natasha du Preez)

My cancer journey started 7 years ago when I was diagnosed with early breast cancer on my 35th birthday. I also lost my sister to breast cancer at the young age of 45 years old. I have a strong history of breast cancer in my family and from a young age I had to undergo regular check-ups.  

However, in my wildest dreams have I ever thought it would happen to me. How can it be me? I was always pro-active and I made sure that I was doing the right things. In life, you are given all sorts of challenges that you can’t control but you can control your attitude – and I chose to fight!  

All I knew I had to do, was to beat this terrible disease not only for myself but for my family. With the help of my GP and my “Rockstar team” – Dr Peter Willsher, Professor Arlene Chan and my Specialist plastic surgeon we had a plan to kick this cancer to the curb.  

I went through an extensive treatment program, over a period of 6-12 months. I had a bilateral mastectomy, axillary clearance and breast reconstruction, followed by chemotherapy every 21 days and 5 weeks of radiation. I also had the opportunity to undergo gene testing and it was confirmed that I have the BRCA-2 gene. My family was also tested, and I was the only one who carried the gene.  

To be honest I wasn’t too worried about my breasts, I was more devastated in losing my hair! However, I had to adjust my attitude and I said to myself; “You have this one opportunity to rock a Sinead O’Connor look once in your life”, and this was my attitude throughout my recovery process.  

There were dark times, fun occasions and heartfelt moments and it was important that I was mentally strong and leaning on family and friends for support.  

My mantra throughout my cancer journey and to this day is; You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have” – Bob Marley 

Sometimes we are only focusing on the physical recovery and forget to focus on our own mental health. I struggled and I’m still struggling to overcome my fear of recurrence. Facing the challenges is very real and with the help of professionals, I am steadily working on getting stronger and understanding my circumstances.  

My advice is to have regular checks from an early age – both women and men. Always make sure you do the triple check – check yourself, if you are not sure or have any concern seek medical assistance like a GP and if needed get an ultrasound or mammogram.  

Make sure to take care of your mental health by joining a support group, talk and share your experience and seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed.  

Every day is a blessing, and I am so grateful to have my health! 

Tanja – Patient

Please support breast cancer research at BCRC-WA this December.

Your gift will help to save more lives.

By making a tax deductible donation, you are giving women and men with breast cancer in Western Australia world class, evidence-based treatment ensuring the best possible outcomes.  Help us continue to achieve higher cure rates and longer survival rates. Gifts of $2 or more are tax deductible. BCRC-WA is self-funded and does not receive any government funding. 

Do you have a story to tell? Email us on [email protected] to share your story.

Jane’s Story
I’m Jane . . . a wife, mother, sister, friend . . . a member of the cancer club.

Jane Gastevski

“It was a normal day in October 2018 when I felt a small lump in my right breast and then another and then another. I very clearly remember the sinking feeling in my tummy – like I had swallowed a lead balloon. They were not “maybe that’s a lump” they were “oh yes, that is definitely a lump,” kind of lumps.

A few very long days later, at the age of 41 years, I was given the breast cancer diagnosis. There are a couple of key things I remember the most about this time. Firstly, was how quickly your world can change. One day everything was fine, actually, way better than fine, pretty damn great. I probably could not have been happier. I went from feeling perfectly healthy one day to being told I was sick . . . really sick the next day.

The other was fear – pure, intense, agonising fear that I was going to leave my young children without their mother and leave my wonderful husband the monumental job of raising them alone and a widower before the age of 40.

It took me a couple of days, but then I remembered my motto, “focus your energy on the things you can change and control”. My husband and I decided the best strategy was to search globally (if needed), for the best experts to help us through this.

The Breast Cancer Research Centre-WA with Dr Peter Willsher and Professor Arlene Chan was the unchallenged winner in being at the forefront of Breast Cancer Research and management and luckily for us, they were based in Perth.

It was then that my journey through the incredible maze of breast cancer really began- from the first appointment we felt like BCRC-WA were guiding us through with the ultimate care, empathy and expertise. The CEO, nurses, administration staff and research unit are always kind and supportive. Professor Chan and Dr Willsher are true nurturers of the soul and never left us with any doubt that we were in the best possible hands.

My treatment consisted of a mastectomy, six months of chemotherapy followed by another mastectomy, subsequent reconstruction and followed with the removal of my ovaries. Not a walk in the park but by no means horrific.

I made the decision to “keep moving, keep fighting and keep a smile on my face”. I had three young children (3, 6 and 8 years old) to think about. I figured if I wasn’t frightened, if I kept up as much of my normal routines as possible and I continued to be the happy mummy they were used to, things would be ok. I am proud to say it worked.

I said at the start of this story that before the moment I found my lumps I couldn’t have been happier . . . Well, I’m pleased to say I am just as happy today. Perhaps a little more appreciative of the wonderful family and friends I have, perhaps a little less tolerant of the stuff that just doesn’t matter in life and definitely a whole lot more grateful for people like Professor Chan, Dr Willsher and the wonderful team at BCRC-WA around them.

Please support breast cancer research at BCRC-WA, your gift will help save more lives.”

Jane Gastevski, patient

Read Jane’s full story

 

Cara’s Story

On the 9th of May 2018 I was diagnosed with stage 2a grade 3, triple positive breast cancer.

Cara Gosatti and Archie

I was 29 years old. My story started with me living in Dubai, where I had been for the past five years, and I was about to move home to Perth to start a life with my partner. Two weeks before I left I was having a shower and randomly felt a lump under my arm.

When I moved home, my GP sent me for an ultrasound, all the while assuring me that due to my age I had nothing to worry about. Fast forward one week, one ultrasound, one core needle biopsy, one mammogram later – and I heard the word I never thought was coming – Cancer. I did eight rounds of chemotherapy over four months and I finished three weeks before my 30th birthday. I then had a double mastectomy two weeks after I turned 30. I recently finished 18 months of Herceptin in November 2019, and this week I have started a trial for the drug Neratinib.

I feel so lucky to have received amazing care and treatment from both Professor Arlene Chan and Dr Peter Willsher. Prof. Chan is always so patient when I spend an hour in her office each visit running through all that I had read on ‘Dr Google’.

When I was first diagnosed, I felt like my world was falling apart, and I was angry. Statistically speaking, this shouldn’t have happened to me, and it felt so unfair that it had. I feared for my future, I feared I would never be a mum, grow old with my partner, enjoy my life. I feel that so many people who get diagnosed say that cancer teaches them to appreciate life, but I already appreciated my life and lived my life to the extreme! I remember wondering if I would ever feel so carefree again that I would sing in the shower, or if I would ever really laugh at something again, and at my hardest times after diagnosis none of this felt possible. Then, as time moves forward, you adjust to the new normal, and life goes on. I remember finding myself laughing at things again, and one day I was driving down the freeway with my music blaring, and I found myself singing and dancing in the car. I remember stopping and realising how far I had come from when things seemed so dark.

I often found myself looking for answers to why this all happened and what have I gotten from my cancer diagnosis. Besides my beautiful puppy Archie, who was bought for me as I started chemotherapy (I highly recommend getting a cancer puppy), there are three things cancer has taught me:

  1. Life is too damn short. I have no time for hearing first world problems anymore. Surround yourself with real people who are all about having fun, loving life and not sweating the small stuff. Take that trip, hug your loved ones and appreciate your life. You are so blessed to be on this Earth, and if you have your health you have everything!
  2. That you will discover who your friends are, but also what you want in your friends. Some people who have already faced cancer in their lives might find it hard to support you, and that’s something you learn to understand. Then there are the friends who can’t understand the changed you as you are moving on with your life, or who constantly feed you toxic positivity which is not supportiv People who haven’t experienced cancer themselves will never really understand what you are going through, that’s where you find yourself some cancer friends. I met one at a young support group, and one in Arlene’s waiting room, and these girls are amazing, they get you and it’s a friendship like nothing else!
  3. If you are young like me, make sure you find an even wider support base so you don’t feel so alon The cancer club is one that nobody wants to be a part of, but everyone in it makes it so much better. I found a huge community on Instagram, although sometimes it gets a bit much so you have to be careful what content you follow. A really great account for young people is “the cancer patient”, a satirical view of life as a cancer patient. It’s full of cancer memes and to be honest they are hilarious. My motto in life is if you’re not laughing you will probably end up crying, and I know which one I would rather be doing!!

Cara Gosatti, patient

 Kali and Leah Stupar
Leah (right) with her daughter Kali

Leah’s Story

My name is Leah Stupar. My cancer journey began when I developed mastitis while breastfeeding my second child. A while after I finished feeding, I noticed some lumps. A doctor felt comfortable they were part of mastitis and didn’t do a biopsy. A few months later, one of my breasts felt bigger and it dimpled when I squeezed it gently, but it wasn’t painful. Around this time, Kylie Minogue was diagnosed and I realised no one was immune from breast disease. I sought a second opinion. A biopsy revealed I had a 5.5cm grade 2, stage 3, oestrogen positive invasive lobular carcinoma.

My surgeon told me rather abruptly my chances of surviving the next 5 years were 30% at best and I should “go home, eat chocolate, drink red wine and make the most of my children”. I was 32 years old. My husband and I drove home in shock not knowing where to turn.

I met a lady at the Cancer Council who gave me hope. She had a very similar story to mine. She was also diagnosed at 32 but still going strong in her 60s. I needed to find the best oncologist and get this thing sorted. Enter Professor Arlene Chan.

After my surgery, I went to Arlene’s office full of anxiety but she quickly put me at ease. Prof Chan dismissed my surgeon’s comments. She told me she had stats of women in the same situation as me and they were still going strong after 10 years. She asked me if I was prepared to fight and explained I was young and fit so she’d be hitting me hard with treatment to give me the best possible chance.

4 years after my diagnosis, I no longer felt under threat. Had I been diagnosed 5 years earlier, the outcome would not have been good. A few people had survived like the lady I met at the Cancer Council but most didn’t. The reason I’m here today is unequivocally because of research. Without the trials and research that had been done before I was diagnosed, I would not be here. I’m now 12 years cancer free. I have an 18 year old son, a 14 year old daughter and a gorgeous husband by my side.

Please support Breast Cancer Research Centre-WA; the work they do saves lives. I’m living proof.

Leah Stupar, patient

Katherine’s Story

Prof Chan with patient Katherine and Dr Willsher with Katherine's poster celebrating her last day of chemo
Prof Chan, patient Katherine and Dr Willsher

It’s a nightmare when your doctor tells you you have breast cancer. I’m a fighter and I’ve been fighting against cancer since June 2015.

People say until you experience chemotherapy, you don’t know how strong you are. I finished my last chemo on November 26, 2015, after 6 rounds.

I never knew life would be so hard. Chemo taught me how strong a person can be when they are going through this alone. I was strong, it made me stronger. I salute all those ladies who are going through the same.

During this whole process, I told myself that I have to deal with it, I have to survive, I am a fighter and it’s my life. I’m grateful to my doctors for saving my life, especially Dr Peter Willsher and Prof Arlene Chan. I’ve got the best surgeon and the best oncologist. They really looked after me.

We all think about tomorrow and forget to live today. Living in a country with hope and opportunity, I managed by myself to be strong and to fight alone for my health. Everyday I told myself “yes I can do this, I have to do this”.

During the fight against breast cancer, there’s only one person who will be your best friend, and that’s your oncologist. Don’t listen to anyone else. Being strong is the only choice I had because I couldn’t give up my fight against cancer. I’m a survivor, I’m a fighter and I will keep fighting.

I celebrated my chemo graduation on the Christmas holiday following my last chemo session and started my next treatment – Herceptin – the next year. In the end, I’m just so happy I successfully completed my chemotherapy.

Katherine, patient

Di’s Story

Di McPherson is thankful for PYNKS
Di McPherson – patient of Professor Arlene Chan and her husband Duncan

Time and again, we find patients who get together to share their stories, benefit greatly from the hope and positivity generated by our PYNKS group. One of our ladies, Di McPherson, shares her story:

When I was diagnosed in 2013, my experience with doctors had been a yearly flu shot or a prescription written for the occasional episode of tonsillitis. Being told I had breast cancer was like entering an alternative universe. Fortunately, I was referred to Professor Arlene Chan, and through her, I was able to be part of a trial.

Apart from getting access to medication not yet available on the market, and at no cost, I was well supported by staff at BCRC-WA. I was guided through the maze of healing medications, scans and tests, and I always had at least one of the staff there hold my hand and listen to my concerns.

I was also encouraged to attend PYNKS and I am so grateful I did. Through this wonderful group, I’ve met amazing women who are always generous in sharing their experiences and willing to help in any way they can. Being able to talk, laugh and sometimes cry with people who truly understand what you’re dealing with, is an amazing support. I always leave a PYNKS gathering feeling lighter than when I arrived.

Incredible people like our Ladybirds* as well as the PYNKS ladies have kept me sane. I’m lucky to have been referred to Professor Chan and to be receiving everything she has put in place to support her patients. When I think of all the beautiful staff, the trials girls, Jess, the PYNKS ladies and Amanda, the breast cancer nurse, I know I am very fortunate.

*The Ladybird fund was set up to help women finance treatment not available on the PBS. It was established by the family of Virginia ‘Ginny’ Margaret Brooke who lost her battle to metastatic breast cancer in 2015.