Stories of Hope

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 Gastevski full story here.

Please donate today and help us to directly increase survival rates and cure rates – go to bcrc-wa.com.au/ways-to-help/ or call +61 8 6500 5501.

Donations allow us to continue our work in conducting research into breast cancer.

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

Rita’s Story

My name is Rita Panebianco, I’m a mother, wife, teacher, friend and a breast cancer survivor. . . this is my story.

Rita Panebianco

“Towards the end of 2015 I wasn’t feeling well and initially I thought it was because of the busyness of Term 4 in Kindy.  I went to my GP several times saying I was so tired, sleep was interrupted and restless, my legs were always aching and I generally felt unwell.  I was away in Melbourne for a conference and as I was showering felt a little lump. I really didn’t think anything of it but thought I would go to the GP for a check when I got back.

As Dr Miriam examined my breasts, she found the little lump I had felt and sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. A few days later the Doctor’s Surgery called to say I needed to come in for an appointment to discuss my result. I needed a Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) of my left breast, and five days after the procedure, Dean (my husband) came with me to my GP. We sat there in disbelief as Dr Miriam told us the results.

I had breast cancer, stage three, and it had leaked through my left breast duct . . . the rest was a bit of a blur . . . I was going to see a breast surgeon and we would go from there.
Dr Miriam was so beautiful, as we all sat there with tears in our eyes.

I can’t remember when I was told I was HER2 positive, I never knew there was over 34 types of breast cancer.  I had work colleagues and girlfriends diagnosed with breast cancer, some had lumpectomies, others mastectomies, some chemotherapy and radiation therapy.  Everyone was different and every treatment schedule had been different. I knew then that we all have a different pathway, a different reaction to treatment and that the most important thing I had to do was fight, stay strong, positive and moving for Dean, Hannah and Ellie (our children), my family and friends.

My first appointment with Professor Arlene Chan was a big relief. I had heard so much about Arlene, how she works tirelessly for her patients and every spare minute is spent on research. My treatment schedule was set and the chemo began.

As a patient you know that you become part of Arlene’s work family, from the CEO to the administration staff, research staff and nursing team, I was surrounded by the best medical team.

I didn’t worry about losing my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes because I knew this was all part of the journey.  I had a bedroom door covered in inspirational cards and quotes from family and friends.  I celebrated my 48th birthday on the ward, surrounded by my family, a few close friends and the beautiful staff.  I then commenced 25 days of radiation therapy. Once I finished my treatment and my appointments with Arlene were moved initially to 3 months, to 6 months, and to finally, yearly check-ups, I felt nervous, I wanted to see her more than this.

I realised that I had finished this treatment chapter and that I needed to start the recovery chapter, adjusting to my new normal, adapting to the impact on my body and the changes to not only me, but my family. Cancer impacts everyone around you and changes your lives forever. Breast Cancer Research Centre-WA (BCRC-WA) has been working tirelessly in the advancement of breast cancer treatments and increased survival rates. The breast care nurses and psychologist on-site are providing such wonderful support to patients and their families.  I can never repay the medical staff for what they have done for me, but I can continue to support and raise funds for BCRC-WA.”

Read Rita’s full story here.

Please donate today and help us to directly increase survival rates and cure rates – go to bcrc-wa.com.au/ways-to-help/ or call +61 8 6500 5501.

Rita Panebianco, patient

 

Mags Irvine

Mags Story

My name is Margaret Irvine, but I’m known as Mags.

My story begins with the birth of my daughter and a fear that I had breast cancer which I told and was dismissed by a GP who was not my usual doctor.

I think, like all stories of super heroes (and my beautiful Amazonian warriors, we’re all heroes) let’s start at where it all goes wrong and how we made it right.

Fast forward 4 months, I went back to my normal GP with real concerns that there was a lump. She wasted no time and referred me to Perth Radiological Clinic at Mount Hospital who confirmed there was a problem and asked me who my breast surgeon was. I thought I had a blocked cyst.  She recommended Specialist Breast Surgeon, Dr Peter Willsher and Medical Oncologist, Professor Arlene Chan at BCRC-WA, and this was reinforced by my lovely GP.

I went through a whirlwind of emotions. I wanted to see my kids grow up, I had so much still that I wanted to do and asked the question, why me? I cried and I threw tantrums. I consulted with Dr Peter Willsher and asked him to give me the chance to see my children (Molly was 18 months, and Scott was 8 years old) grow up.  He gave me a 10 year plan to work towards… and there was hope.  He was direct, and explained the road ahead would be rough, but I would get there.  I had my surgery within a week and I felt like my world had spun out of control, however, I remembered Peter’s plan and stuck to it.

I followed up with chemo treatment and a cold cap trial by the amazing (and folks she is truly amazing) Prof Arlene Chan.  I had just started 2nd year law at Murdoch University when I was diagnosed, and I asked if I could carry on with my degree . . . . “absolutely”, she told me, “do not take this lying down, you fight it.”

My gorgeous, long curly hair fell out and it broke my heart.  I continued with the cold cap trial and before chemo finished, my hair was growing back.  I continued my degree with my husband Craig and my best friend Andrea and family supporting me, my friends dragging me to university, the lecturers helping me, my colleagues and friends at Legal Aid supporting me unquestionably throughout the treatment, and never once treated me differently. Before I knew it, I was through radiotherapy. My hairdresser Cat, made me look like myself again and we cried.

Through my treatment, I had completed my Law degree, graduated with distinction and started a new job in Legal Aid with the kindest, inspirational and most compassionate people you could ever wish to work with and I’m looking forward to a career as a solicitor.

So, my Amazonian sisters, for you are all heroes, I wish you courage and strength and the support of the wonderful team that I was so fortunate to have at BCRC-WA. Kick the alien invader to the kerb and if I can leave you with one thought, it is “connect”.  Connect with your family, friends and colleagues as time is short and precious, love, laugh and cry together, it will give you the strength you need.  Most of all connect with yourself, you are strong, you are a super hero, you are going to get through this and it will be tough, but you are going to survive. Watch stupid movies through chemo, make the radiologists turn the radio up and sing along and look in the mirror every morning and say, “I am strong, I am loved and I have a lot more to do in this life”, you can do it.

Mag’s battle against breast cancer is common amongst Australian women. Research is the key to higher cure rates and longer survival rates. BCRC-WA is at the forefront of this research. Join with us and share in our vision to continue this vitally important work.

Mag Irvine, 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

Test 13

Prof Chan is an amazing lady who is doing some wonderful research through the Breast Cancer Research Centre-WA. She’s saved my life. Thank you.

Test 12

13 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a wonderful team on my side, Peter (Dr Willsher) and Arlene (Prof Chan). Keep up the good fight!

Testimonial Eleven

The Breast Clinical Trials Unit is the best team EVER! The Unit Manager Jeanette is amazing.

 

Testimonial Ten

It was my lucky day when I was told Prof Chan was going to be looking after me. I was originally told I wouldn’t need chemo but Prof Chan didn’t agree and I thank her for all the care she gave me. My last appointment was this year. I now am coming up 6 years as a survivor. Prof Chan is an angel at work in her field.

Testimonial Nine

You don’t know how deep your courage is until it is tested.

Testimonial Eight

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2005 and was so lucky to have had Arlene Chan as my oncologist. I’m still here and I’m well after more than 10 years.

Testimonial Seven

The best advice comes from your oncologist and for me my wonderful oncology nurse Sam has been my life saver. I am so blessed to have my amazing fiancé by my side through this difficult journey.

Testimonial Six

You don’t realise how strong you can be until something like this happens. Take care and be kind to yourself in your recovery.

Testimonial Five

Arlene Chan is amazing. Trust her to be your guide through this, she is brilliant, you can do this!

Testimonial Four

A wonderful, caring oncologist who has helped so many women beat breast cancer. I feel extremely fortunate to have had Arlene as my oncologist 9 years ago. Thank you so much for all you have done for me and so many other women.

Testimonial Three

As well as Arlene’s amazing academic and medical qualifications, she is also a hugely compassionate and caring person providing much needed emotional support and guidance to her patients and their families. So blessed to have her as my oncologist.

Testimonial Two

 

Arlene has given so many the greatest gift of all…time. Arlene’s commitment and dedication to making a difference on so many levels is beyond words, the world is a better place with her in it.

Testimonial One

 

Arlene saved my life coming up 11 years ago. She is an amazing and caring person. You always felt special as she treated you as an individual and not a statistic.

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.