Three smiling mature women at the beach

Stories of Hope

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.

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.

Mag Irvine, patient

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

 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.