I started having mammograms at 36 years old in the rural Breast Screen van. At 48 years old, I attended my 2 yearly appointment. I knew something immediately wasn’t right when they asked to have more pictures and spent the next week waiting for a referral to Perth. At that point, I had no idea the Breast Cancer Research Centre-WA even existed. My husband Steve needed to travel to the Northern Territory for work that week, so it was time to put the big girl pants on and just wait.
A week later, we travelled to Perth to have another mammogram, ultrasound and core biopsy. My husband Steve and I sat with twenty four other women dressed in the regimental hospital gown, waiting for our procedures. I remember thinking, ‘Stats are one in eight right, so three of us are going to walk out with a breast cancer diagnosis. Steve being his typical stoic self and trying to reassure us both, sat holding my hand the entire time, whispering, ‘You’ll be right mate’.
Mammogram and core biopsy completed, we spent the day wandering aimlessly around the CBD with my battered boob and icepacks tucked into my bra. We returned to the clinic at 4pm to get my results. ‘Your results are back, and unfortunately, they confirm you have breast cancer. I couldn’t believe it, the shock was indescribable, and despite how much you try to prepare yourself for the worst, you can’t.
I took one look at Steve and knew I couldn’t look at him again, I needed to focus on what the doctor was telling us, and we were both already tearing up. We listened carefully, ‘Breast surgeon, Oncologist referral, grade 2 invasive carcinoma, lumpectomy, radiation, possible chemotherapy…. wtf!!’ We left the clinic in a daze to tell our families.
It took me four weeks to tell my mum in New Zealand (NZ). I would have loved to have had the BCRC-WA’s clinical psychologist’s expertise before we told our children (a service that had not yet been established). As it turned out, we did ok. We gave them the facts and reassured them we’d let them know if anything changed. Our honesty alleviated any wild imaginings of the unknown for our kids.
And so it began…I was referred to the wonderful Mr Richard Martin, Specialist Oncoplastic Breast, Endocrine and General Surgeon and booked my lumpectomy. I was immediately put at ease with Richard’s gentle and professional approach; he explained the procedure, the need to remove lymph nodes, sentinel node and the pathology process. Fast forward a week later, and Dr Albert Gan. Who knew an Oncologist appointment could be so pleasant! Albert explained my chemotherapy regime, which was a no brainer when given the option. It was a small price to pay for a lower risk, so I left feeling very reassured and empowered.
My lumpectomy was locked in, and I commenced chemo shortly after. We were overwhelmed by the incredible support of our friends, family and work colleagues. My work friends started a dinner roster during my chemo weeks. I believe my family secretly enjoyed the surprise dinners left lovingly on our doorstep each evening. Flights to Perth every three weeks and the support from the ‘Patient Assistant Travel Scheme’ (PATS) meant I could have my chemotherapy in the morning and return to Kalgoorlie by the evening. Volunteers in these clinics were a godsend; fetching snacks, chatting with patients and foot massages were always welcome.
Seventeen days after my first chemo cycle, I realised more hair was on my pillow than on my head, so it was time for the big shave. Our daughter Kim had returned from Melbourne, and I was determined to make this a positive experience. Kim and our son Joe took great delight in shaving my head. Once shaved, I let the kids draw whatever they wanted on my head. I ended up with a multi-coloured version of ‘My family’ from popular car stickers and our ‘Hawks’ footy team scrawled across my head. Needless to say, the ED staff were certainly amused when I was admitted that evening with a few complications!
Radiation commenced after chemotherapy and living in Perth for six weeks without my family was probably the most challenging period for me. I was completing a Masters in Special Needs, so I was thankful for the distraction and the loving support of my mother and father in law. Finally, I started Tamoxifen, and my treatment was complete. Over the next ten years, had several recurrence scares; I cannot explain what the stress of the unknown does to a family, let alone the patient. Anyone who has been there can relate; being rural exacerbates the fear and waiting. In 2018 after multiple surgeries, suspicious biopsies, ultrasounds, lumps, bumps, and rashes, we (my husband Steve, Mr. Richard Martin, and I) decided a double mastectomy with reconstruction was warranted. As a country patient, the new technology for expansion allowed me the freedom to continue working without the need for more trips to Perth. I loved the convenience and privacy this offered and felt very fortunate to have access to it, a luxury not available 10 years ago. I have never regretted my decision and am comforted by the knowledge that my risk of reoccurrence was reduced.
Call it a midlife crisis, perhaps, but I bought myself a Harley Davidson after walking into Perth Harley with Steve to buy another helmet for his bike. I’d never ridden a bike in my life, and we now enjoy riding in the Goldfields together with many great friends. In 2017 my friend Gai Robinson was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. I wanted to make a difference for every breast cancer patient and approached Gai to ask if she would like to join me in starting a small fundraiser for the BCRCWA. She loved the idea, and together we started ‘Something Pink’. Something Pink sold out within two weeks and realised we needed a bigger venue. Our first event raised over $45,000.00, we were both overwhelmed by the generosity and support of our wonderful Goldfields community. Sadly, two years later, Gai passed away from metastatic breast cancer. However, the legacy she helped create continues.
This year Something Pink welcomed VM Drilling as our major sponsor. We are so excited to have these guys on board. Matt May (Owner) and Courtney Pacey (General Manager) have painted a drill rig pink! Something Pink receives a percentage of funds each month. Steve and I were incredibly proud to attend the BCRC-WA’s official opening this year with Courtney, where VM Drilling presented another very generous cheque.
Five years on my amazingly hard-working and loyal committee at Something Pink are excited about the future. To date, we have raised over $330,000.00 for the BCRC-WA. We have numerous sponsors who continue to loyally support us. Something Pink is now the major fundraiser for BCRC-WA and continues to grow. Together with VM Drilling, we will continue to make a difference for all breast cancer patients, specifically in the Goldfields community. My sincerest thanks to everyone who has and continues to support Something Pink.
Katrina’s story was also featured on ABC Goldfields – Esperance ‘Beating breast cancer: Katrina Tedge’s story