Mother, winery manager & golf enthusiast, Mudgee, NSW
In August 2014, Vicki, then 55, Mudgee, NSW, was experiencing shooting pains in her left breast. As the frequency of pain increased, Vicki organised to see her GP.
Relaying her pain to the GP, Vicki was advised to undergo a mammogram and a breast ultrasound.
Armed with the scan results, Vicki’s GP confirmed she had a lump in her left breast, diagnosed with HER-2 Hormone Receptor Positive breast cancer, and referred her to a surgeon to discuss her options.
Following a two hour-long consultation, Vicki was advised she could have the lump removed or undergo a unilateral masectomy (removal) of the left breast. After weighing up her options, Vicki chose the latter.
This is her story.
“When I received the breast cancer diagnosis, I was devastated,” said Vicki.
Despite having no family history of the often devastating disease, Vicki performed regular breast checks for lumps after identifying a benign breast lump two decades earlier.
“I couldn’t actually feel a lump in my breast, but I was experiencing painful, shooting pains, that were growing in frequency. So I thought I’d better go and get it checked out,” Vicki said.
After visiting her GP on Tuesday, August 12, 2014, Vicki was referred for a breast mammogram and an ultrasound on her right breast.
Following the tests, she returned to her GP to discover she had a 13.5 centimetre lump in her breast which was cancerous.
“I was diagnosed with stage-4 HER-2 Hormone Receptor Positive breast cancer that had metastasised into my bones,” said Vicki.
“My daughter was shattered, my parents were devastated, and my friends were shocked to learn of the news. However, they have all proven to be so strong and supportive throughout the whole process, which has helped to keep me strong.”
Following her diagnosis, Vicki was referred to a breast cancer surgeon, with whom she met two days later.
During the two-hour consultation, Vicki was advised on her options, which included removal of the lump, or a mastectomy (removal of the whole breast).
“Due to the size of the cancer, and the stage that it was at, we decided to have the whole breast removed,” Vicki said.
Four days later, Vicki underwent a mastectomy.
“Because of the size of the cancer, I suspect I may have been living with breast cancer for at least six months prior to diagnosis,” said Vicki.
Following her mastectomy, she had some lymph nodes removed, and underwent six courses of chemotherapy in three-week intervals. After chemotherapy, Vicki commenced a five week course of radiotherapy, which she completed in March, 2015.
Following her radiotherapy treatment, Vicki received the all-clear – the cancer in her breast and bones had resolved.
“I’m using anastrozole [a hormone receptor positive breast cancer treatment for women who are no longer menstruating, whether due to surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or natural ageing], to manage my recovery, but that’s all, and my oncologist doesn’t want to see me until January next year, given the positive results from my scans. So that’s great news,” Vicki said.
“I don’t know if you ever completely recover from breast cancer, but right now, I feel like I’ve recovered.
“Although the cancer isn’t directly affecting my quality of life right now, the hardest thing is that I find myself constantly thinking about it,” said Vicki.
“I might be working, or playing golf and feeling fine, when out of nowhere, I find myself thinking, what if it returns?
“Or, I’ll be watching a story about a breast cancer survivor on the news, who relapsed and died after five years, which makes me question whether I’m going to die,” Vicki said.
“I did look at having my right breast removed to further reduce my risk [of breast cancer], and I’ve recently had a mammogram scan of it to ensure it was clear. But I’ve chosen not to remove it just yet because my body has been through enough in the past year.
“I will go down the path of having it removed, but probably in the next year,” said Vicki.
For now, Vicki is eager for more to be done in the areas of breast cancer patient support and research, to help alleviate her fears of recurring cancer and death.
Vicki contends the For Benefit Medicines (FBM) initiative – Australia’s first ‘for-benefit’ pharmaceutical company – which aims to distribute 100 per cent of profits from the sale of its generic FBM breast cancer medications to local breast cancer patient support and medical research organisations, is a worthy project that the community should support.
“It’s a great idea. Anything that might help patients and support research is great.
“This type of initiative could help me stay alive for another 20 years,” Vicki said.
“I would definitely urge members of the public to support For Benefit Medicines in its quest to fund patient support and research into breast cancer.”