Patsy, 62

Mother, retired school teacher, dragon boater & breast cancer survivor, CANBERRA

On April 22, 2005, Patsy, then 52, visited her GP for a routine pap smear. During the consultation, Patsy’s doctor, convinced something was awry, referred her for a mammogram, and later, an ultrasound and small needle biopsy.

Although the mammogram results appeared to be all clear, the ultrasound revealed cancer in Patsy’s breast.

A subsequent small needle biopsy rendered Patsy with a diagnosis of breast cancer.   

This is her story.

“I was diagnosed with a grade three breast cancer tumour around 20mm in length,” Patsy said.

“Before my diagnosis, I felt completely well, but when I went in for my routine pap smear, my doctor was convinced something was wrong.”

Patsy’s doctor referred her for a mammogram, an ultrasound and a small needle biopsy.

Although the mammogram was unsuccessful in identifying any cancer, Patsy was soon diagnosed with a ‘grade three, infiltrating ductal carcinoma without sentinel node metastases.’  

“Learning I had cancer was really tough. I immediately felt as though I’d lost control of my life,” said Patsy.

“My husband, who was with me at the time of my diagnosis, was really supportive, and offered to contact my parents and family back in the U.S. But I thought it was best they heard the news from me.”

Patsy’s three children each reacted differently to their mother’s cancer diagnosis. Her youngest, then in Year eight at school, worked hard to reassure Patsy, telling her all would be OK.

In contrast, her middle daughter, then in Year 12 at school, broke down, and together with Patsy, cried and cried, while her eldest daughter, then 21, worked hard to distance herself from her mother’s illness.

“It was worrying when my eldest daughter, then 21, tried to distance herself from my disease,” Patsy said.

“It wasn’t until a few years later, when her boyfriend’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, that she called me on the phone in tears, telling me I had been so brave at the time, and that I was so strong for overcoming my cancer.”

When diagnosed with breast cancer, Patsy, who was working as a food sciences teacher at the time, immediately transformed her eating habits and turned vegetarian, removing all sugar and fats from her diet, in order to control that part of her life. She also cut out alcohol completely and took the next year off from work.

“I took the rest of the year off work because I needed the break. We live on the side of a mountain, so I walked every day I could,” Patsy said.

On Tuesday, May 3, 2005, Patsy underwent a mastectomy to remove the cancer in her breast. Following her surgery, Patsy was given three weeks to recover before commencing chemotherapy.

“I was on chemotherapy treatment from May 3, 2005 to September 15, 2005. After that, I began treatment with aromatase inhibiting medications, which I used up until February this year.”

While undergoing treatment for her breast cancer, Patsy also joined a local dragon boat racing team comprising women living with, or those who had survived breast cancer.

“Following my diagnosis, I set little goals for myself, such as making it to Canberra’s centenary in 2013. I also started to meet different people like me, who were living with breast cancer.

“A lady with whom I had worked at school, heard about my cancer diagnosis, and invited me to join her dragon boat team. Despite being a weak swimmer, joining this team really helped me to put things into perspective, and allowed me to see and share my breast cancer story with others around the world,” said Patsy.

Nowadays, Patsy is completely treatment and cancer free. She has an annual MRI scan, and is very aware of any lumps or pain in her breast.

Patsy is also a strong advocate for For Benefit Medicines (FBM) – Australia’s first for-benefit pharmaceutical company whose sole purpose is to distribute 100 per cent of profits to local patient support and medical research organisations.

“Redirecting profits from the sale of FBMs medications back into breast cancer patient support programs today, and breast cancer research for tomorrow, is a unique and wonderful initiative that deserves community support.”