Vicki, 58

Mother, breast cancer survivor & patient support group facilitator, PERTH

The mother to two young adults spent the remainder of the year undergoing aggressive breast cancer treatment that ultimately transformed her outlook on life.

Keen to share her breast cancer journey with others, Vicki joined the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) as a Community Liaison Officer in 2012, where she has spent the past three years helping to facilitate the local patient support group, “Perth/WA Women’s Group.”

This is Vicki’s story.

Vicki discovered a painful lump in her left breast when showering in January, 2008. With no known family history of breast cancer, Vicki was not overly concerned, but nonetheless, chose to visit her GP.

Initially, her GP suspected she had developed mastitis (an infection of the breast tissue that causes breast pain and redness). But after further consideration, and a subsequent needle biopsy, Vicki was diagnosed with stage 2 (early) breast cancer. She was then referred to a breast surgeon

“I wasn’t expecting any bad news. But maybe I was naïve, given my eternally optimistic view on life,” said Vicki.

“After being diagnosed with breast cancer, my body went into shock.

“I do however, recall my GP stating I had a 92 per cent chance of survival,” Vicki said.

“I also remember walking out to the car park and breaking the news to my husband over the phone. He offered to drive me home, but I declined, and drove home in shock.

“Coincidentally, at the time of my diagnosis, my husband (an architect), was working on stage one of the new Cancer Centre at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. One of the doctors had told him, “Someone you know will be using this facility within the next 12 months,” I never imaged it would be me,” said Vicki.

According to Vicki, she had next to no inkling she was at risk of breast cancer at the time, although she was experiencing substantial stress. 

“I was leading a pretty stressful existence work-wise, a year or so before being diagnosed with breast cancer, and stress tends to manifest itself within the body."

Vicki was referred to a breast cancer surgeon who performed several scans and tests. As the cancer was contained, a less invasive option to conserve the breast, rather than an entire mastectomy, was recommended. This involved removing the breast tumour lump and some of the normal surrounding breast tissue. However, once the removed lumps were examined, Vicki was informed the cancer cells had spread, and subsequently had her lymph nodes removed.                                                                                                         

Following the lumpectomy, doctors were concerned there wasn’t a clear enough distance between the edge of the tumour and the surrounding healthy tissue. So Vicki underwent another operation to obtain better clearance. 

However, during the second operation she developed a nasty infection that led to her hospitalisation for an additional week. After recovering from the infection, Vicki underwent chemotherapy as standard preventative therapy, post-surgery.

“The infection was the worst part of the whole breast cancer experience in a way,” said Vicki.

“It was both physically and emotionally draining at the same time. Losing your hair in the public domain and constantly having to face the world is really hard.”

Vicki also likened her six cycle (treatment every three weeks) experience of chemotherapy to being on a rollercoaster ride.

“During my first week of chemotherapy I was bedridden. I continued working part-time during my second week of chemotherapy, and during my third week, I could taste the flavour of food again.

Vicki also found the 30 courses of radiotherapy that she endured to be physically exhausting.

Nowadays, Vicki visits her oncologist once a year and her GP on a more regular basis (every three months) to help maintain her overall health and wellness.

Post- surgery, Vicki was prescribed the aromatase inhibitor, Letrozole, for a period of five years, to suppress oestrogen-induced cancer growth. As such, she is an advocate for For Benefit Medicines – 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.

“I was absolutely thrilled to hear about the For Benefit Medicines initiative.

“I used the medication Letrozole for five years, and had Letrozole FBM been available at that time, I would most certainly have chosen the FBM brand,” Vicki said.

"When you’re living with breast cancer, or in fear of the disease returning, channelling much-needed funds into breast cancer patient support programs for today, and medical research initiatives for tomorrow, allows you to make a genuine contribution to the community.

“It’s very comforting to know that you’re making a difference and positively impacting the lives of many breast cancer patients and survivors,” said Vicki.