Mum, breast cancer survivor & clinical trials advocate
In 2009, Melbourne-based mother to two adult children, Leslie, then 46, was diagnosed with early stage lobular carcinoma in-situ – a form of cancer caused by abnormal cell formation in the milk glands of the breast.
After accompanying her friend on a routine mammogram, Leslie returned home and performed her own breast examination.
To her surprise, she discovered a lump in her breast. She immediately scheduled a mammogram and three days later, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Leslie had no known family history of the disease at the time. However, the following year, she was shocked to learn of her younger sister, Adrienne’s diagnosis with breast cancer, at the age of 39.
This news spurred her and her sister on a rigorous investigation of her family’s medical history. She soon learned that her father, Bob, who had passed away from prostate cancer in 1993, aged 59, had also been living with breast cancer at the time of his death.
Leslie joined the Breast Cancer Network Australia as a volunteer in 2010 and then joined the Consumer Advisory Panel of the Australia and New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group (ANZBCTG) early in 2012, and now works doggedly to heighten public awareness and understanding of breast cancer, and the importance of funding clinical trials, to find new and improved breast cancer treatment and prevention strategies, and to ultimately, save more lives.
This is Leslie’s story.
“I had never had a mammogram before because I was unaware of my family’s history of breast cancer,” said Leslie.
“I discovered I had breast cancer because of my friend, who was concerned about a lump in her breast, and asked me to hold her hand on a mammogram visit.
“Thankfully, she did not test positive to breast cancer,” Leslie said.
“After joining my friend and supporting her during her mammogram, I returned home and performed a self-check in the shower. That’s when I found a lump, or a thickening of my skin.”
A subsequent mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy revealed Leslie had been living with five separate breast cancers.
Soon after her breast cancer diagnosis, and with substantial family support, Leslie underwent a mastectomy to remove the cancer in her breast, and 18 months later, had a full breast reconstruction.
As part of her five-year-long course of therapy, Leslie participated in a clinical trial examining a new post-menopausal breast cancer treatment, during which she received chemotherapy, radiotherapy and an endochrine treatment.
“Personally I felt by participating in the breast cancer trial, I was making a positive contribution, which would hopefully lead to better treatments and extra support for breast cancer patients,” said Leslie.
“When the results of the clinical trial were published and revealed the treatment which I had trialled, had increased the survival rate, and reduced the rate of recurrence of breast cancer in post-menopausal women, I felt extremely satisfied.”
During her treatment, Leslie joined the ANZBCTG, Breast Cancer Institute of Australia (BCIA) and the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) as a volunteer.
“In my role with the BCIA, I am working to reduce the stigma surrounding clinical trials,” Leslie said.
“There’s a bit of a public misconception that you’ll be worse off if you participate in a clinical trial.
“The reality is, clinical trials offer patients treatments that are as equally as effective as standard treatments, or even superior to current treatments,” said Leslie.
After successfully completing her breast cancer treatment in January, 2015, Leslie continues to strive to maintain her health that she worked so hard to regain, through regular yoga and spending quality time with her family.
As a breast cancer survivor and a strong advocate for clinical trials, Leslie supports For Benefit Medicines – Australia’s first for-benefit pharmaceutical company whose purpose is to distribute 100 per cent of profits to local breast cancer patient support and medical research organisations.
“I think FBM is a fantastic concept. The funding provided by FBM will help organisations, such as the BCIA and BCNA, to encourage and support both breast cancer patients and clinical trials research.
“The more we educate the community about breast cancer, the better, and clinical trials lead to improved public awareness and treatment outcomes,” said Leslie.
“Any organisation, such as FBM, that can channel funds into breast cancer research and support, will make a fantastic contribution to society.
“The funds this organisation can provide, will hopefully, lead to finding a cure for breast cancer, or at the very least, improve support for women on their breast cancer journey,” Leslie said.
“Many more companies should follow FBM’s lead and become more ethically-minded.”