Marlene, 72

Retired mother, grandmother, cricket tragic & breast cancer survivor, MELBOURNE

Retired mother-to-one, grandmother-to-two, avid gardener, cricket tragic and breast cancer survivor, Marlene, 72, Melbourne, was caring for her sister who was battling terminal lung cancer for two years, and placing her own health needs on the backburner.

For five months or so, she had been experiencing an uncomfortable, heavy, dull ache that caused a burning-like sensation in her breast tissue when lying down. Nonetheless, she continued to shrug off the pain in order to meet her sister’s pressing health needs.

It wasn’t until her sister passed away on November 25, 2014 that Marlene finally chose to take action.

After discussing the issue with her GP, Marlene was referred for an ultrasound scan and a mammogram.

She was eventually diagnosed with a small cancer in her left breast and two small cancers in her right breast.

This is Marlene’s story.  

“I knew something was wrong, so I visited my GP to discuss the issue,” said Marlene.

“Unable to detect a breast lump [by hand examination], my GP referred me for an ultrasound, which I had a couple of days later.

“Two weeks later, I had my annual mammogram with Breast Screen, Werribee, soon after which I was contacted by a Breast Screen councillor at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Parkville and asked to pay them a visit,” Marlene said.

“After performing a biopsy, which involved the removal of a tiny piece of breast tissue for testing, they diagnosed me with a small cancer in my left breast.

“I was then invited to participate in a radiation study with breast cancer surgeon, Professor Bruce Mann from The Royal Melbourne Hospital, and was booked in to have breast cancer surgery a week later. 

To qualify for the study, I had to undergo an MRI. The MRI revealed I had one small cancer in my left breast and two small cancers in my right breast,” said Marlene.

Marlene had another biopsy on the two cancers in her right breast and underwent surgery at The Royal Melbourne Hospital a week later, during which her lymph nodes were removed, that fortunately, revealed no further cancer. She then commenced 16 treatments of radiotherapy.

During this period, Marlene contacted her relatives, keen to learn if they too had a history of breast cancer within their respective families. To her dismay, Marlene learned that five female relatives, all of whom were mothers, had developed breast cancer, two of whom had undergone a mastectomy. 

“I was shocked to learn that so many of my female relatives had developed breast cancer,” Marlene said. 

As Marlene’s knowledge of her family’s history of breast cancer grew, so too did the outpouring of support from her family and friends.

“While my family and friends were all very supportive, my breast cancer diagnosis most affected the person closest to me – my daughter Jillian,” said Marlene.

“I recall her saying to me one day, ‘You’re so good and kind to everyone. It’s just not fair!’

“But I’ve been conditioned to get on with life; to continue, because I’m a doer, with goals and plans,” Marlene said.

Although currently in remission, Marlene continues to experience some side-effects from her radiotherapy which she completed on September 7, 2015, including tiredness, swollen breasts and ongoing pain.

Marlene nonetheless feels very fortunate to have been diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage.

“So many people are touched by breast cancer. The disease affects people in all sorts of ways, so I consider myself to be very lucky to be alive. I’ve had a good outcome. 

“Professor Mann was also marvellous. He made me feel so comfortable throughout the whole process. He respected what I was going through; he listened to me; he was simply amazing,” said Marlene.

Having just commenced treatment with Letrozole FBM, Marlene 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.

“Reinvesting all profits from the sale of this medication back into patient support and medical research is fabulous,” said Marlene.

“FBM is allowing patients like myself, to do something constructive; to help and contribute to the breast cancer community both now, and in the future.”