Below is Carmen’s story:
“In May 2005 I had a mammogram, something I did every two years. However, this time they called me back and said they’d found a lump. I went to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) in Sydney for tests and I found out that afternoon that the lump was breast cancer. I started treatment straight away.
“When you start the treatment you aren’t sick – you become sick. One of the hardest things you have to deal with is that you feel fine at first but the treatment literally poisons your body. Getting sick before a session is one of the side effects of the chemotherapy.
“When you receive the diagnosis you’re immediately allocated a team that will work with you through your treatment – an oncologist, a surgeon, a radiologist and a cancer care nurse. You go through a lot of changes, physically and emotionally, and they’re able to help you come to terms with what you’re experiencing.
“The cancer care nurses are especially important, and some of the fundraising through Pink Ribbon Day goes towards ensuring access to the nurses. They support so many women, and it’s often the small things that can make such a big difference. For example, when I started my treatment I was given the opportunity to have my hair cut at a top hairdresser for free. Many women lose their hair and eyebrows through the chemotherapy and it may never grow back, so this is something that helps you feel normal.
“Because I continued working through my treatment I participated in a study that involved taking vitamin supplements to see if they had any affect. The chemotherapy can affect your ability to think and act clearly, and they wanted to see how my brain was able to cope with running the payroll for a large company. A lot of the money raised through events like Pink Ribbon Day goes towards funding research like this.
“Breast cancer is a very emotional thing for many people. At work I found that many people had experienced breast cancer through a family member or friend, and when they found out about my diagnosis they were keen to offer their support. There’s a big community of people who have some experience of breast cancer in their lives, and this community comes together to help others.
“It’s a terrible disease for everyone, not just the individual. And it’s like a wave that affects entire families. My own family was incredibly supportive. My daughter is a microbiologist and looked for ways to help my treatment, and my husband is an incredibly strong person. But during my treatment my granddaughter was born, which created a happy diversion for all of us.
“If someone in your life is diagnosed with breast cancer – or any illness – it’s important to look at your support system. People who’ve been there can help and advise, and they can give you affirmation of how you can provide support, especially in keeping things as normal as possible. Talking to survivors is always encouraging.
“Since the diagnosis and completing my treatment I appreciate life so much more. My family is so important to me and I don’t get as upset about mundane day-to-day issues. I look forward to every day in my journey and enjoy being able to support people as they head down their own paths.”
How can you help?
Carmen thank you for sharing your story, you are very brave and we are so proud of you in beating cancer and having a positive attitude towards life.