A young woman's experience with breast cancer

Zara D’Cotta was nearing her 30th birthday when she discovered she had breast cancer. She is one of the nearly 800 young Australian women who were diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

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Zara’s concern for her health was piqued when she started to experience pain in her breast. At first, she wasn’t too worried – she is young, healthy, couldn’t detect any lumps or other symptoms, and doesn’t have a family history of breast cancer. Little did she know at this point, that family history only accounts for 15 per cent of breast cancer diagnoses in young women. Fortunately, after two months, when the severity and frequency of the pain increased, Zara decided to see a doctor.

While her GP couldn’t feel any lumps either, he referred her for an ultrasound to be sure. It was here they discovered a two-centimetre lump in her breast.

“I was horrified. Once I knew it was there, it was so obvious to feel. I couldn’t believe I had missed it,” Zara said.

“I didn’t know what I was feeling for. It’s pretty frightening to think what would have happened if I hadn’t had that pain that made me go to the doctor.”

Shortly after Zara’s diagnosis, her mother also found out she had breast cancer, after attending a routine mammogram. Her mum’s cancer was in both breasts, and so she decided to have a double mastectomy – a decision which meant her treatment was quick and successful.

Zara’s treatment, on the other hand, was more extensive.

“The impact breast cancer can have on a young woman, like your ability to have children, isn’t as much of an issue when you’re older,” she said.

“I’m healthy the cancer is gone and I have minimal chance of resurgence, but the medication is proving a real challenge for me and I have to have regular checkups. That will be for the rest of my life.”

After undergoing a lumpectomy and having two lymph nodes removed, she also underwent a further six weeks of radiotherapy. Nearly a year since her diagnosis, Zara is still taking medication, which she will continue for another year to come.

However, Zara has taken the lemons of her breast cancer experience and made them into lemonade – in the form of a health and wellbeing website called Oh My Goodness.

Zara left her job in the oil and gas industry and thanks her experience with breast cancer for giving her the motivation to pursue her passions.

“It’s like this spark has been ingnited inside of me. It has changed my life for the better. I wouldn’t have had the guts to do this if (breast cancer) didn’t happen to me. I’d still be sitting at my desk feeling like I wasn’t really achieving much in life,” she said.

Her one piece of advice to young women is:

“Be aware and pay attention to what is going on in your body, and if something is wrong, see a doctor and don’t make silly excuses, like being too busy, because nothing is more important than your health.”

Zara is part of the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s 800 Young Women campaign – raising awareness for breast cancer in young women. For more information, visit their website: 800youngwomen.org.au