Beating Breast Cancer

April 30, 2002

Julie Barter, cancer survivor

Did you know…

  • Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women in Australia
  • Early detection is the best method for increasing survival from breast cancer
  • One in 11 Australian women develop breast cancer before the age of 75
  • About 10 per cent of breast cancers occur in women with a family history
  • About 10,000 Australian women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year
  • 2,600 women die of breast cancer each year
  • One in 24 female deaths are due to breast cancer
  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australian women

Don’t be a statistic. Check your breasts regularly. It could save your life.

Julie Barter survived breast cancer. This is her story.

“My grandmother was first diagnosed when she was 65 and I was 13,” begins Julie, a charming confident women from Sydney’s Northern Beaches. “I didn’t really have a great understanding of what was going on at that age, I knew that my grandmother was sick. That was pretty devastating for my family ? it was a long, lingering death and while my mother was nursing my grandmother with breast cancer, my mother found out that she had breast cancer as well. So they were both having chemotherapy at the same time and it was pretty horrific. We lost my grandmother to cancer when I was about 22,” says Julie. “I realised that it was a bit odd that both my mother and my grandmother had this cancer. We’ve done a family tree and the history is pretty bad. If it’s not ovarian, it’s breast cancer in the family,” says Julie of the devastating disease that has affected her family for generations.

“I actually never thought I’d get it. My mother never really spoke to me, never worried me about it, but she always reminded me to do self-examination checks,” says Julie. “We went through watching Mum have radiotherapy and chemotherapy and I stayed with Mum while she was having all this. I was newly engaged. We got married and I started having my family and it must have been when I was 31, I got my first lump,” reveals Julie of her shocking discovery. “Our children were small and I went to a specialist and he basically said to me that our family history was horrific and that to be prepared in case this was cancer. And I had never really thought of it, I didn’t ever think I’d ever get it. Of course, that lump came back benign. But I had prepared myself, because the doctor had prepared me, for cancer. It was a benign cyst, I was very lucky then,” says Julie of her first but sadly not her last breast lump.

“When I was 32 they found another lump and I had that one removed. Then when I was about 34 I had another lump removed ? they were all benign and all fine. So when I came to a fourth lump I thought, ‘It’s the same,’ she says. “In fact, the first time I had it done, I was just distressed over it all that when it came to this lump, I basically didn’t even say anything to my friends, I kept it very quiet. I thought ‘I’m going in for a lump, you know, I’ll have it out, I’ll be home and back at work the next day.”

“It was a Thursday and I went into hospital to have it out and I remember being more concerned about a lady in the next room ? she was chatting to me and she was going to theatre ? she had a lump the size of a golf ball! I said to my mother-in-law ‘That poor girl, that poor girl, she’s having such a big lump removed and look at mine, a little tiny thing, what am I worrying about?’

“When I came out of theatre after having that done, my specialist was holding my hand, but it was a different specialist than I’d had for the other three. So I thought she’s just a lovely, caring lady. Maybe she had some idea, I don’t know, of what my lump was,” says Julie of her intuition in retrospect, “but I went home.”

“I was going to get the results on Monday and I never worried about it the whole weekend, I was more worried about going back to work! And Monday morning I rang work and told them I’d be back tomorrow morning and then I thought I’d better ring the specialist and just confirm that everything’s fine,” says Julie of her understandably indifferent, given her history of benign lumps, attitude towards her most recent lump removal. But everything was not OK. “She said it was cancer.”

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