It is now a year since I was diagnosed with early breast cancer.
It was the worst best thing that ever happened to me.
It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A time when I ask myself the haunting question: is my cancer back?
Travel pretty and give back while you’re at it, to support the estimated 1.7 million people diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Apparently men couldn’t hack the same side effects women have been putting up with for years.
Don’t be duped into thinking you’re supporting a good cause.
Nearly 800 Australian women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with cancer every year. While young women aren’t the most vulnerable demographic, this means symptoms can often be go undetected. It is important to remember that breast cancer can happen to anybody, and breast awareness is the best way to monitor your health and reduce the risk of breast cancer.
In order to detect any changes in your breasts, you must know how they look and feel regularly.
While changes to your breasts don’t usually mean cancer, you should know what kind of changes too look for:
- a new lump or lumpiness
- a change in the size or shape of your breast or nipple
- changes to the skin around the breast or nipple
- dimpling of the skin or nipple
- discharge or blood from the nipple
- an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.
You should regularly feel and examine your breasts in the shower or when dressing.
According to Worldwide Breast Cancer, a lump can feel like a lemon seed – hard and immovable.
If you notice and change or are concerned about your breasts, visit the doctor as soon as you can.
October 27 is Pink Ribbon Day. To support breast cancer research you can donate by purchasing a Pink Ribbon (available at David Jones, Big W and selected stalls), or sign up to Register4 – Australia’s first national online research register – to participate in cancer research.
Image via Worldwide 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.
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.
Singer Anastacia has revealed that she underwent a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in 10 years.
“I wanted to share something with you in light of Breast Cancer Awareness month,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time earlier this year and am currently in the final stages of recovery after undergoing a double mastectomy with Latissimus Dorsi flap surgical procedure.
“It has been an intense journey, but I am feeling great and ready to start the next chapter,” she continued. “Breast Cancer Awareness Month gives ALL who are facing this disease a chance to gain strength and support from each other. Early detection saved my life twice.”
Anastacia (full name: Anastacia Lyn Newkirk), 45, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. She had gone to the doctor for breast reduction surgery.
“I saved my own life just because I wanted to reduce my breast size,” Anastacia said 10 years ago, aged 35. “I didn’t have breast cancer in my family. I didn’t have a lump in my breast. This would not have been detected with a self-exam.”
The singer became a vocal advocate for mammograms. “If there’s anything I’ve learned from this, it’s to get a mammogram early.”
We wish Anastacia the best in her recovery!
Grab your lippies ladies. Only your brightest hue will do. A slash of vibrant colour on your pout and you’re selfie-ready for Bright Pink Lipstick Day (September 20).
Former Miss Australia-turned-TV-presenter and media personality, Laura Csortan, 36, will be donning the ‘brightest, most obnoxious shade of lippie’ she can find to support Pink Hope, to raise awareness of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
Laura chats to SheSaid about why she’ll be supporting Bright Pink Lipstick Day, her new role as Sydney Racing Ambassador for Australian Turf Club and she shares some of her beauty and style secrets.
Why are you supporting Bright Pink Lipstick Day?
Bright Pink Lipstick Day is a fantastic initiative to get your girlfriends together and have a bit of fun wearing your bright lippie to highlight an issue – hereditary cancer. It is at the forefront of our friends, family and society in general.
Will you be puckering up with bright pink lippie? What shade will you be wearing?
Absolutely! I’ll probably have it all over my teeth too but I’ll give it my best shot! I don’t have a signature pink shade but I will be on the lookout for something bright and obnoxious! It will certainly get the message across.
Is your partner Chris [Joannou, Silverchair bass player] a fan of bright lippie or does he prefer more of a natural gloss on you?
He prefers no makeup at all so bright pink lipstick will scare the bejesus out of him.
How has Pink Hope founder Krystal Barter inspired you?
Cancer is an issue that touches everyone. We all have someone we know or someone close to us who has been touched by cancer. I’ve got a few girlfriends directly affected by breast cancer and this particular strain – BRCA1 – so for Krystal to start Pink Hope after having a preventative double mastectomy herself and about to undergo ovarian preventative surgery next year – it really highlights the fact we need to look at prevention rather than a cure. Having someone who is not afraid to get up and talk about it, takes the mystery out of it.
Angelina Jolie’s decision to go public about her preventative double mastectomy brought incredible attention to the reality of hereditary cancer.
Angelina going public was incredible for Pink Hope. The charity experienced a 700% increase in families reaching out to them, which is why they need additional funding. The more high profile people coming out and speaking about their experience is just what we need.
Has hereditary cancer touched your life?
Thankfully my family and I have not been directly affected. But I certainly keep on top of my regular check-ups. I am very aware.
As Sydney Racing Ambassador for Australian Turf Club, what’s the one fashion faux pas that irks you the most at the track?
There are a few! I like to think of racing as a classic, classy event. Tight frocks, boob tubes and clunky shoes are not racing attire. I like to think ladies should follow some of the dress guidelines.
Describe your style in a word?
First serious fashion splurge?
A crème Prada handbag. I love it and still use it, rarely, because it’s crème and I’m scared of marking it!
A fad you wish you never followed?
I did live through the 80s. I did get stuck into the ra-ra and bubble skirts.
One clothing item you can’t live without?
My black leather pants.
Fashion tip your mother taught you?
Never wear anything too tight. God love her, she’s still right.
Whose wardrobe would you most like to raid?
Cameron Diaz. She always look fab. I like her bubbly but stylish personality.
What’s the most worn thing in your wardrobe?
I like strong basics. I have a beautifully cut Helmut Lang blazer that I wear to death.
Who is your style icon?
Elle Macpherson. I love the way she frocks up.
What would someone learn about you from looking inside your wardrobe?
I’m not big on colour. I’m very much a black, white, navy kind of gal.
What do you wish you had the nerve to wear?
Sometimes I have the urge to go a bit grunge but I don’t know how to pull it off without looking like a dag. Some people make it look so good and I put it on and I look like I need to go back home and clean the house.
What are your beauty bag essentials?
I can’t go anywhere without my Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream for my lips. Especially when travelling. I have a Clinique bronzer that works a treat all over – my décolletage and face etc. I love black eyeliner too.
What foundation do you wear?
I’m wearing a great Elizabeth Arden one at the moment.
Favourite skincare products?
I fluctuate all the time. I will use a commercial brand like Clinique and then mix it up with a plant-based product with no additives.
Favourite salon beauty treatment?
An all-over body massage. You come out feeling completely rested and revived.
Biggest beauty blunder?
Plucking my eyebrows until there was barely anything left. With bushy eyebrows back in, I am thankful they grew back.
Best beauty tip you’ve picked up?
With all the travelling I do, I have a Vitamin-C serum I use on my face. Letting your skin absorb a nice, rich serum on the days you don’t have to wear makeup is a must.
Favourite beauty bargain?
Tom Ford Black Orchid .
Bright Pink Lipstick Day – Fact Box
- Pink Hope is Australia’s only genetic cancer charity developed to support families who face hereditary cancer. Bright Pink Lipstick Day, launched in 2012, raises money to help high-risk families to be educated, informed and be proactive, ultimately helping them take the right step to reduce the risk of cancer.
- Pink Hope founder and BRCA1 carrier, Krystal Barter, was 22 when she discovered she had the gene fault that gave her an 85% chance of developing breast cancer and up to 65% of ovarian cancer. Krystal’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had all fought breast cancer.
- In 2009, at age 25 and with two young sons, Krystal had a pre-emptive double mastectomy. Krystal is now a healthy 30-year-old Mum of three children and plans to have her ovarian preventative surgery in 2014 to make a final stand against her family’s cancer curse.
- In Australia, it’s believed nearly 250,000 men and women carry a hereditary gene that puts them at increased risk of breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancers.
How You Can Help Raise Money and Awareness
Bright Pink Lipstick Day is supported by Revlon, who are releasing a limited edition shade called ‘Pink Hope’, on sale in September from Priceline, Target and selected pharmacies. Revlon will donate $25,000 from sales of the limited edition lipstick to Pink Hope.
Gather your girlfriends, pop on your brightest lipstick, pucker up, pout and pose for a good-cause selfie. Share your good work on social media using hashtags #brightpinklipstickday #pinkhopeaus #revlon and make a donation to Pink Hope. For more information on how to donate visit www.pinkhope.org.au
She did an “Angelina Jolie” long before Angelina did it herself. But while the superstar received global recognition for undergoing a preventative double mastectomy and sharing her experience for the benefit of other women, Krystal Barter’s decision to have the surgery was at time when it was little-discussed or understood.
The lack of information and professional psychological support available in 2008 left the then-25-year-old Sydney mum of two young boys with a devastating sense of isolation and anxiety. Despite the unwavering help and encouragement of her husband, Chris, family and many friends, Krystal felt very much alone.
Rather than succumb to her turmoil she was inspired by her mother, a breast cancer survivor, to channel her experience into a crusade to make the journey a whole lot easier for others in future.
It was conceived in her hospital bed while Krystal was recovering from her preventative double mastectomy and, in 2009, Pink Hope was born. It is Australia’s first online community focusing on informing, empowering and supporting women at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer and their families.
On September 20, Pink Hope is staging its annual Bright Pink Lipstick Day, encouraging women to “wear, share and show you care”; to raise awareness of breast and ovarian cancers as well as funds for Pink Hope’s work. But more of that shortly …
When Krystal made the monumental decision to have both breasts pre-emptively removed and reconstructed, she had lived in the shadow of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers her whole life.
“I grew up part of a family where pretty much every woman didn’t have any breasts,” she says. “Of the 25 women in our extended family, 80 per cent of them died from breast and/or ovarian cancer. My great-grandma was 68 when she was diagnosed. My Nan was 44. My mum, Julie, was only 36. So I also grew up scared I was going to get cancer.”
Krystal’s mother and grandmother were among the first women in Australia to be tested for and diagnosed with the BRCA1 (breast cancer) gene fault, the same as Angelina Jolie’s, which meant that Krystal was at very high risk for developing the disease.
Yet she wasn’t emotionally ready to be tested until she was 22 and cradling her first baby son in her arms. It was then she decided she was finally ready for “the gift of knowledge”. It wasn’t for another three years, however, that she was ready to contemplate a preventative mastectomy and only then when an abnormal mammogram result tipped the balance.
“I wanted to live my life, not under the cloud of cancer, but in happiness with my kids,” she recalls. “I decided, right then and there, book me in. Losing my breasts was such a small price to pay. I had the operation and it felt like my new life started.”
Nevertheless the decision wasn’t a clear-cut one, and nor did she simply recover from her surgical wounds and breeze on with her “new life”.
Preventative mastectomy, even as recently as five years ago, was shrouded in myth and mystery and the lack of information available created a sense of isolation that Krystal found traumatic.
But from childhood, Krystal’s mum had encouraged her to help other people, particularly through charity work. This was the genesis of Pink Hope, “a support network, source of accredited information, haven of support and trusted place to ask questions. [It] is a testament to Krystal’s spirit and dedication,” according to a testimonial when she was nominated for the 2012 NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year award.
“With more than 2500 forum members, millions of web visits, 28,000 social media followers and 100 national ambassadors, the website highlights the importance of Krystal’s storytelling and rare ability to bring people together to raise the profile of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.”
Krystal, now 30 – and with a third child, daughter Bonnie, added to her brood since her surgery – demurs. “I’m just an example of the 120,000 Australian women who walk this journey every day,” she says. “Having experienced the isolation and lack of information for women like me first hand, I decided to be proactive about helping others.
“I didn’t have anyone to talk to who had gone through what I was going through – throughout my journey from being a young girl whose mother, grandmother and great grandmother had breast cancer, to the genetic testing and the anxiety of knowing I had an 87 per cent chance of breast cancer and up to a 60 per cent chance of ovarian cancer.
“Then there was the preventative surgery itself. There was no support outside the doctor’s office to help me understand my risk and options.
“I thought, `Why hasn’t someone created something to help people like me?’ And then I realised `I am the someone and I’ve got to do it’.
“I came out of surgery knowing I was the first woman in my family who wouldn’t have to battle breast cancer. I felt strong and alive and, for the first time in so long, I felt like `me’ again. I wanted to share this feeling with others and make sure no woman had to go through what I went through alone.
“So as I lay in my hospital bed, I got on my laptop and started Pink Hope. And here we are.”
Bright Pink Lipstick Day came about because “I wanted to give families like mine a day globally that belonged to them,” Krystal says. “I’m a girly girl at heart. I love to wear bright lipstick, so that was the start.
“A big part of the community we’ve created is to be engaging, positive and bright and I wanted to create an awareness day that reflected that.
Wearing bright pink lipstick is a fun and fabulous way to increase awareness and also engage with the community in a way that they can enjoy and share.
“We’ve also aligned Bright Pink Lipstick Day with Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Month in the US to raise awareness as much as we can on an international, as well as national, level.”
Revlon is a major sponsor of Bright Pink Lipstick Day and, indeed, has created a Limited Edition Pink Hope lipstick that is available this month from Target, Priceline and selected pharmacies.
“By slicking on your brightest pink Revlon lipstick, you are promoting the importance that all women everywhere should be proactive about their breast and ovarian health by investigating their family history,” Krystal adds.
Says Janet Muggivan, Revlon Corporate Communications Asia/Pacific: “Revlon has supported women’s cancers for many years now. The Los Angeles and New York Revlon Runs/Walks have become famous for the funds raised going to women’s cancers.
“We believe Pink Hope is a valuable resource and, as someone who has actually walked that path, Krystal’s work is invaluable to women dealing with cancer.
“Pink Hope and the Bright Pink Lipstick Day have the perfect synergy with Revlon, whose core message is for women to use makeup to express themselves.”
Other business sponsors include Deshabille, Running Bare, Murchison-Hume and Skipping Girl, “who have created gorgeous products and in-store sales for Pink Hope,” says Krystal. “Going Up Elevators has given us an office within their warehouse and space to store everything.
“My family lives and breathes Pink Hope – my mum and grandmas help in the office as well. We literally have one part-time employee and a small group of people who volunteer their time when they can.
“There have been so many amazing people who have helped me along the way. My husband, Mum, Dad and my Nans. They have helped me pack boxes, attend fundraisers, cleaned my house when things have got incredible busy … so much else. It’s a real family effort.
“[Nine Network Today Show co-host] Karl Stefanovic is also an amazing family friend. He made sure Today supported me when we started Pink Hope and has been there ever since. I am so grateful for his support and friendship.
“Bright Pink Lipstick Day is our one big event that can help us to create a more permanent team and help us help the community that no one else is putting the time into.
“We are hopeful we can raise significant money so Pink Hope can grow and keep up with demand. I desperately would love to have a genetic counsellor who works alongside me making sure all the information, support mechanisms and families are supported at a high health care level.”
Although Krystal was in fact the pioneer, she can’t thank Angelina Jolie enough.
“It wasn’t until May this year when we were called upon as the only unique charity to pass comment on Angelina’s story around the country and in the UK that I felt the media, health care community and philanthropic sector could see how truly valuable Pink Hope is,” she says.
“I hope people will give generously to Bright Pink Lipstick Day – either by fundraising, donating, becoming a sponsor or holding a workplace event. Any donation, however big or small, won’t be a drop in the ocean. It will make a huge difference to our charity.”
Krystal’s passion for making other women more at peace with their journey is sharing tit-bits, if you’ll pardon the pun, of personal information about her own experience.
She was recently chatted up by a hopeful admirer, who admired her new-ish cleavage (which she says is better than the one Nature provided). “I said to him, `Well, you know I don’t have any nipples?’. He just replied, `Then you’re the sexiest woman without nipples I’ve ever met …’.”
To learn more about Pink Hope and how to participate in Bright Pink Lipstick Day, visit www.pinkhope.org.au.
Jenni Gilbert is a longtime journalist with a passion for sourcing and sharing information about how to look and feel better, inside and out. Jenni’s resume includes Editor-in-Chief of New Idea, launch editor of Good Medicine magazine, London correspondent for Fairfax’s The Sun newspaper – she even covered the wedding of Charles and Diana! – Deputy Editor of Who, senior writer for Woman’s Day, News & Features Editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly and much more. Family, friends, her cat, travelling, Pilates, yoga, holistic health and anti-ageing treatments are what makes Jenni’s life go round.
Boys Do Cry
Men who’ve been through it agree – one of the toughest ordeals in life is to watch a woman they love suffer breast cancer.
As one man put it: “I hit the bottle to numb the pain and help me cope.”
Studies of men whose partner has breast cancer show the following:
? Almost 40 per cent of men had high levels of anxiety and depression;
? 40 per cent had nightmares and sleep disorders;
? More than 25 per cent experienced loss of appetite;
? More than 40 per cent reported their ability to work was temporarily adversely affected.
What men can do
The challenge for men whose partner or loved on has breast cancer is twofold.
The first is to acknowledge that unlike other challenges in life, breast cancer isn’t something men can “fix”.
Yet there are several practical actions men can take to make things better for themselves and family members.
One is to follow their instincts when it comes to becoming better informed about breast cancer, and seeking help with practical, day-to-day issues in families.
Perhaps more challengingly, men need to take actions that promote better emotional health for themselves and family members.
The National Breast Cancer Centre has set up dedicated resources to support friends, families and colleagues of those affected by breast cancer. Here are some practical things you can do to help make it easier for you which, in turn, will also make it easier for her.
? Don’t pretend its okay.
? Talking helps make it better, not worse.
? Truthfully acknowledge the impact this has on your life and relationship.
? Don’t maintain a stiff upper lip. You also need support and understanding.
? It’s okay to cry.
? Let her know your feelings and fears.
? Get information about the illness.
? Ask for help with practical things like picking up the kids, doing the shopping.
? Realise its still okay to have fun.
For more information visit www.breasthealth.com.au call the National Cancer Information Service on 131120 (for the cost of a local call, excluding mobiles.)
If you have a breast change, you may be concerned that you have breast cancer. In most cases there is nothing to worry about. However you should follow up all breast changes as soon as possible. If it is cancer, finding it early will mean a much better chance of effective treatment.
Possible signs of breast cancer include the following:
- Lumps, lumpiness or thickening. For younger women, if it is not related to the normal monthly cycle and remains after your period. For all women, if this is a new change in one breast only
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast or dimpling of the skin
- An area that feels different to the rest
- Changes to the nipple, such as change in shape, crusting, a sore or ulcer, redness or indrawing of the nipple
- A discharge from the nipple, which is from one nipple, is bloodstained or occurs without squeezing (or if you are over 60 and have a new discharge)
- A pulling in of the nipple (know as nipple inversion or retraction)
- Persistent unusual pain which is not related to your menstrual cycle, remains after your period and is in one breast only
Most breast changes are not breast cancer.
A lump or other change in the breast or nipple could be caused by:
- Hormonal changes
- Lumpy or Fibrocystic Breasts
Hormonal changes may cause swollen, painful or tender breasts during your menstrual cycle. These are not a sign of breast cancer and usually do not require treatment.
- Hormones are produced by glands in the body
- For pre-menopausal women, breast changes may mean your breast feels different at different times of the month
- If you have been through menopause and are not taking hormone replacement therapy, or had your ovaries removed, you will no longer have breast changes due to hormonal activity
Breast pain is normally linked to hormonal change and is quite common. It seldom indicates breast cancer. If you are concerned about persistent breast pain you should consult your doctor. Treatments are available for hormonal breast pain.
You may like to keep a record of breast changes over a couple of months to see whether the changes occur throughout the month or seem to be more permanent.
For more information about National Breast Cancer Foundation, visit www.nbcf.org.au
The Mother’s Day Classic is the largest charity-focused fun run in Australia.
The event kicks off at 7.30 am at Sydney’s Domain and 9.30 am at Melbourne’s Tan Track. And it’s not all exercise! Enjoy food stalls, giveaways, celebrities, information on breast cancer research, entertainment, face painting and jumping castles for the kids.
For more information see www.mothersdayclassic.org
In part one of Julie Barter’s story we learned that Julie, like her mother and grandmother before her, had developed breast cancer. In this part, we follow Julie on her courageous journey of survival and through her treatment and recovery.
“I had both of my breasts removed,” says Julie who, while having cancer only in her right breast opted for this most radical treatment. Presented with various alternatives including a lumpectomy to remove the cancer (and her nipple) Julie decided to have both breasts removed and rebuilt. “Reconstruction which was the most amazing thing that I could have possibly had done,” she enthuses about the procedure that restored her curves – and confidence. I can’t resist the urge to find out whether she asked for an extra cup size in the reconstruction?
“I did! I did!” laughs Julie, whose ability to talk with such poignant honesty about breast cancer and her treatment in magazines, newspapers and on radio is helping women around Australia understand this disease and all it’s effects.
“I had fed both my babies, for 12 months, both of them because I wanted to give my children every chance of the best and I thought ‘Right, let’s feed them for that long.’ And of course, my boobs were sort of looking down at the ground for that reason. They were sweet little things, but nothing that I could say ‘Oh wow! I’m going to lose these!” says Julie, reflecting on her decision to have a double mastectomy.
“I finished reconstruction a year after I had my breast removed and I felt like I was losing everything. I had nothing left, in fact my little boy said to me I’m a ‘she-man.’ And it was just a little joke with him, but it made me feel ‘Oh, my gosh, I haven’t got much left that’s a womanly thing!’ With having breast cancer and having reconstruction, I am so happy I had reconstruction, I don’t think I would have coped so well without reconstruction. It has made me a much more positive person. I always say that my plastic surgeon who did my breasts is my creator because she created me again. It’s like a work of art. ”
“I’ll never forget the day I came home after having the final part when they put the implants in and I came home from hospital. It was my birthday. Megan Hassal, who is my plastic surgeon, said to me ‘Go home, it’s your birthday.’ So I went home for my birthday and we had a lovely barbecue out the back and I had my boobs out showing everyone, it was like the unwrapping of the birthday present! I was so excited! I was just thrilled with what I had, I mean when you go through all that, and it’s so devastating and you’re so petrified when they unwrap your breasts to see what you’ve got, and when they actually unwrapped them I thought ‘Ooh, they’re too small!’ Of course I was lying down and when they sat me up there was two lovely round melons! So I flashed them. I don’t know how many times I flashed them to people,” says Julie.
Julie Barter, cancer survivor
- 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.”
“When we look back at this it’s funny? Oh my god, the poor doctor was going to just tell me the results! I was just having a bit of a giggle with my mum after this and I went back into the room to get the results and my mother was behind me. When I heard the results, my face said it all to my mother. My mother just collapsed. I collapsed, but my mother was worse than I was. She fell apart, because she felt like she’d given me this disease. It was just devastating for her as a mother to have to watch her mother and her daughter going through this disease and she knew what I was going to have to go through,” says Julie of her darkest hour.
“We rallied together, but I actually had to support my mother for the first few days because my mother couldn’t cope. Her clock stopped for a period of three days. She couldn’t control her emotions and she didn’t want to talk to anyone and basically gave up for a few days until we said to her ‘Come on Mum, we’ll get through this together. We’ve done it before and we’ll get through it again,” says Julie, her strength of will and determination that saw her battle life threatening cancer evident from the start.
In what is perhaps one of the saddest moments in Julie’s moving story, her mother’s devastation on hearing her daughter’s news was so debilitating that she was unable to accompany her daughter to hospital. “Basically when it came to me going to hospital, my mum couldn’t go with me. It was too distressing for her. My husband and my mother in law came with me. My mother in law had been on every trip I?d been to the hospital so it was just another one for her to go on,” she says.
“That was a very emotional time because when I was going to theatre, when that trolley comes for you to take you off to theatre, it’s horrendous, it’s like you’re going to Hell. And that’s where I felt like I was going and I felt that there was going to be no next day for me. I wanted to give up at this stage. I just thought ‘This is such as sad thing and why is it happening to me? I haven’t done anything wrong in my life? Why? Why? Why? It’s not fair.’
“You’re so angry. And the threat of being taken away from your family is the most horrific thing for me. That was the threat to me. I knew that Mark [Julie?s husband] would get on with his life, he was a man and he was a strong man. But my children weren’t that strong,” confesses Julie in a flood of emotion as she remembers the fear she felt at the thought of leaving her young children motherless.
Julie suddenly interrupts her account with an urgent plea to all women. “I just want to say something. My cancer was detected very early because of research. Thanks to research my life was saved. Without that I wouldn’t be here today.”
Read the second part of Julie’s remarkable story on SheSaid next week as we follow her through her treatment and recovery, and look towards the future.
In the meantime, support breast cancer research this Mother’s Day by participating in the Women In Super ‘Mother?s Day Classic’ held in Sydney and Melbourne. Proceeds from the largest charity-focused fun run in Australia go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s research projects. For more information about information on the race see The Mother’s Day Classic web site or call the National Breast Cancer Foundation on 02 9235 3444.
By Sally Schofield
Who should do BSE?
Breast Cancer does not discriminate and has been known to affect even very young women.
- All women should begin practising BSE from an early age and ensure that it is a regular habit by the age of 25, especially if there is a family history of breast cancer. It is however, more common to find abnormalities over the age of 35.
- You should continue to do BSE throughout your life, as there is more risk of getting breast cancer as you
When should I check my breasts?
- Check your breasts once every month.
- BSE should be practiced at the same time every month. The best time is a couple of days after the end of your period, when your breasts are less tender or lumpy.
- If you no longer have periods choose a particular day such as the first day of each month to check.
A Guide to Breast Self Examination (BSE)
By doing BSE, you get to know how your breasts look and feel so you can see any changes that may appear. BSE is one way
LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Undress to the waist. Stand in front of a mirror in good light.
Get to know what your breasts usually look like so you can then see any changes that may appear.
What do I look for?
- Changes in the size and shape of your breasts.
- Any dimpling or puckering of the skin.
- Anything different about the nipple
Raise your arms above your head and
HOW TO CHECK YOUR BREASTS
Use the flat part of your fingers, not your fingertips, to feel each part of your breast. At each part you feel, circle firmly with the flat of your hand.
Check the whole area of the breast as shown in the picture to the right
Imagine a clock face on your breast. Begin at the midnight position at the outside edges of your breast and slowly circle inward. Cover the whole breast area, finishing with your nipple. Check your nipple. Behind your nipple there should be a little hollow. Then check right up into your armpit.
Feel your breasts
If you have smaller breasts you may find it easier to check them in the shower or standing in front of a mirror.
If you have larger breasts you might find it easier to lie down to check them.
In the shower or standing in front of the mirror
To check your right breast, put your right hand behind your head. Use your left hand to check your right breast. Now put your other hand behind your head and check your other breast in the same way.
What do I check for?
- Lumps, even if they are painless.
- Thickening in your breast.
- Any discharge from your nipple.
- Any other changes.
This position flattens your breast and makes it easier to feel any changes.
Now put your other hand behind your head. Put the pillow or towel under your other shoulder, and check your other breast in the same way.
If you find a lump or changes in your breast.
It is normal to be concerned if you find lumps or changes in your breasts.
If you notice any changes you should see your doctor straight away. It is far better to have any changes checked than ignore something that might be cancer. Your doctor can reassure you that everything is all right, or refer you to a specialist for further tests.
Your doctor or women’s health nurse can give you more information about BSE.
- From age 25, or earlier if you have a family history, check your breasts once a month.
- If you are aged 40 or over, also see your doctor once a year for a breast examination.
- If you are 50 or over, also have a screening mammogram (breast x-ray) every two years. Call BreastScreen on 13 20 50 to arrange an appointment for a free screening mammogram.
- See your doctor immediately if you notice any changes in your breasts.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
- www.breastcare4women.com – Includes FREE BSE Monthly Reminders.
- BreastCancerBreast Cancer Information Service Phone: 13 11 20 (within Australia).
- The Cancer Council NSW – www.cancercouncil.com.au.
- National Breast Cancer Centre – www.nbcc.org.au.
- Mayo Clinic – How to Examine your Breasts: www.mayoclinic.com/home?id=HQ00880.
- Health A to Z – Detecting Breast Lumps: www.healthatoz.com/atoz/breast/breastdet.asp.