Franny's Breast Cancer Journey

The end of August 2022 delivered news I thought would never happen to me – at age 42 with two boys under 3, you have breast cancer.  I didn’t think there was much more awareness that needed to be raised about breast cancer but I was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer (invasive lobular carcinoma).  It’s the 10 to 15 per cent of breast cancers that are soft and typically doesn’t form a hard mass or lump, so it is often diagnosed late. At the time of diagnosis, I was breastfeeding our almost one year old.  The changes to my breasts that occurred from my cancer, I confused with changes from breastfeeding.  I was lucky that what in hindsight was probably a pea sized blocked milk duct prompted me to get a referral from my GP to an amazing radiologist.
My ultrasound and mammogram were showing dense breasts but no obvious signs of cancer.  But my radiologist didn’t like how the tops of both my breasts were feeling and this prompted her to do further testing including biopsies and core samples on both breasts.  I kept telling her not to be concerned and the thickening texture she was querying me about was my milk from breastfeeding.  Luckily for me, turns out she was right and I was wrong. 
The day of diagnosis is a blur and all I really remember is my husband holding me as I cried and cried and cried and telling me we would get through this. Our devastation soon turned to a complete nightmare. In the week of diagnosis, further testing showed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and bones. I had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. 
The fear was immense.  How had I gone from a wife and mum of two young boys preparing to go back to work after maternity leave to receiving a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer and wondering whether I would see my boys grow up?
My oncologist explained that whilst my cancer was aggressive and had already spread, given it was estrogen receptor positive he was confident about putting me into remission for a very long time. Initially, I was too scared to ask how long is that? Being an optimist, I decided it meant seeing our boys grow up. And from that point on, that was my goal. We only told a small group the extent of my diagnosis, including my amazing Mum, Dad and sister. I only wanted people thinking positively about me and not talking about my chances.    


My treatment included 4 and a half months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with full lymph node removal on both sides, and 6 weeks of radiation. Then an agonising 3 month wait before I could have a second PET and CT scans to know if this treatment worked. I sat in my oncologist’s office gripping my husband's hand as we waited for the results. When he said “it’s good news” we instantly burst into the happiest of tears. A year of stress, tension and fear was released and our future for us and our boys became bright. 
Read together, the second PET and CT scan showed no evidence of cancer. The cancer in my bones had been killed off and new bone knitted in its place. The relief was magical. We again both cried the happiest of tears when my oncologist explained with ongoing medications to prevent a recurrence, he thought I would have decades.  To know my husband and I will have decades of hearing our sons laugh, be there for birthdays, holidays, sporting events, school milestones and grow into men is everything.  
It was only after we received the results of the second PET and CT scans I could tell people, beyond the small circle we initially told, how bad my diagnosis was.  So why am I now telling everyone? If I can help one woman get diagnosed earlier before the cancer metastases, that is why.  

Ladies, it’s not just hard lumps you are looking for. I’m so lucky that a pea sized blocked milk duct in one breast prompted me to get tested. But my cancer was not the size of a pea sized lump.  It was large in both breasts and was already spreading throughout my body.  The thickening at the top of my breasts that I was attributing to breastfeeding was in fact breast cancer.  Thickening in the breasts is a sign of breast cancer.  Know your breasts and all the breast cancer signs and symptoms – explained better than me by the Breast Cancer Network Australia here.
 If you had told me that in August 2022 I would be starting chemotherapy instead of returning to work after maternity leave, I would not have believed this was possible. I had no family history of breast cancer. Whilst I wish I never had breast cancer, I feel incredibly grateful and lucky for the support and love that surrounded us in our crisis.  I know I am fortunate to be in remission because of the brave women and men who battled this disease before me and the research by brilliant scientists and doctors that made the advancement in treatments I received possible. I owe my life to the brilliant medical team of my GP, radiologist, surgeon, oncologist, radiation oncologist and nurses who provided me with amazing care. A herculean effort was made by my husband, my Mum, Dad and sister and our amazing nanny who supported me and wrapped our boys up in so much love on the days I couldn’t get out of bed or was receiving treatment. There are too many friends to list that kept my spirits high.  I feel like the luckiest mum, wife, daughter, sister and friend who now gets to enjoy her loved ones for a very long time. Be proactive in managing your health, your loved ones need you.