Diabetic, pregnant and diagnosed with breast cancer
I'm Lisa White. I was born and bred in the UK, I came to New Zealand in 1994 as a traveller and fell in love with Queenstown. After 6 months I applied for residency and was lucky enough to make Queenstown my home. I met my husband in Queenstown, a kiwi from Christchurch originally and we married on a piece of land we had bought in Gibbston in 1999.
At the age of 36, in December 2004 I found a lump in my right breast but did not really suspect anything untoward. I went to my GP and he referred me to have a Fine needle aspiration test on the lump to identify any issues. The test came back inconclusive so I was then referred to Kew hospital with an outpatient appointment the week before Christmas. I was told that there would be a follow-up appointment with an ultrasound but not to worry as it did not feel like anything serious.
Also in December 2004, I found out I was pregnant with my first child and being a type 1 diabetic this came with its own set of challenges. It was early March before I realized that I needed to follow up with the appointment they had mentioned just before Christmas. In Mid March I travelled to Invercargill now 16 weeks pregnant and after an ultrasound, mammogram and core biopsy I started to really worry. The doctors wanted me to come back the next day to talk to the consultant so I stayed the night in Invercargill.
The next day was not a good day. The consultant basically told me I had Breast Cancer and that he would need to operate as soon as possible.
Not only did I have to deal with the fact that I had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer I also had to face the fact that my unborn child was going to be exposed to surgery and chemotherapy. We were terrified as there was very little information around on how this would affect our unborn child.
A lumpectomy revealed the cancer had spread to some lymph nodes and shortly after I started chemotherapy. You would not wish chemotherapy on anyone let alone someone who was pregnant. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do and to this day I don't know how we made it through. I had 5 treatments of chemotherapy and was around 33 weeks pregnant when I had my last treatment.
At 36 weeks I went into labour and had my beautiful daughter Abigail. We had a cordbank taken to preserve the precious stem cells for fear that we may need them for her later on in life.
Six weeks after giving birth we went to Dunedin and I started 6 weeks of radiation. This hit me really hard, and my breast really suffered probably due to the fact that my body was going through so many other hormonal changes.
My originally diagnosis did not test for HER 2. It was about 6 months later that my mother sent me an article from the UK on Herceptin and asked if I was Her 2 +. I was not sure but I managed to get my original cell sample tested to reveal that I was Her 2 +. I flew to Auckland to see a private doctor who was administering Herceptin. We got the quote and made the decision to start the 12 month course. Not only did I have to pay for the drugs but I also had to leave my 6 month old daughter and husband and fly to Auckland every 3 weeks to have the drugs. It was a very tough time both mentally and physically.
After 5 treatments of Herceptin I was lucky enough to get in touch with a doctor in Dunedin who was willing to prescribe Herceptin to be administered in Queenstown which meant I was able to have the remaining treatments locally. This made the hugest difference - not having to be way from home and family for each treatment, not to mention the money saved by not having to fly to Auckland overnight every three weeks.
I finished my 12 months treatment in May 2007, just around the time that the Herceptin issue regarding whether the drug was to be funded in NZ was in the media.
While I realize that financially Pharmac cannot approve every drug for funding, I do not understand the logic of their decision process that can turn down a specific course of drug that is proven to work and has been approved in so many other developed countries. Why should people in New Zealand not be able to have the same type of access to such life saving drugs based on the fact they live in the wrong country. My treatment cost us around $100,000. The thought that I may have die before my 40th birthday because I did not have access to a drug, leaving a loving husband and daughter is heartbreaking.
It has been a year and half since my last treatment of Herceptin. In October 2008 we decided to try and have another baby. While not specifically tested we could not find any medical reason as to why we should not try, apart from that fact that I may just not be able to get pregnant so we gave it a go. Unfortunately we had a miscarriage at 7 weeks but it became apparent that this was quite common and not related to my situation so we then tried again.
On September 12th 2008 I gave birth to a healthy wee boy we named Dylan. Despite my diabetes my pregnancy was, I have to say easy compared to the first time round.
While my fear of the breast cancer coming back never goes away I have learned to enjoy life while you have it and try and live as normal a life as you can. We now have our work cut out with two beautiful children and hopefully that�s my main challenge for the future!