Hi, my name is Mandy Carter. I am 37 and live in sunny Nelson with my lovely husband, Brett and our two adorable children, Hamish (6) and Abby (5).
In February 2007 I found a large lump in my left breast following two weeks of both breasts being tender and sore. Testing found this to be Grade 3 breast cancer – so a mastectomy and lymph node removal followed. I felt really positive following my surgery, the breast had been removed, the cancer had gone; I would be fine.
The check up 10 days later changed that positive attitude somewhat – I was Her2 positive. I had already spent hours on the internet and realised that Her2 positive in young people was very aggressive and my chances of seeing my children grow up had been greatly diminished.
I kept holding on to something my cancer support person had told me, she had said ‘if you are Her2 positive you are lucky because there is Herceptin’. Those words have stayed with me and pulled me out of some dark moments throughout my cancer journey.
Chemotherapy followed and then a three week stint in Christchurch for radiotherapy. My long curly hair was a thing of the past. Lots of people have asked me what chemo felt like – you know how you say when you are tired ‘I could hardly lift my head off the pillow’, well, during chemo you literally can’t lift your head off the pillow!!!
Before chemo I detested hot baths. During my last four cycles of chemotherapy I was having three to four hot baths a day – it was the only place I could get comfortable.
Finding out that my Herceptin would cost $80,000 was gut wrenching in the middle of all this! After an amazing effort by my incredible friends, family and local community we raised the full amount needed and I had a full 12 months' treatment.
With the help of our local National MP, Nick Smith, I started a petition which was presented to parliament with over 27,464 signatures in the hope that some change would be made so that ladies in the future would not have to face this huge added burden.
Compared to chemo Herceptin was relatively “side effect free”. A sore back and tiredness were the only two noticeable things and they continue today, three months since my last treatment.
I am not sure what my predicted outcome is – my theory is before Herceptin I had a 50/50 chance of being alive in 5 years. I reckon Herceptin has added another 30 per cent and through lifestyle changes I have added another 10 per cent – that makes 90% which in my eyes makes pretty good odds. I have too much to live for and too much to do so I am sticking to those odds!!!
My “spare boob” has become part of my family’s life and only seems an issue when we go swimming and my kids tell me that my boob is floating up too high!! My son never wants me to grow my hair long again and I am slowly getting my eyebrows back!
I still have my dark days and cry lots but that is slowly getting better as time goes by. One thing I find hard, as does my husband some days, is that I will never be the same person that I was before my cancer diagnosis.
Breast cancer is a life changing event with no set rules. It does makes you realise how many people care for you and love you and how you should treasure every moment with your friends, family and especially your gorgeous children.