My name is Rose.
I am 68 years old and have been married to Barry for 47 years. We have three sons aged 46, 45 and 44. I have lived a normal, healthy life (other than a hysterectomy in my early thirties after which I was put on HRT). I had some low times, and went through a lot of personal stress in the eighties and early nineties.
However in March 2001 that all changed. I was getting ready for bed and while putting on my top, my arm brushed my right breast and I noticed something different. Further examination revealed a small lump (the size of a small walnut). I saw my GP the next day and she arranged for a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy that afternoon.
The results revealed a positive test for cancer.
An appointment was made with John Harman at St. Marks in Auckland. A further appointment was made for me to see him a week later at his clinic in Tauranga. The first questions asked by doctors, after my cancer diagnosis, were: are you on or have you received HRT and have you experienced stressful periods? My answer to both questions was, "yes".
It was agreed that a mastectomy was needed and surgery was booked for May 2001 at Brightside Hospital in Auckland. A mastectomy plus a TRAM flap reconstruction was carried out on 1 May 2001. Unfortunately the TRAM flap was not successful and had to be removed some weeks later.
I then started a course of chemotherapy, which ended September 2001. This was followed by a course of radiation. My quality of life and health returned and things appeared to be on the up and up and I decided to have another reconstruction. This was done in June 2002.
The operation was successful but my recovery after surgery was not and I found myself fighting for my life. I was referred to a cardiologist and a stress echo test revealed that I had some blocked arteries. Fortunately medication was able to control this and stenting was not necessary. Once again my health returned and I thought I was ok.
In November 2002 a lump appeared in my lower neck and subsequent tests revealed 4 cancer lesions in my lungs, with one very close to my heart. I was referred to Dr. Ian Kennedy, an oncologist at Waikato Hospital. His concern was very evident, my type of cancer was very invasive and my condition was becoming critical. He informed me that he would try to obtain permission to use a particular drug. Over the next two weeks he rang me to see how I was doing, I kept telling him I was ok.
On 23 December 2002 he rang me to inform me that he had approval and I would have my first chemotherapy the following day 24 December 2002. The drug was a mixture of Herceptin and Vinorelbine, which was given to me weekly.
My husband and family arranged a lovely Christmas and on Christmas day I had a constant stream of friends calling. It was obvious what they were all thinking.
After several weeks, a scan of my lungs revealed a reduction in the size of the lesions. After some months, scans revealed the lesions had gone.
This period of time was very difficult, as I was in and out of hospital and really had no quality of life. It was the lowest part of my life. My friends and family were marvelous but I felt I had had enough.
After about 12 months I said to Dr. Kennedy that I had had enough and asked to be taken off the treatment. He decided to take me off the Vinorelbine and continue with Herceptin at three weekly intervals.
My health started to improve and my quality of life also returned. I now have quarterly scans and they show no sign of the cancer returning.
I know I am not cured and that cancer could return at any stage, but I am a positive person and with the help of my oncologist, cancer nurses and my GP, I aim to be around for a few years yet!
My one wish is that one day, Herceptin will be made available to all women in the early stages of breast cancer. It breaks my heart to see young mothers (with small children) receiving chemotherapy but not Herceptin.
I am living proof that Herceptin works and I will be forever thankful that I was given the chance to go on to the Herceptin treatment.
I hope I have not conveyed to you that I am now fit and healthy. I have bouts of depression when I feel tired of being sick and fragile, but I am able to pull myself out of it with the power of positive thinking. I suffer from terrible bouts of cramp some nights but they pass when I get heat on the affected areas. My lungs have been scarred and have reduced capacity causing breathing difficulties now and then. My immune system is also low making me vulnerable to colds and flu.
During my journey with cancer over the past seven years, I have met some lovely human beings - doctors, nurses, surgeons, x-ray staff, hospice nurses and friends to mention a few - and I know without their help and Herceptin, I would not be alive today. I am also blessed with a strong Christian faith and this has been my torch, guiding me through difficult periods along my cancer journey.
I have always kept myself fit and I am sure that this has been invaluable throughout my journey. I walk five days a week for an hour with a good friend and neighbor (who is also a survivor of breast cancer). We have done this for the past 13 years. I also enjoy ten-pin bowling and leisure marching.
I hope my story may be beneficial to someone.
My message is, “live every day to its fullest, don’t worry about tomorrow it will take care of itself, be happy, smile as much as possible and don’t take on board other people's problems”.
May God bless you all!