Breast cancer - then baby.

Kia ora, Boogie to my friends, Belinda to everyone else. I’m 34 years old with a 16 month old son to my partner Bryce. The three of us live in the Kapiti Coast area – where life by the sea couldn’t be any better. We recently moved out of Wellington City in search of what we all dream about, work/life balance. So far so good, I blame it on the sea breeze and the view of Kapiti Island from our beachfront property.

My journey, should I say our (whanau and friends’ journey), started with breast cancer only last year in April of 2007. Bryce and I have travelled to Byron Bay Australia to attend a wedding. I was nearly eight months pregnant and was looking forward to rolling around like a semi-beached whale in the golden sands that Bryon had to offer. We shacked up in the most harmonious yoga retreat 10 minutes out of Bryon Bay, nestled between the beach and rainforest. We were hell bent on having the most relaxing time we could before we became parents.

I remember it well, don’t we all who have discovered a lump on their breast. I paused momentarily, a pause of separation from everything else going on around you. A wave of anxiety came over me; my self-diagnosis was a possible milk cyst, why not? My hormones were all over the place anyway and it wasn’t uncommon for women to develop lumps during pregnancy that were benign. Our relaxing time away wasn’t so relaxed for me having discovered this lump. The thought that it could be something more sinister did cause me concern.

Back from Byron, appointment set up at Breast Clinic at Wellington Hospital. One visit became four more visits before I finally got to the bottom of the lump. First visit – couldn’t confirm either way due to hospital strikes. Second visit – Fine Needle Aspiration and the Doc couldn’t even pierce the wall of the lump to take a sample. Third visit – Surgeon says pathology results had determined that the sample taken from outside of the lump was ‘suspicious’. Fourth visit – core biopsy. Fifth visit – delivery of the results.

Four days before my son was due to be born, the words still resonate with me, “You have Breast Cancer”. If that wasn’t enough, I was HER2 positive. The diagnosis didn’t hit me until I was told that I would be unable to breastfeed. Knowing this killed me, killed me more than knowing that I had breast cancer.

With my focus being centered on the safe delivery of my son, I put all this breast cancer stuff to the side for the time being. Three weeks after Kye was born I meet with my oncologists. Whilst adjuvant therapy wasn’t recommended, the decision was over to me. So my research began. In the end my choice not to have chemo and Herceptin wasn’t a difficult one, I decided on radiotherapy only.

I am fit, healthy and young and this has got to count for something. Bryce and I gave serious thought to how we could fund a full year of Herceptin and were in no financial position to do so. We didn’t seek advice from family and friends, we pretty much decided from the outset that we would not ask family and friends to assist with funding; it is a big ask after all. This wasn’t important to us at the time, what was, was being fit, healthy for Kye. There was no way that I was prepared to be sick from Chemo whilst being a new young mum.

The words ‘holistic’ did not reverberate well with my surgeon, but after all it was my choice – right! We felt positive about our decision and from then on in I embarked on a lifestyle change. After all this discovery was telling me something about the life I had been living so, I decided to change a few things. Drink more red wine…… have to retain some vices! Food and other healthy supplements were a focus, fitness and general well-being. I have the all clear and remain positive that I will live a long and healthy life. Kye gives me life; I gave him life so I’m not going anywhere.

Being HER2 positive is still at the forefront of my thoughts as it undoubtedly puts me at greater risk of breast cancer reoccurring. On reflection my decision and approach to taking Herceptin may have been different if Pharmac were funding a full year of it. Having this option available not only to me but other woman out there would not leave us with the feeling of being given a possible death warrant – because in reality - it may well be for some.