I’m Tracey Ryan, I’m 49 and I have advanced breast cancer. I was diagnosed in February 2010, and despite a double mastectomy and several courses of chemotherapy, I was informed my diagnosis was terminal in September 2012.
I have been married for 28 years and have two children, a daughter in her mid-20s who has just started her career as a nurse, and a 15 year old son who is at school.
In early February 2010, I was in the Royal Children’s Hospital with my son, Leigh. He was an inpatient at the time and I was staying overnight with him in a very uncomfortable single sofa bed. I rolled over during the night and felt pain in my right breast. At the time, I pretty much put it down to the bed itself – they really were uncomfortable!
But a short time later, during a breast self-examination, I felt a lump. I told my husband and we made an appointment for the very next day. In what seemed no time at all I had a biopsy and was told I had stage 3, grade 4 breast cancer. My husband seemed more upset about it than me at the time, which struck me as odd. I half-expected that when I was diagnosed, the sky would fall in and that I would be devastated. I decided very quickly that I would fight it tooth and nail.
All of a sudden I had an oncologist – something I never thought I would ever have. And before I knew it, chemotherapy had started. Once my hair started to fall out I decided that I would get on the front foot, take charge and not be a victim. I called my wonderful hairdresser Jess and she came to my house. I had a few friends over; we had a few drinks and I got my head shaved before it all fell out. My son even got a No. 1 haircut as a show of support – a pretty cool thing for a 12-year-old to do.
I had many conversations with my oncologist and my surgeon - the end result was a fairly quick decision to have a double mastectomy in order to prevent the spread of the cancer.
After surgery was more chemotherapy, and a lot of medication. I have a great big plastic container with hundreds and hundreds of dollars’ worth of drugs in it. My husband jokes that I rattle when I walk because I take so many tablets every day. My husband jokes a lot, actually – I think it’s how he copes with it all. He doesn’t let on too much – but I know it devastates him.
Despite the surgery, my cancer spread. That was really hard to take, having gone through all the pain, disfigurement, cost and self-esteem issues. It had spread to my spine, which causes me strong back pain every day. And then it spread to a couple of my ribs, which was really bad news and now it is in my lung and liver. In May 2012 I was informed by my oncologist that my cancer was incurable, but that it could be slowed down. She tried to tell me how long I was likely to have left, but I refused to let her. I decided that I would not live my life waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. In other words, I made a decision to live, rather than waiting to die.
My family have been very supportive. The best thing about the three of them is that they don’t treat me like some sort of frail invalid on the verge of death. On the contrary, they often delight in having a gentle dig at me – which keeps everything relatively normal.
So – while there is life, there is hope. I intend to live as well as I can for as long as I can – in the hope that a cure is around the corner. My goal is to stay alive long enough to take advantage of that day when a cure is found.
My family and organisations like BCNA have been wonderful in helping me deal with this. I have attended BCNA events here and interstate and met amazing people from all over the country - some of whom have become close friends. The contact with these people and their partners and friends is a source of great comfort and hope and remind me constantly that I am not alone. The lines of communication with BCNA itself and its members mean that I can speak to someone about anything - almost at a moment’s notice when I really need it.
Such has been BCNA’s impact that it’s been the catalyst for me becoming a BCNA ambassador [Community Liaison]. Without BCNA’s services and support, I doubt I‘d have been able to find the motivation and inspiration to become involved to the extent I have. That’s what BCNA does for women with cancer – it reminds them that they’re not alone, and enables them to share their experiences and obtain support, encouragement and energy from other women in the same situation.
BCNA gave me the will and the support to fight on -- Tracey, Melbourne, June 2013.