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-by Allison

Last year I was leading a busy life, working part time and taking care of my two beautiful kids, while also supporting my sister through her breast cancer journey.

So much has changed. In fact, 2019 feels like a lifetime ago.

Given my family history with breast cancer and following my sister’s recent diagnosis, it was recommended that I have a mammogram and ultrasound which revealed high grade DCIS in November last year.

The diagnostic stage was quite stressful. I went through mammograms, ultrasounds, fine needles, seven biopsy attempts and a hook wire excision.

I chose to have a double mastectomy for a few reasons. My family history, I had small breasts, the DCIS was in my cleavage, and the density of my breasts had led to multiple biopsies and MRI’s with inconclusive results.

I was happy I had a plan. I was ready to go through treatment and get back to my busy lifestyle.

That’s when COVID-19 hit and suddenly my plans were halted. My double mastectomy and immediate breast reconstruction was cancelled two weeks out from the scheduled date.

I was devastated. I no longer had a plan and was trying to make decisions at a time when no one could tell me what was and wasn’t possible.

Personally, I just couldn’t face a mastectomy without the reconstruction, so I had two excisions to remove the DCIS with clear margins and waited until my surgery could be rescheduled.

Luckily for me, the first lockdown was brief and a new surgery date was set for June 25.

The four days I was in hospital was hard without support. Most of all, it was heartbreaking to go that long without seeing my kids. It was the first time I’d been away from them so it felt really long.

I was also anxious about infection control with COVID-19 case numbers going up in Melbourne. Sharing bathrooms and equipment seemed strange in that environment and I was petitioning to be let out by day three.

But the operation had knocked me around a bit. Day one I had to have a chest x-ray for a partial collapsed lung and I was vomiting all day. Day two was much better and I was discharged on day four.

Straight after the surgery I was ready to move on. Mentally I had already put it all behind me when my surgeon called. She told me my diagnosis had changed from high grade DCIS to multifocal micro invasive stage 1 grade 3 HER2 positive ductal carcinoma.

The revised diagnosis was a shock to me. I thought she was calling due to a site infection I had at the time, but instead she wanted to discuss my subsequent treatment which included chemotherapy and Herceptin.

It was anxiety provoking doing chemotherapy during COVID-19. Attending hospitals and wearing a mask throughout treatments was unsettling, but the nurses were incredibly kind and tried to normalise things.

COVID-19 impacted my treatment and my emotional self throughout.

All the exercise physiology I am doing is done through Telehealth. I think it would be better in person and I would’ve liked to have massage treatments done but this isn’t possible yet.

My kids were impacted too. We were advised by both specialists in June that they needed to stop attending kinder. It was really hard watching them miss out.

We were also extremely vigilant prior to surgery and throughout chemo, which affected us all. We didn’t go out unless it was for exercise, we had all our groceries delivered and we washed any parcel that arrived.

One positive from COVID-19 is that everything slowed down and it has given me a chance to feel more connected to my family and friends.

The busy life I once had feels so foreign and now this existence of the life I live feels slow and isolated. So much has changed since my diagnosis, and for the most part we have enjoyed the slower pace.

I won’t lie, it was difficult, especially trying to help my children understand that I would be okay. That the medicines and surgery would make mum better again.

I am looking forward to finishing chemo and moving back into my normal life very gradually.

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