The story of my journey
When life was busy with work and family, Nadine says that her breast cancer diagnosis forced her to learn how to slow down and truly understand what it means to look after herself. In this story, she shares her tips and tools for navigating the impact of treatment and controlling the controllable while describing her personal experience with breast cancer.
Written by Nadine
3 October 2019 was the day the universe said it’s time to stop and look after you.
I discovered a lump in my left breast which propelled me into the unknown world of breast cancer – lost for words and scared, I felt numb.
Prior to my diagnosis, my role was a senior leader in the finance industry, passionate about developing people, connecting with the community and businesses while growing a large staff complement. My pace was fast.
On hearing my diagnosis, my thoughts were off the freeway and onto the dirt road!
As a wife and a mother of two gorgeous children, just 10 and 13 at the time, my husband and I chose to be open, real and transparent in the dialogue around cancer. I didn’t want to shield them from the reality of what might happen.
It amazes me how perceptive kids are. Their light-hearted approach has connected us on another level. A true blessing.
As for me, this traumatic experience required me to draw on my inner strength and the words that sprung to mind and helped me get through this were that it’s a case of ‘mind over matter’.
I started to journal how I felt and the experiences that I would encounter daily. I found it was the best tool for self-reflection and affirmation.
For my treatment, the wonderful multidisciplinary team at Macquarie University Hospital (MUH) immediately enabled trust.
Chemotherapy commenced in November 2019 with an aggressive regime, for the first four months. My reactions were deemed to be severe. Every day presented something new and uncomfortable. I was forced to listen to my body and rest.
Food lost its flavour and the pleasure of enjoying a meal was lost to a sterile metallic taste. My saviour was and still is fresh green juices, watermelon and paw paw, preferences which my body appreciates and loves.
The power of positive thinking is a very real thing which helped me to pick myself up when my body brought me down. Exercise became a priority as did research seeking out books and podcasts of similar experiences.
At no point did I ask myself, 'why is this happening to me?' I just accepted that this was the path I was meant to take, but it’s certainly had an effect on how I view the world.
I draw on my inner strength and I look for light in every day so that I can live my best life possible.
Still, losing my hair following the first treatment was devastating for me, I felt a loss of identity, I chose to shave my hair, which was scary and empowering at the same time.
I was prepared, I had my wigs, scarves and my eyebrows had been done with micro blading. I cannot recommend this enough to any women who feels this is important to them. It was something I could control, so I did.
Initial ancillary dissection through day surgery was done in March 2020. Cancer still present!
Through open communication with the multidisciplinary team, it was determined that I’d have radiation ahead of the mastectomy and reconstruction while continuing chemotherapy, an approach known as reverse sequencing.
I received a higher dosage of radiation over three weeks in April, at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown. This meant I drove myself to treatment and waited anxiously in the waiting area; sometimes able to engage in conversation and share in other’s experiences.
This contact was uplifting as radiation quickly tired me and, once, completed burnt my skin. The unknown was unsettling, with every day resulting in yet another side effect. This stage of treatment was lonely, yet the team at MUH were there every step of the way, most importantly helping with scar management. Today, these scars are no longer thanks to the power of silicone-based products! Thank you for helping me through this time with the right care, I am eternally grateful.
The date for impending bilateral mastectomy with full DIEP reconstruction (using my own tissue) was critical in the reverse sequencing, performed in June 2020, six weeks after radiation.
The result? My breasts look similar to me and I am now cancer free!
I recall asking my surgeon, ‘did you get it?’ He said ‘yes’ and my tears didn’t stop for 24 hours – tears of absolute joy.
I spent 10 days in hospital recovering after my surgery. Only my husband could visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, which was hard on me and the kids, but FaceTime is a wonderful thing.
A slow healing process followed; exercise and rest playing key roles in recovery as I was still dealing with the effects of radiation.
Exercising remains a priority and I have engaged an exercise physiologist for a tailored approach.
Achieving daily goals has been amazing because I’ve allowed myself to redefine my measure of success.
I have spent a lot of time on the virtual balcony becoming more aware of my needs and prioritising what’s really important to me, grateful for the ability to recognise and draw on my inner strength.
I walk a lot, drink fresh juices, eat healthily and take the time to care for my body. I've become very good at recognising when I need to stop.
Through this traumatic experience I have been blessed with beautiful people who care and have been my support: my amazing husband, wrapping me in unconditional love, my children, parents and siblings along with some amazing women who have made it their duty to keep me active, laughing and healthy, I am so grateful for their love and support.
My hope in sharing this story is that you are able to know you are not alone.
Through this experience, I have learnt to look after me on another level. I have learnt to be still and present and that there is so much beauty in living in the moment.
‘You’ve got this!’ is a phrase I remind myself of daily, as my journey with treatment continues.