About this story
Wendy was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer three times in three years.
She is an advocate for mental health and an example of why access to supportive care to support your physical and emotional wellbeing throughout your breast cancer experience is just as important as treating the cancer.
It was 2015. I was 46 years old, and I had two beautiful children, Cooper (7) and Lyla (14). Due to a family history of breast cancer, I attended my yearly scheduled mammogram and assumed I’d be in and out like every other year. You know, stick boobs in machine, quick chat to the doctor and I’d be on my way.
I was to learn this would be like no other year and instead would be the start of a very long ‘journey’ as the following Monday I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
I didn’t even know there were different types of breast cancer. My mother, aunt and other family members had hormone positive cancers. I learnt that triple negative breast cancer doesn’t respond to conventional hormone treatments resulting in a more complex case. I explain it like having three doors – estrogen, progesterone & HER2 protein. When you are hormone positive, doctors have keys to unlock the doors, but when you are triple negative, there are no keys.
I underwent a lumpectomy at the time, and then a bilateral mastectomy with breast reconstruction a few months later. As I apparently love a challenge, there were complications and I ended up having five surgeries instead of two that year due to infections in my right breast, but by October of that year I felt ready to start fresh in 2017!
Of course, life had other plans for me, and it turns out you can get breast cancer again even if you’ve had a mastectomy. In February 2017, I was diagnosed with a recurrence in the lymph nodes of my right armpit. This time around I experienced all the ‘joys’ of chemotherapy and radiation and just as a bonus, along with hair loss, constant nausea, and lethargy, the universe decided to grant me a few extra stays in hospital due to shingles and septicaemia (blood poisoning).
Throughout that time, I learnt how important it was to have the right people around me, both medically and personally.
My treating ‘Dream Team’ included by breast care nurse, Carmel, who is still in my life today, as well as my GP, oncologist, and surgeon. They were all crucial in me receiving the best care.
I learnt that having cancer wasn’t only about treating the disease. It takes a big toll on you physically and emotionally and I was grateful to have my psychologist with me throughout my cancer experience, who I had been seeing since 2012. She has this rare ability to ‘calm my crazy’ and played such an important role in my life during and after treatment.
To this day she is my keeper of secrets and has helped me gain the confidence to stand up for myself, leave toxic friendships and has given me the tools to handle situations I inevitably find myself in that do not serve my best interests.
Having access to mental health support saved my life and enabled me to go from simply surviving to thriving
I have learnt to put myself first and then take care of everyone else, like when the cabin crew on a flight tell you to put on your mask in the event of a plane crash before helping others.
I have learnt that it is okay to ask for help. Being independent I found this particularly challenging, however as treatment went on, I got to a point where I knew I couldn’t manage on my own.
At the end of 2017, I was shown the compassion and generosity of people at its best. My girlfriend arranged a surprise party for me which was mind-blowing! What was even better was that $10k was raised for our little ‘Team Dean’ which was fantastic. I was truly overwhelmed, and I hope you all get to experience that feeling at least once in your life. I thought this gift was going to get us back on our feet and put the past couple of years behind us.
Little did I know how much we would need those funds. Just a few short months later, in January 2018 I randomly stuck my hand underneath my right armpit and felt another lump – for reals! Another recurrence in the lymph nodes. Three times in three years! I thought cancer was going to get me for sure this time – who wouldn’t? Daily radiation kicked off again just after my 48th birthday and after further clearance surgery I was given the all clear in the July, ending the three year odyssey.
This was the year I engaged a psychiatrist and I’m still on medication to this day to manage panic attacks, anxiety around recurrence, and depression.
I appreciate my outcome could’ve been much worse. I am one of the lucky ones and take nothing for granted. I wholly believe this experience happened for me, not to me, and I know I survived three rounds in the ring for a reason.
I am a completely different person to who I was in 2015. All the little changes like practicing gratitude, appreciating life, and letting go of all the things that were weighing me down. Something has changed in me, not just physically but also emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually.
I’m blessed to be cancer free and believe me, now I’ve survived, I’m going to thrive in my Second Act. I know that as long as I’m not dead, my story is not over, and I have the opportunity to write the most amazing chapters!
Finding your ‘why’ will fuel your motivation. Mine, for now, is my children, to give them the best life I can.
I love that we are now in a time when mental health is no longer the taboo subject it once was. I am a huge advocate and encourage everyone to engage a professional, an outsider who will have an unbiased, unique perspective of your life compared to your friends or family.
Of course, don’t expect to solve your problems in one session. It takes time to establish trust and find the courage to dig deep to find what is holding you back from living or becoming the best version of you.
These days I am passionate about devoting my time to raising awareness of triple negative breast cancer and the importance of addressing and maintaining your mental health. I’m grateful to wake up every day and remember there is something special about each one of us – I encourage you to find your special.
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