About this story
In 2018 Paula was climbing a beautiful mountain on the Gold Coast when the last stage of the climb, which involves the use of pull-up chains, alerted her that something wasn't quite right.
Wednesday 11 July 2018 I was climbing a beautiful mountain on the Gold Coast Hinterland with my family. At 46-years-old and a mother of three teens it was an adventure together for the school holidays. As an active family we challenged ourselves to reach the summit at pace. The last stage of the climb, which involves the use of pull-up chains, I believe was the determinant of my diagnosis - one which saved my life!
The following day I felt a little discomfort in my left breast. At first, I put it down to muscular exertion from the use of chains to reach the summit. That night however I knew something wasn’t right. Being a regular body pump attendee at gym I knew my muscles were strong and that a little chain pull could not be the cause. I began to feel a tingling sensation behind my nipple and thought I could feel a palpable lump.
I was concerned about this unusual sensation over the weekend and that following Monday prior to my PACU Nursing shift I booked in to see my GP. You see, I am a very proactive person and a believer in ‘trusting your bodily instincts’.
My GP wasn’t concerned at all given I was the picture of health, very fit, and had a negative mammogram result only 16 months prior. She however acted on her ‘duty of care’ and referred me on for a mammogram.
It was this day that I knew my perfect world was going to change. Being a health care worker myself I knew instantly that when the ‘Big Wigs’ were called in to perform breast biopsies, something sinister must be present.
As usual my ‘gut instinct’ was confirmed. I was diagnosed with invasive left oestrogen and her2+ breast cancer with lymph nodal involvement. I had shed my tears already on the day of having the biopsy as I knew a positive diagnosis was imminent. The funny thing is I never shed a tear again until five months later. I instantly followed the path of ‘fight’ against this cruel common cancer.
I had a port insertion a week later and began the gruelling path of unwanted treatments. Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and adjuvant therapies. I completed chemo and had a six-hour surgery, bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction with partial axillary clearance, only to be sent back to surgery for a full axillary clearance days later. My attending doctors then discussed my case and I was told I may possibly require further chemotherapy. This nearly broke me and I had tears for the second time since my diagnosis.
Until you go through this debilitating disease you never understand the physical and social impacts it has on oneself. Although working in the health industry for over 25 years assisted with my treatments, nothing could ever have fully prepared me.
I was loved by my family, colleagues and friends and I embraced every single one of them to help my ‘fight’. My beautiful netball family and friends threw me a ‘wig party’ to help me get through my hair loss, my work colleagues showered me with love and gifts, and my three beautiful teens were by my side every step of the way. Snuggles in bed, watching Netflix or doing silly Snapchats are just some of the comforting moments which gave me strength. My parents and siblings were proof of unconditional love and I am forever grateful.
The hardest part for me was the physical debilitation. Being an active person my whole life I struggled with the chronic aches and pains and I really couldn’t see myself ever returning to my netball, running and gym. The lymphoedema, radiation burn and peripheral neuropathy were just some of the side effects which halted my physical activity. While I fought on by pushing myself to walk long distances daily, I remember the tough times when I was neutropenic and climbed stairs like a 90-year-old woman.
I returned to work desperate for normality and to contribute to my family. I fought and fought and became stronger and stronger. I come from a bloodline of powerful, strong, and determined women and it is this that has made me the person I am today.
Two and a half years later I have completed my treatments. I have returned to my ‘netball family’ and play weekly. I run a couple of times a week and I have taken on a Director of Nursing role. I am very proud of my strength and I hope to inspire those currently suffering with their own personal breast cancer journeys. I want to reassure these women and men that life can return back to normal. If you believe in yourself and follow the positive affirmation of being positive in a negative situation… You win!
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Tips to ensure people in same-sex relationships have access to the right health professionals and support following a diagnosis
Let’s be upfront about death, dying and mortality.
Let’s be upfront about pain, side effects and palliative care.
Let’s be upfront about different perspectives during and beyond a breast cancer diagnosis.
Let’s be upfront about behavioural changes.
Let’s be upfront about life after cancer treatment.
*This article does not provide medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only.
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