It is women’s health week from 5th to 9th September so it is a great time to spend time focussing on your health. Here, Prue MacSween shares her experience with breast cancer and urges everyone to take the time to check in with their health professional,. Doing so saved her life.
- What it is like to experience – and survive- breast cancer
- Jean Kittson on why you should book a breast exam today
- “I survived prostate cancer”
Boozies, fun bags, tits, jugs, whatever you like to call them, I've always had a fond relationship with my breasts.
Being somewhat “upfront” from my early teenage years, I'd come to depend on my boozies as they helped attract blokes and been a distraction from my backside, which I always felt would give a Kardashian a run for their money!
That was until January 2014 when I was towelling dry after a shower. As I rubbed cream on my right bosom I felt a rather large thickening under my nipple. Maybe I was imagining it as I'd always had lumpy boozies and I reassured myself that the regular and recent mammogram I'd had was all clear. Nothing to worry about.
Prue, with her mother (left) and friend, Carlotta (right)
I could have let it slide, shrugged it off, gone into denial as so many women seem to do, but I happened to be going to my GP for a pre-holiday check-up a few days later. As I was leaving the surgery, almost as an afterthought, I mentioned the thickening. Once she felt it, she insisted on booking me in immediately for an ultrasound and biopsy.
As I lay on the table having the biopsy I was thinking about the plans I had for my holiday. What about my work? What about my family and my many commitments? I didn't have time to accommodate this inconvenience!
The biopsy revealed a tumour which was cancerous and suddenly, the overseas holiday was cancelled. Then came the part where you have to share the news with those closest to you. I guess shock, denial then finally, acceptance kicks in along with the seemingly never-ending rounds of doctors, Xrays, ultrasounds and MRIs. Unexpected cost. Unplanned life disruption.
This Polish salon has been set up to support women with cancer
No time to ponder the “why me?” I had a job to do. I needed to find the best medical team I could. Luckily, I had been on an Advisory Committee for Cancer Australia and I was soon walking into my breast surgeon's rooms. A gentle, charming Associate Professor who had to deal with this bolshy woman telling him she was not married to her boobs, and to get them off if necessary!
He hosed me down and informed me that he intended to do chemotherapy treatment first to try to shrink the tumour and stop its aggressive assault on my body.
The morning of the day I was to start chemo one of my oldest and closest friends, Ian “Rosco” Ross died after his battle with pancreatic cancer.
I did a few TV and radio interviews about this incredible, much-loved mate and then headed to hospital for round one of chemo. Raw with emotion from his loss, I had little time to think about my fate or the challenge I was about to face.
I remember walking into the cottage where so many other souls were having their dose of the toxic chemicals which were hopefully going to kill the alien in their bodies.
Some were regulars, the old hands who were familiar with the process. Reading, dozing, staring out at the garden as they pondered their fate or talking quietly with loved-ones and friends as the bags of liquid travelled into their bodies.
Prue MacSween refused to allow her diagnosis to stop her from enjoying life
And always close by, the breast care nurses buzzing around, caring, comforting, advising.
I took up the offer of the cold cap therapy, which I was told would help save my hair. They put this helmet on your head, turn on the machine and almost instantaneously, you get this incredible head pain and brain freeze. As icicles formed on my scalp and an instant headache hit me, I decided I didn't give a bugger about my hair. Let it fall out!
After my first session I crawled into bed when I got home. I had been warned about the nausea, the metallic taste and ulcers in your mouth. The lethargy and tiredness. The foetal position in my bed was my preferred position for a few days after each session.
But I was determined not to let this bastard inside me dictate my life or define me. When I could, I dragged myself into work. My hair fell out in clumps within days of the first chemo session and no amount of make-up could improve my pallor. The wigs I bought were my salvation even though I couldn't wait to pull them off as soon as I walked in the door.
Prue, after chemotherapy, celebrating Christmas with Deborra Lee Furness
After three months and six sessions of chemo, the tumour had shrunk and the next stage was my lumpectomy. Before the op, I instructed my surgeon to remove my breast if he felt he needed to during the operation. Either way, he had to remove a lot of breast tissue due to the size of the lump and he promised he would deliver me new boozies. Something to look forward to!
I woke up with tubes everywhere, bound up tightly and in pain. Delighted to learn all had gone well and my new boobs would soon be revealed. They were gorgeous! I felt 20 years old again and was so proud of them, I was happy to display them to anyone who asked how I had gone!
My next hurdle was radiography. I had been warned this daily exercise could be painful as the rays burnt your skin. To me it seemed like a small price to pay if it was going to kill off any random cells that may have escaped into my body.
More than two years on, my hair is growing back, a little courser and curlier. My eyelashes are growing and sadly my hair on my legs is also doing well.
My first big hurdle was my first annual check-up. The MRI and ultrasound revealed all was clear. Phew! I've recently had my second official clearance from the doctor so three more years to go before I can really say I have beaten this thing.
But I remain defiant and grateful. Throughout it all I was fatalistic about the outcome. I have had an amazing, fulfilled life. I have loved and been loved and a beautiful, devoted family. That's all one can ask for.
I can only say to anyone who is experiencing this course of events to put your faith in the wonderful medical teams we have in this country. Some people, sadly do not survive, but so many of us (well over 85% do).
It was one hell of a journey. It wasn't the kind of journey I was planning to take, but I believe we all grow from our experiences … I know I have.
- For more information on breast cancer visit the Breast Cancer Network Australia website.
- If you have been recently diagnosed you can order a free ‘My Journey Kit’ here or you can call 1800 500 258.
- To get involved and help raise money for breast cancer this September you can attend a Pink Lady Luncheon. Click here for more information.
- You can also buy Pink Lady merchandise here which helps ensure Australians affected by breast cancer get the best support, information and treatment.
Have you or someone you love experienced breast cancer? Share your comments below.