Kate Wood is planning to marry her fiancé Barry in August. When she found a lump in her breast last May, she went straight to the doctor, never once expecting it would be cancer. She was 35, fit and healthy and had no family history of cancer.
She says: “I remember sitting in the Sydney Breast Clinic looking around at all of the women and thinking that one of these eight women will get diagnosed today. It came as quite a shock when that turned out to be me.”
Kate was referred to Dr Cindy Mak at Lifehouse who recommended a course of neoadjuvant therapy. This is where the cancer is first treated with chemotherapy to treat the tumour and prevent it from spreading any further. This is followed by surgery and radiotherapy.
Being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer made Kate re-evaluate everything. She says: “Throughout my treatment I kept asking myself ‘why me?’. I have always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I am still working out exactly what that reason is but I do think that in some way my diagnosis was the universe tapping me on the shoulder, forcing me to take a good, hard look at my life and start living a life I love.”
The challenges were many. Kate lists the feeling of being a burden, being diagnosed so young, facing possible infertility before having a chance to start a family and losing her hair.
“Telling people was difficult. I kept my diagnosis relatively quiet, telling only close family and friends as I found that although people mean well, sometimes the constant questioning about my wellbeing became draining,” she relates.
Kate had what is known as a complete pathogenic response to the chemotherapy. This means that the six months of chemotherapy did its job. When she had her lumpectomy and auxiliary (lymph nodes) clearance, the pathology results showed that there was no cancer left either in the tumour or the lymph nodes.
Now that the treatment is over, Kate is starting to deal with the emotional impact. “During the treatment I was in survival mode, I focused all my energy on fighting the cancer. Now the emotional impact is starting to hit home and I’ve reached out for support to help me transition back into life,” she says.
Kate says: “I will never forget the treatment I had at Lifehouse. I can’t describe how grateful I am for the care and support of all the Lifehouse staff—the chemotherapy and radiotherapy nurses, the doctors, specialists, registrars, volunteers and counsellors.”