Finding the beauty in every day

Sue Raward

Sue’s story of how she kept positive and found herself through her cancer journey

Cancer can be really scary. Receiving a diagnosis is completely mind boggling, but just because you get cancer, it doesn’t mean you’ve been given a death sentence.

Throughout this experience, the most important thing I’ve learned is how vital it is to look after yourself and to ask for help when you need it the most.

My cancer diagnosis

Around the end of May 2021, I felt a lump in the upper right-hand side of my breast. I’ve had many breast cysts in the past (and a few fine needle biopsies over the years), but this lump was different. It was rock hard and shaped like a chickpea, not soft and spongy like my other cysts had felt. Thus began the journey of finding out what this mysterious lump was.

I went on to receive an ultrasound and mammogram a month later which identified two lumps. One needed a fine needle biopsy and the other, the original lump I found, a core biopsy. I thought, “hmmm, I have never had one of those before so it must not be a cyst.”

When I had the biopsies, I remember trying to make jokes with the staff but no-one laughed or even cracked a smile… At that moment I thought, “oh no, so this is serious.”

The first step to recovery

Even though I was half-prepared, when the news was delivered it was utterly devastating. It felt like I was punched in the gut and all the air was sucked out of me. I was upset, shocked and in complete disbelief, but most of all, I was scared.

During my first appointment with a breast surgeon at Gold Coast Private Hospital, we spent what felt like hours discussing the type of tumour I had (DCIS), surgical options (lumpectomy vs mastectomy) and what the likely treatments options would be depending on whether my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes or not. We decided on a lumpectomy with the removal of lymph nodes under my arm to see if the cancer had travelled there. If there was no cancer in my lymph nodes, I would need radiation therapy, but if it happened to be in my lymph nodes, it would be chemotherapy and radiation therapy. My doctor was so thorough and answered the 101 questions that my husband and I had.

The weekend before my surgery, Queensland went into lockdown because of COVID-19.

I sent one of my care team a text message to make sure my surgery was still on, and she answered me on a Sunday to say it was all systems go for the next day as it wasn’t an elective surgery. I stayed overnight in the hospital and went home a little sore, but mostly fine.

Unfortunately, the clearance for one of the margins was not satisfactory, so I needed to go back in for a second surgery to ensure that everything was okay. I probably felt worse after the second surgery, as recovering from two lots of anaesthesia in one week took a bit longer.

I found out the cancer was not in my lymph nodes (yay!) and was booked to see a radiation oncologist, Dr Dominic Lunn, at Icon Cancer Centre Gold Coast Private a week later to discuss my radiation therapy treatment.

Facing radiation therapy treatment

I was warned that my skin would get burned and heard all about Moo Goo and the things they recommend to soothe it. I do love the beach and live on the Gold Coast, but when I was told to avoid the sun, I thought that was too easy and thanked the Lord that I wasn’t going through this treatment in summer – I would have found it virtually impossible to avoid the sun!

In terms of the actual treatment, I did find it disruptive to my life for those three weeks and one day (having to drive 25 minutes to the hospital each way for treatment every day) but fortunately, the team at Icon could schedule the appointments around my work which meant it wasn’t too inconvenient at all.

Confronting the challenges that came with my diagnosis and treatment

Nothing has been too difficult, however the one thing that I found hard was how little activity I could do. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had unfortunately broken my ankle three weeks earlier and was wearing a moonboot. As a person who exercised daily up until I got the cancer diagnosis, I was forced to swim laps in an indoor pool at my gym for exercise. Then after my breast cancer surgery, I wasn’t allowed to swim either! As I was still in my moonboot, the gym was out too which really frustrated me. Honestly, I had never had such a bad run of health in my life! I had knee surgery in January 2021, then the broken right ankle in June 2021 followed by breast cancer in July 2021. I believe all my ‘bad health’ hiccups happened last year all at once, and hope nothing is going to go wrong with my health now until at least 2050.

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer?

The best advice I can give to fellow cancer patients is to be kind to yourself. Be selfish – if you feel like socialising do it, but if you don’t, it’s okay to retreat.

I am a bit of a ‘talker’ and believe a problem shared is a problem halved, so once my husband, family and I got over the shock of the diagnosis, I did begin to tell friends and so many people who came out of the woodwork to offer me support.

I received so many flowers, gifts, food hampers and body products. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the kindness of others, and it was a massive boost to my spirits.

Be open to accepting the kindness of others as well. So many people want to do something for you and don’t know how to help. If you need help, tell them what they can do for you.

I loved how some of my friends offered to put me in touch with their relatives and friends who had also been down the breast cancer road. I actually spoke to two ladies who I had never met before (but we knew people in common) who willingly shared their own breast cancer experience.

I loved hearing it ‘from the horse’s mouth’ pre-surgery. Both are fully recovered now, so their positivity and openness about their own journey was incredibly helpful to me.

Be a glass half-full not a glass half-empty person and appreciate the little things. Sit in your backyard, stare at the sky, listen to the birds and appreciate every day how beautiful life is.

It’s easy to forget, but we really are lucky to live in such a beautiful country with amazing healthcare available to all.

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