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Breast cancer / 15 Oct, 2019

How cancer screening saved a life

Icon Writers

Icon Rockingham patient Claire talks about getting through breast cancer treatment with Icon

Primary school teacher Claire Watson never thought that she would get cancer. If not for a chance BreastScreen WA post popping up on her Facebook newsfeed, by the time her cancer was caught, her journey could have been “incredibly different”.

Claire found a swollen area on her collar bone in October 2018. She went to see her GP several times and was told not to worry, as she didn’t have any breast changes or signs of breast cancer. It was thanks to a friend who shared information on free breast screenings available for over 40s on Facebook that Claire received a mammogram and was diagnosed with cancer.

Claire was diagnosed with early Stage I breast cancer in her left breast just before her 44th birthday.

“It was a huge whirlwind. You aren’t expecting to get cancer… and I also wasn’t prepared for how my family would react. They took it very hard but you have to take it as it comes,” Claire said.

After first having surgery to remove the tumour, Claire was referred to Icon Cancer Centre Rockingham for radiation therapy. She was also able to use the Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH) technique throughout her seven weeks of treatment, which was reassuring given her family history of heart disease.

DIBH is an innovative technique for left-sided breast cancer patients that protects the heart during radiation therapy treatment. It involves holding a certain number of breaths for short bursts during treatment, which allows the heart to move backwards into the chest while the breast is exposed to radiation.

DIBH is linked to the radiation therapy machine, which won’t run unless patients are holding their breath correctly. This made things less stressful for Claire, who also practiced holding her breath for 20 seconds at a time.

“I was a little bit worried at first and wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to get my breathing correct. But they talked me through it and we got to have a lot of practice,” Claire said.

“Being able to watch the screen and know when to breathe and when to hold my breath made it so easy. My dad had heart disease, so having this was really an extra comfort knowing I was protecting my heart.”

Icon Rockingham was only five minutes from Claire’s work, which meant she could also keep working throughout her treatment. She says that having the centre so close “took the stress out of going”.

“The staff organised that I could have the last appointment every day, so I would be able to go to work, finish everything I needed there and not worry about rushing to my appointment each day,” Claire said.

“If the centre wasn’t in Rockingham I would have had to travel over an hour in traffic. That would mean having to go part time and changing my hours at work, and there’s also the added stress of trying to get to your appointment on time and factoring in travel every day,”

“The convenience was just amazing.”

Claire finished her radiation therapy treatment in June this year and proudly rang the bell with her nephew.

Looking back on her treatment, Claire is thankful for her care team at Icon Rockingham.

“I was really dreading treatment at first. But strangely I ended up enjoying coming. Every day we all had a laugh. They always gave me words of encouragement when I was having a bad day and I often found myself laughing on the way home.”

Claire’s commitment to raising awareness of breast cancer continues today, and she recently held a Pink Ribbon Breakfast fundraiser in support of breast cancer research.

“Some friends from work turned up armed with prizes and a local cupcake company donated beautiful Pink Ribbon cupcakes for the event. Everyone’s been brilliant.”

The one thing Claire wants people to know?

“Getting your breasts checked and catching cancer early, along with ensuring you get the best treatment possible, is the most important thing you can do for yourself.”

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