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Breast cancer / 09 Oct, 2019

Love and loss – how cancer changed Carol’s life

Icon Writers

Icon patient Carol discusses how she got through the toughest of times

For 66-year-old Carol Morrison, life hasn’t been easy over the last few years. From the loss of loved ones, illness in her family to a cancer diagnosis, with the support of her family she’s learned how to get through anything that life throws her.

Five years ago, Carol lost her husband to bowel cancer.

“I felt so helpless. He went to the doctor with a cold and after blood tests, he was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and told he had only months to live,” Carol said.

She then lost her brother to lung cancer just last year. With these losses front of mind, the last thing Carol thought was that she too would develop cancer. She first went to the doctor after noticing changes to her nipple, but wasn’t too concerned.

“I thought the signs of breast cancer were only lumps, whereas all I had was an inverted nipple. I just thought I would get it checked, it never crossed my mind that it could be cancer.”

Following further testing, Carol was diagnosed with Stage II/III inflammatory breast cancer in January 2018. She says that telling her family was one of the hardest parts about being diagnosed with cancer.

“I just felt so bad that they had to go through this again. But in some ways it’s easier when it’s happening to you.”

Carol then commenced three months of chemotherapy treatment at St John of God Murdoch Hospital. Unfortunately, getting to treatment was another hurdle to jump through.

“I don’t drive, so my daughter had to take time off to drive me to my chemotherapy treatment. Then we would get stuck in traffic on the freeway,” Carol said.

One month after completing chemotherapy, Carol underwent an operation to remove her left breast. She was then referred for five weeks of radiation therapy treatment at Icon Cancer Centre Rockingham. Although she didn’t know much about radiation therapy, the centre made her feel right at home.

Having a centre just 15 minutes away also made a big difference, with her local Lions Club able to take her to her appointments each day.

“If not for Icon Rockingham I would have had to travel to Fiona Stanley which takes two buses and a train, or rely on friends to drive me. It was invaluable that I could have it here,” Carol said.

Throughout her treatment at Icon, Carol used the Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH) technique to reduce the potential impact of radiation to her heart. This process 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.

For Carol, this was a source of comfort given her family history of heart disease.

“I was able to practice before I went and did it really well throughout the whole thing, except for the last treatment because I was so excited!”

After completing her radiation therapy treatment, Carol was told the news she had been longing to hear – there was no evidence of cancer left in her body.

“I knew I had all this treatment and I was told I was cancer free, but it was only after I came home that it all just hit me. Oh my god I had cancer! You get this sudden realisation that it’s all over now.”

Despite the difficulties of the last few years Carol is thankful to be surrounded by her close family, including her sisters, three children and three grandchildren, who supported her throughout treatment.

For people with cancer and their loved ones, she says that it’s so important to remain positive and focus on the little things that make you smile.

“Positivity is everything. If you get that initial news, give yourself five minutes to dwell and then get on with it,” Carol said.

She now looks forward to enjoying her retirement with her loved ones by her side.

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