Prioritising your health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Icon Writers / 28 Oct, 2020

Breast cancer patient Carmel shares her experience with cancer this Breast Cancer Awareness Month

51-year-old Carmel was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2019, after finding a suspicious lump in her breast while on an overseas trip for three weeks with her girlfriends in New York and Hawaii.

“I was trying on a cossie in Hawaii for the first time in a long time and noticed a lump that didn’t feel right. It seemed like it was on the inside behind my nipple, whereas I always checked the outside for lumps during self-examinations. I knew I was overdue for a mammogram, but didn’t think a great deal of it while I was away. When I got back I visited my GP who immediately referred me to get it checked out, and a week later I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer,” Carmel said.

Although the news came as a shock, Carmel tried to focus on staying positive to get her through the treatment ahead.

“My husband wasn’t with me at the time and it was pretty emotional telling him, but he was really supportive. I like to think I’m a positive person and tried not to let the diagnosis spiral me down. It’s hard not to wonder about what will lay ahead. I told myself to pull up my bootstraps and do what the experts tell me to do in terms of treatment.”

Carmel chose to wait to start treatment and share the news with extended family and friends until after the Christmas period. She went on to receive six months of chemotherapy this year during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a mastectomy and five weeks of radiation therapy treatment at Icon Cancer Centre Wahroonga, located within the Sydney Adventist Hospital.

She says although her treatment has been delivered primarily during the COVID-19 pandemic, the precautions she took, and those that were put in place at Icon Wahroonga, meant she really didn’t have to worry at all.

“I did everything I possibly could to keep safe, from isolating and wearing a mask to keeping hand sanitiser readily available. I was confident in the precautions that the centre was putting in place. There was no point that I ever felt like I should avoid going to the centre for my treatment due to the risk of COVID-19. My health took priority.”

“I’m very thankful that I could still have Zoom and Skype meetings with friends and family. I was also lucky to have my husband and son at home through it all, and my step-son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren who live downstairs. It meant I wasn’t completely cut off from everyone despite the pandemic.”

For Carmel, who finished her radiation therapy treatment in mid-September, being able to access safe care locally in Wahroonga was very important for her to continue working and spend time with loved ones.

She says that the convenience of having a centre nearby made things much easier.

“I was able to get my son off to school and look after my grandchildren in the morning, then take myself to radiation which was only a short drive from my home at Duffy’s Forest. The actual treatment took just 10-15 minutes in the centre.”

“It meant I could continue to work from home in the afternoons. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better team, they made everything easy.”

“When I finished treatment, the team were wonderful and all clapped for me. I wasn’t able to ring the bell to celebrate because of COVID-19, but they made it special regardless.”

She is now focused on prioritising her health and preparing for her reconstructive surgery in April of 2021.

“This was a major wake up call for me. Now my outlook is focused on improving my health and doing what I keep saying I’m going to do, which is getting back in shape. I want to be a thriver, not just a survivor.”

Looking back on her cancer journey, Carmel urges women to take charge of their health and do everything they can to detect cancer at an early stage.

“I was one of those people who put off mammograms and checks. I thought if it’s not in my family, it won’t happen to me, but if I was diagnosed earlier my cancer may not have been as big as it was. To be on the safe side, it’s so important to receive your mammogram if you’re over 50, perform your regular breast self-examinations and if you notice anything concerning, go straight away to see your doctor.”

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