Birthday milestone helps Katrina close the chapter on breast cancer journey

Icon Writer / 13 Jun, 2024

Adelaide resident, Katrina recently celebrated her 60th birthday. Celebrating in style, Katrina was determined to use the milestone birthday to mark a new chapter in her life following a recent battle with breast cancer. Here, Katrina – a registered nurse – reflects on her journey over the past year, how a positive mindset and new friendship helped during her treatment and how she now plans to make the most of life post-cancer.

In August 2022, my husband noticed a very small lump in my left breast. I initially wasn’t at all concerned about it but thought I would get it checked by my GP that week. I saw my GP on the Friday morning, five days after noticing the lump. She too wasn’t overly concerned but suggested I see a specialist.

We agreed on a specialist and she rang his rooms. They were able to fit me in for a review the same day, so three hours later I met my husband at the specialist rooms. The specialist did an ultrasound and informed us that he could see two lumps and that my lymph nodes were enlarged. That afternoon I had a mammogram, needle biopsy of the lumps and further scans. It was at that point with the nursing knowledge I have that I knew I was in trouble.

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The next four days of playing the waiting game was so difficult, both my husband and I talked openly about the potential diagnosis of cancer but stayed upbeat knowing we would have good medical treatments on our side. We told a select few people about what was happening but sat tight until we went back to the specialist.

On the Tuesday we went back to the specialist and I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in the left breast. Two lumps were detected – one lump measured 14mm the other 4mm with seven lymph nodes involved. I had further blood tests and full body scans, which confirmed that the cancer was in the lymph nodes but had not spread anywhere else in the body. It was all quite surreal. I remember walking out of the specialist’s rooms and sitting on a park bench with my husband, we shed a few tears, asking: “Why me,” then in the next breath: “Well let’s get this party started and kick the crap out of this cancer!”

I am a very open person, so straight away informed family and friends of my diagnosis. As expected, everyone was shocked as I was not in any way sick. I stressed to everyone that this was not the time to give me pity but to offer strength and support to both me and my husband over the months to follow.  

The following week I started chemotherapy, or as I call it is “roundup,” as it kills everything in its path both good and bad! 

I had weekly treatments for three months and then every three weeks for a further three months. I was very lucky that many of my family and friends drove me to and from treatments. I was keen for this so that they felt involved and able to help me.  

I met quite a few lovely people at chemo, and it was quite the social outing for me each week. I was relatively lucky, although I did suffer some side effects, nothing that wasn’t manageable.  

I am a very positive person so throughout treatment I made myself get up at 6.30am each day, shower and dress and have a small list of things to achieve that day.

As my chemo treatment occurred in late 2022 and early 2023, COVID-19 was still around, so being immunocompromised I was careful where I went.

After chemo was completed, I had four weeks of respite before I had surgery, where both breasts were removed and reconstructive surgery commenced. I recovered well. The first two weeks were a bit limiting and painful, but my husband took time off work to look after me and once again family and friends gave me huge support.

Following surgery, I had radiation therapy and this was to commence six weeks after surgery in April 2023.

While out and about, I had seen Icon had just finished building a facility at Noarlunga, which is only about 5kms from where I live. So, one day I took myself there and asked which doctors that consult there specialise in breast radiation therapy. The lady I spoke to on that day was so lovely and it turned out she gave me a lot of my radiation therapy.

I took the radiation oncologists name that I had been recommended to both my oncologist and breast surgeon and they were both very pleased to refer me to Icon Noarlunga under the care of Dr Scott Carruthers, as they both knew him well.

I underwent daily treatments of radiation therapy for five days a week over five weeks.

There were so many positives to this centre – parking was so easy, there was a lot of flexibility with treatment times and they were extremely accommodating of any personal requests.

The staff across all areas within the clinic made such an effort to get to know each person. They even played whatever music I requested during my treatment.

One day during treatment the clinic hosted a Biggest Morning Tea (to fundraise for the Cancer Council) so we all came in our pyjamas and so did the staff. It was quite a laugh and best of all, we got to sit around and eat!

One of the best unexpected gains from my radiation therapy is that on the day I started treatment I got talking to another lady in the waiting room called Linda and her daughter, Sarah- Kate.

It turned out Linda and I had a lot in common regarding our illness and were diagnosed with the same type of breast cancer, around the same time and had similar treatment.

Linda started her radiation therapy on the same day and ended on the same day as me.

We quickly got to know each other very well and every day would have our appointments at the same time, so we could catch up for a chat. It was so good – we would make other patients and staff laugh with our chitter chatter.

On the last day of treatment Linda, her daughter and my sister came over to my house and we cracked a bottle of Moet champagne and celebrated our success and most importantly being alive. We both agree that we have so much to be grateful for.

Every month or so Linda and I continue to catch up for a lunch date. We chat about all sorts of things and our friendship has become very strong.

After treatment finished it took a little bit of time to adjust to not having to go each day to Icon Noarlunga to see everyone. I actually missed it in a funny way.

During my cancer journey I remained a very positive person, keeping busy, although some days my energy levels were a little low, I still pottered around the house.

I do a lot of hand quilting so I made many quilts over this period and gave them away. I also enjoy cooking, so I would often spend a few hours in the kitchen to cook for others.

I also enjoyed beach walks. My husband and I also went on some overnight trips just to regroup and have some fun.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I stopped working immediately and just took the time to look after me. I returned to work part-time in January 2024, which I enjoy.

Throughout my journey I had a saying that I followed: “Life can be difficult if all you see is everything that’s wrong. Start by focusing on what’s right, what’s good, what’s constructive. No matter what you are facing, if you choose a positive mindset you’ll emerge the winner. So, if you want to feel better, you’ve got to think better.”

I had a fantastic team of health professionals and now I can happily say I am cancer free and have completed all my reconstructive breast surgery.

The staff at Icon Noarlunga were fantastic, so empathetic, knowledgeable and supportive – they are a true credit to Icon.

That chapter of my life is now behind me and I look forward to what my sixties have in store.

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