This year alone, 1 in 7 Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by their 85th birthday.1 With breast cancer most commonly diagnosed in women aged 70 to 74-years-old, for young women, a breast cancer diagnosis can come as a shock. Townsville local Elyce Mitchell was just 32-years-old and trying for her second child when she received the diagnosis no young woman expects to hear.
“I have a beautiful little girl Millie who turns two in September. We were starting to think about baby number two in August last year when I found a ropey area in my left breast. After I finished breast feeding, I noticed discharge coming from my breast.”
Elyce went to the doctor straight away and after receiving scans and ultrasounds, a weight was taken off of her shoulders – she was given the all clear. But just six months later, a routine pre-natal ultrasound turned her life upside down.
“I hadn’t noticed any other changes, but they found a lump. It was a whirlwind week after that with a biopsy, mammogram and a whole heap of scans. My husband Stevie had been away all week and I didn’t want to tell him what was happening, but thankfully he got back just in time. I was back at the GP with him when I found out the news – I had breast cancer.”
For this loving young family, the diagnosis was met with absolute shock and disbelief.
“I was really shaken up; I don’t meet any of the risk factors. My husband was pretty good though, pretty tough. My mum works at Icon Cancer Centre in Townsville and helped to keep us calm. My friends were some of the hardest people to tell, but everyone’s been really awesome.”
To add to the stress of a cancer diagnosis, the potential impact treatment could have on her fertility loomed heavily. Elyce made the decision to delay treatment and receive IVF as soon as possible in the hopes of one day adding another child to her family.
“I was a little worried about delaying treatment, but after speaking to my surgeon, oncologist and fertility specialist, they were upfront and said I had the time to do it, that gave me absolute confidence. My husband was completely supportive of whatever I wanted to do. No matter what, he was there through it. It was a bit of a blur to be honest, there wasn’t a lot of time to stop and think but I knew we would one day want to have another baby.”
Just one month after diagnosis, she began chemotherapy at Icon Cancer Centre Townsville.
“I was fortunate to know what to expect because my mum worked at the centre so I wasn’t scared, and I’m thankful the centre is only two minutes away from where I live. The first four rounds were pretty tough but looking back I’ve been charging through. It’s a tough situation for a family but we’ve kept things as normal as possible and our daughter Millie has been amazing. She’s never looked at me funny when I take my wig off and I’ve been lucky to be able to continue getting on with most things.”
Elyce credits her passion for exercise to helping her power through treatment.
“I’ve been going to CrossFit four times a week throughout treatment, and when COVID-19 came and shut that down, I kept it up at home. It really helped me initially to see people and have some aspect of life remain the same. It’s not just been good for my body, but also my mind and soul.”
Although her treatment has been delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic, she says the precautions she took, and those that were put in place at Icon Townsville, meant she really didn’t have to worry at all.
“I didn’t want something else to stress about. I did what I had to do to stay safe, like working and exercising at home. I’ve also been having consultations with my medical oncologist over the phone, rather than face-to-face. Everyone at the centre has been so supportive and have done everything they can to keep us safe.”
Throughout her chemotherapy Elyce has also been sharing her journey with her loyal Instagram followers, from posting treatment updates to workout videos, sharing her good days and bad days, and everything in between. Her CrossFit community have also continued to show an incredible level of support she did not expect. She says the platform helped her find her feet when she needed it most.
“Social media has been a massive help for me. When I was first diagnosed, my best friend Megan went on a mad search for anything cancer related and found a couple of people who I then followed on Instagram. The thought of connecting with people on social media who have gone through similar experiences is pretty awesome, and if they can do it then maybe I can too.”
“It’s been great to share my experience with cancer and how I’ve been getting through treatment. It made me realise you do have the ability to impact others beliefs and motivations. All of the little things have really meant a lot to me. One lady said if she could recommend four people to follow on Instagram, I would be one of them. It really surprised me because the other three were celebrities!”
As a young woman with breast cancer, surrounded by older women at very different stages of their lives with the same diagnosis, Elyce’s experience hasn’t always been easy. While social media has been a great support, she says it still didn’t give her everything she needed to get through her diagnosis and treatment.
“It is different to be a young woman with cancer. When I started to lose my hair, I found it was really difficult to find headscarves appropriate for my age. Some of the stuff was quite daggy and I didn’t feel comfortable wearing it.”
“I never went to a support group as I found it all quite depressing, but really relied on my friends, family and doctors. My advice for other young women is don’t Dr Google; do your own research and talk to someone, whether that’s a GP, friend or parent. I think it’s so important to find out as much as you can so you’re prepared for what comes ahead.”