Tell us a little about yourself and your journey with breast cancer.
I’m a wife and I’m a mum. I have two children, a son who is 15 and my daughters 12. I work full time in the finance industry, and I was diagnosed two years ago last week. At the time I was 43 with no family history, I was really fit and healthy and had never been sick. Being under 50, I assumed there was no need for me to do mammograms, so it never crossed my mind as I hadn’t been exposed to it.
I found a really hard lump in my left breast while having a shower. I didn’t have a doctor, so I had to find one. She assessed it to determine that it wasn't hormonal and was going to do a biopsy and mammogram. When they did the biopsy they wished me luck with my treatment, and it just stopped me in my tracks. The best way to describe my life at the time was that I had to get off the freeway onto the dirt road. I lived at a fast pace in my career and my lifestyle with my kids, so I really just had to stop and focus on me at that point in time. I chose to do that by stepping away from work. Not everyone has that luxury, so I’m really grateful for having that time.
I was also grateful to have a wonderful network of people around me, particularly my girlfriends; this power of women uplifting each other. They kept me laughing, they kept me active and they made it okay for me to talk about it. They just listened without judgement, for me, that was probably the best thing. I don't like to impose on other people's emotions, but I also had to learn how to let people help me; that's not easy to do. I've always been self sufficient and giving to others, so when the tables are turned, people don't know what to do. When you've been put in this situation, people want to help. I’ve found that it's okay to let people who genuinely wanted to be there for me do that for me, and it gave them a sense of satisfaction because they felt that they were doing something in such a helpless situation for others around us.
How did you navigate your diagnosis with your family?
How did your mindset help you through such a difficult time?
I'm a very positive person and always have been, naturally I'm a leader of people, a coach and a mentor. I help people and that's just who I am regardless of the title or role. I had to really dig deep and consider where I was going to find and place my energy to keep going everyday, but I also had to be conscious that I am allowed days where I can just feel like crap and not talk to anyone. Sometimes there was a sense of guilt at the start, not being able to do all the things I usually would for the kids and everyone around me, so I felt as if I was letting them down and then I had to just stop and realise that I had to look after myself.
Where have you found comfort and support?
One of my girlfriends was diagnosed around the same time as me and we would just help each other through it. We'd have long conversations about how we felt, what drugs we were taking, and specifically being two fit and healthy women who have got no reason to have ever thought breast cancer would be part of their lives. I also sought out people I could talk to through Breast Cancer Network Australia very early on. I'm a researcher by nature so I had to find people I could talk and relate to.
When I started my treatment, which was quite vigorous with very extreme side effects, but I didn't know any different because I had nothing to measure it against, I just had to breathe through it. There were days that weren't so bad and days that were really bad.
My chemo lasted till February of 2021. I've had a lot of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and full reconstruction. I chose to do that because it was my own personal thought of not wanting it to come back, and I chose to use my own tissue in the reconstruction as well, which is a longer recovery period, probably about 6 months, but I am so grateful that I did that because when I look at my breasts now they look very similar to what they did before. I know that they're not the same but they still look like part of me.
Due to my radiation, I’m now managing lymphedema. It's a mild condition but I'm glad that I got onto it and made sure that I sought out help. People don't talk enough about radiation and the effects that it has following your treatment. It's the silent pain point that you've got to monitor and I don't feel there's a lot of research into its effects and chronic lifetime conditions, so there really does need to be more insights into that. But through all of it, as confronting as it was in my life, I can only see how it has changed my life for the better and that's the only way I want to look at it. Not once have I ever questioned why is this happening to me, I just know that there is a reason why this had to happen and I'm the only one who can control the narrative around that. That's what I'm trying to do.
What positive effects can you now see present in your life?
What advice would you give to other women who may be going through a similar experience?
In the first instance I reached out to the Breast Cancer Network and found a breast awareness nurse who was able to explain the results of my test to myself and my husband, because it is like a foreign language. Having that explanation, and also having someone who can take my husband on the journey as well as equipping him for what he needed to do to support me really helped. All too often your partners don't know what to do, so just having that support there for him was very important.
For me, it was just about taking a deep breath and being conscious of what is happening to you and just to control what you can, put your energy and effort into what you can control, and if that's as simple as going for a walk and eating healthy then do that.
I also always had someone with me at appointments, so if I missed anything they were there to fill in the gaps for me. Sometimes it's so emotional and confronting with so much information and so many decisions to make that you really just get caught on something and miss other things, so have someone there that you absolutely trust who can be on the journey and help to fill in the gaps.
If you've got the luxury to take time out, then do that. I’m very happy with my life right now and I don't want to place my energy in situations where I'm going to be stressed, I have to do this because it's part of my survival really. I might be cancer free now but it doesn't mean that it's not going to come back and that is a deep seeded reality that I have to face. Until I get to that five year mark, I really need to just stop every time I feel like I'm going to slip back into my old routine of doing everything for everybody and going at 100 miles an hour - just stop and consider where I want to place my energy. There are women who reach out to me at work who I don't really know, who have someone close to them that is going through breast cancer. They ask me to talk to them and I just talk to them about their journey and how I can help when they want to talk, because I know how important and valuable that was to me. It’s just playing that kindness forward. It does take a different level of strength and it's really hard to not go to a place of why is this happening to me, and that's the hardest part. That's where you have to find that strength deep within you to say that there's no point in asking that question because it's happened, so what can you control?
The Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is Australia’s leading breast cancer consumer organisation, all about supporting women like Nadine. For the past 22 years, they have worked tirelessly to ensure that all Australians who are affected by breast cancer receive the very best care, treatment and support.
If you are concerned about your family history of breast cancer, you can speak to you GP who may refer you to a Family Cancer Clinic for further information about your risk and the role of genetic testing.
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