Q&A with Belinda – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
We caught up with Belinda – nickname Bin – this Breast Cancer Awareness month. Bin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and since then has been a strong advocate in the space.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with breast cancer?
When I first left school I trained as a general nurse at Royal North Shore Hospital. During this time I worked for many months in oncology unit caring for adult patients. Soon after I worked with the Cancer Council NSW at Prince of Wales Hospital.
In 2010, my mum Helen was diagnosed with estrogen positive, breast cancer that was treated with a lumpectomy, a course of radiotherapy and five years of tamoxifen. Today she is a vibrant 82 year old great grandmother who is disease free.
In December 2019, a Breast cancer diagnosis came as was quite a surprise. It was discovered on a routine biannual mammogram and I had no symptoms at all. No pain and no palpable lump despite being quite superficial. Between the follow up mammogram and surgery it grew 50%.
2. What type of breast cancer were your diagnosed with?
My follow up appointment at Breast Screen ACT involving a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. The following week it was confirmed that I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer, also known as TNBC. This form of breast cancer is known to be particularly aggressive affecting around 15% of breast cancers. Hormone blockers are not effective. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the principle forms of treatment available and commenced as a high priority.
Within days I underwent a single mastectomy and removal of the sentinel lymph node and I was very fortunate that what had initially looked like an effected lymph node turned out to be free of disease.
3. Did you face any barriers before, during, or after your diagnosis?
I was very fortunate that imaging, surgical and oncology services were all available here in Canberra. The only delay was the availability of genetic testing. AS my mum had previously had breast cancer and I also have an adult daughter the results of any genetic test was very important to me as it would influence the potential extent of my surgery/ies and the mental health for my daughter and myself.
4. What would you like to tell other women who are going through the same/a similar experience?
To clarify, I am over 40 and my demographic is managed differently to women under 40. The key message for all women is, breast cancer is a common diagnosis and it is curable. Do not be put off if you have a concern follow through
Of the 1600 people who will receive a cancer diagnosis in the Canberra region this year, an estimated 600 will be for breast cancer. The best possible health outcome will be achieved for women who receive an early diagnosis. For women who have a genetic mutation in their family, it is often a priority to receive genetic testing and medical guidance so their risk can be managed.
Fear is understandable but sadly delay is not an option that will serve you. I cannot urge women enough to be their own No. 1 health advocate, get to your GP or make a call to Breast Screen ACT on 13 20 50 and book an appointment. For women 40 plus free mammograms are available and the whole experience can be empowering. You can even go one step further and get a friend or colleague to book for themselves as well and raise the attendance rate that currently on sits at 57%. My question is why? Women should make time to care for themselves and know that their health is a priority.
5. What advice would you give to women in general?
Our community strength is in supporting each other. Information is powerful and new advances are in the pipeline. Currently there are new drugs being used in the US that are yet to make it to Australia so we need to advocate for change because women are valuable members of our community.
6. Why is research and prevention so important where cancer is concerned?
We are where we are today because of the research and advances made yesterday. I am in awe of Ali (Alison) Day a mum from Sydney with advanced TNBC who despite her own advanced disease successfully lobbied the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt to have the ground breaking drug Trodelvy added to the PBS prior to the last election.