My Journey So Far – by Wendy McBrierty
In October 2003, I was about to celebrate my 50th birthday when I was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer. Until then, I had enjoyed perfect health and, like most of us, felt robust and in no way vulnerable to succumbing to a life threatening disease. What an unwelcome shock it was.
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The tumour was advanced and I proceeded with the recommended treatment plan of a mastectomy, full ancillary node clearance (which the cancer had spread to), chemo and radio therapies, followed by a minimum of five years hormonal therapy. I was shattered. My world as I knew it had very suddenly turned upside down. I spent most of the next year having surgery and the various cycles of treatment with short periods of healing or recovery in between the stages of treatment.
There were many unpleasant side-effects and although the ultimate goal was to ‘get rid’ of the disease, the process was completely overwhelming even with the goal of being healthy in my mind at all times. Although I am normally a positive person, I still found it traumatic to lose a breast, my hair, and suffer with severe nausea, insomnia, fatigue, mouth ulcers, overnight menopause, skin rashes and burns. My emotions were all over the place ~ jovial and gung-ho one minute, in a pool of tears the next.
As I began to heal physically, I was consumed with the very real fear of recurrence and feared I may not have enough time to grow much older with my husband or be around to watch our then eleven year old daughter grow up. Like many cancer patients, I was diagnosed with ‘Reactive Depression’ as I struggled to find and accept my ‘new normal’. However, I sought help to teach me the strategies to help me move on and to embrace with gratitude my many blessings including surviving cancer.
The monthly support group meetings at Qld. Cancer Council offered great support and information and becoming a dragonboat paddler with the coast’s survivor team, Dragons Abreast G.C, who train at Currumbin has been an excellent group activity with significant health benefits for breast cancer survivors. Getting back to my creative passions has also been therapeutic and through my art, I plan to help raise much needed research funds to find a cure and learn how to prevent this disease for future generations. My paintings for The Women’s Imaging Centre feature our miniature poodle ‘Pierre’ in each painting to depict the ‘black dog’ of depression which sits on the shoulder for some survivors and also to acknowledge the therapeutic support a beloved pet offers unconditionally. Pierre intuitively did not leave my side during the difficult stages which I found to be a great comfort.
I hope my story inspires and connects with other women. Of course, a breast cancer diagnosis will mean a very individual experience and range of treatment options for each of us, but I’m sure we all share some ‘common ground’ as survivors and members of this unique ‘sisterhood’ we didn’t choose to belong to. Good luck and big hugs to all on this journey ~ ‘Because, We’re Worth It’
[signoff icon=”icon-brush”]Patient Journeys Through Art – On display at The Women’s Imaging Centre, Premion Place, Cnr Queen & High St, Southport. Ph: 5564 0851 – More information visit www.twic.com.au[/signoff]