My name is Libby Stevenson and I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 14 July 2017.
One evening I was lying in bed and discovered a lump the size of a fifty cent coin on my left breast. I thought, ‘is this hormonal or could this be breast cancer?’. I didn’t dismiss my own concerns and within 2 weeks I had had an appointment with my GP, mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.
At 11.27am on Friday 14 July 2017, I received a phone call from my GP stating that the biopsy taken 3 days before on my left breast was indeed malignant. My formal diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, hormone receptor positive and HER2 negative.
I was in absolute shock.
A 32 year old wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and registered nurse has been diagnosed with breast cancer. How was I to tell my family, friends and even worse my four year old son? It was extremely confronting and concerning to say the least.
I was a fit young woman working part-time, enjoying weekends at the beach, sporting grounds and around home with family and friends. Only just the day before we had bought a new car. Life was normal and now it was not so certain.
My husband and I went into survival mode.
The hardest challenge was also the first, telling our son that “mummy has cancer”.
Fast and jumbled thoughts ran through my head, was I going to see my son grow up, see him play soccer, see him graduate from school, and worst of all hug and kiss him and hear those heart melting words every night before bed “I love you to the moon and back’.
We told him that mummy had a germ in her left booby and that it needed to be cut off. We then explained that mummy would be having strong medicine that would make her be sick and lose all her hair. He didn’t ask any questions and just accepted the facts at this stage.
I had a mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy a week and a half later. The formal results were discussed and not only did I have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, it had metastasised to three lymph nodes. I healed well from the mastectomy and coped really well psychologically with the loss of my left breast. In fact, I was extremely relieved it was gone. My son was intrigued by my lost breast and kept asking to look. I allowed this to happen as I felt it was his way of coping. Still to this day my son collects my prosthesis from my bed side each morning and asks am I ready for my fake booby. It makes me smile every day.
My next step was chemotherapy. A gruelling 6 months lay ahead. I was told by my surgeon and oncologist that I needed the ‘full kit and kaboodle’ when it came to chemotherapy. Sarcastically I thought ‘fantastic’. As a registered nurse of 10 years and having worked in head and neck cancer surgery I had some knowledge. Sometimes helpful, sometimes scary.
Chemotherapy was exceedingly harsh.
I suffered with all the side effects: fatigue, nausea, hair loss, peripheral neuropathy and pain.
My world had been turned upside down and the impact my diagnosis and chemotherapy had on myself, husband and son was indescribable.
I chose to shave my head after chemo had started as I was losing clumps of hair. I did this as I felt it gave me some control. My thoughts were ‘the chemo was not going to make me lose my hair; I was going to decide when I was to go bald’. Having no hair was one of the hardest parts of chemo. Your self- image and identity is taken away from you. I would catch myself in the mirror and shock myself, thinking ‘who is that woman?’.
I possessed long dark locks of hair and now was bald and grey in complexion.
I remember the day my son saw me for the first time after shaving my head. He ran up to me with the biggest smile, laughed and said ‘you look just like Pa’ (my dad who was bald). This made my day and I couldn’t stop laughing.
With chemo in full swing, my husband had turned into a full time carer to me and a single father to our son, all whilst working full-time. To this day I am still in awe of how he was able to juggle everything from full time work to sporting commitments for himself and Will, chemo sessions and appointments for me, all on top of his father’s passing in the September (in the middle of chemo). I am sure he had ‘down times’ but he kept a smile on his face, continued to laugh and gave myself and Will all the love and support we needed.
Thankfully during this difficult time, I received immense support from family and friends.
However, more surprisingly and gratefully, I was linked in to the Hunter Breast Cancer Foundation (HBCF) by a friend. I had heard of the HBCF, as most people have, but I had no idea the support and services this foundation had to offer. I sent an email to supportive care services outlining my situation and within weeks I was receiving services and support to assist me physically, mentally and emotionally. I was gifted a cleaner each fortnight for the entirety of my chemo and beyond. Feeling sick, fatigued and having a four year old was hard, so a cleaner coming every fortnight took away the stress of one extra job, and a big job at that. I would often come home from chemo and walk into a beautifully clean home. It was such a relief.
Also on offer was mowing and transport services whenever I needed it.
Furthermore, I was lucky enough to be involved in the Meditation and Mindfulness program organised and subsidised by the HBCF. This program gave me so much in terms of my mental well being. It taught me to be in the moment, de-stress and grasp basic breathing and yoga techniques. It was the highlight of my week and something I very much still practice today.
I will continue to fundraise and donate to the HBCF as it made such a monumental difference to my life during such a tough time with breast cancer.
Thank you for your support.