By Founder & Director of Emergency ID Australia, Nicole Graham.

“For years I followed the work of Love Your Sister and their message of being ‘breast aware’. They were the reason I found a lump in my breast. I often wonder if it wasn’t for their passion for spreading awareness, would I have ever bothered to check my breasts? I doubt it. Thank YOU, Samuel and Connie Johnston, for possibly my life.

I was showering, and the Love Your Sister message of checking your breasts popped into my mind for whatever reason. So that’s what I did; I checked my breasts. There was a lump on my left breast close to the centre of my chest. It was a lump about the size of a pea. I didn’t want to believe it. I jumped out of the shower, hoping I was mistaken. I asked my husband if he could feel a lump. Yes, he could, and at that moment, it sadly wasn’t me imagining it.

I booked an appointment with my GP immediately, and she, too, could feel the lump. So she referred me for scans. My GP rang me at home and asked me to come into the surgery. I live in rural Tasmania, and her surgery was 75kms away, but off we went.

My husband and I sat and listened to my GP confirm that yes, I had breast cancer. I calmly thanked her, we went out to the car, I buckled myself into the passenger’s seat, and we drove off in silence. Then, about 100 metres down the road, I burst into tears. “I don’t want to have cancer. I don’t want to have cancer,” and was punching the dashboard of the car. I was angry, sad, pissed off. I didn’t want to have cancer. I saw my dad struggle with cancer from his 26th birthday until his death from this horrid disease when he was just 43. I didn’t want cancer. I saw first-hand what it did to someone, and I didn’t have a high opinion of it or high hopes for those who got it. I hated it.

After the initial shock and upset, I realised there was no use complaining. I needed to get on with doing my best, not just for me, but for my family, mainly for my family. I knew they needed me. So I had surgery to have the tumour and lymph nodes removed. Then commenced six weeks of almost daily radiation. This knocked me around a bit, not just because having radiation every day does that, but because the treatment was 150km round trip, and I had to do most of that on my own. The radiation burnt my skin terribly, and my breast was red raw, blistering and peeling, and the radiation stretched out to 8 weeks.

I then commenced five years of daily medication and six-monthly checks.

It has now been six years, and I think I am still clear of cancer. However, once you have cancer, it always has this little place in the back of your mind that it sits, waits and ponders. Is that little tingle cancer, that minor pain? I’ve noticed I’m tired a lot lately; could it be cancer, has it returned, has it spread? The thought of its return is always there, always. But the good news is, I’m here too. I hope to be here for many years to come. My youngest child is 11 now. He was 5 when this all happened. I NEED to be around for a lot longer, for me, my three kids, and my darling husband. I’m here! I’m making the most of life, with or without cancer, and I’ll continue to do that.

So, please do me a favour RIGHT NOW, go and check your breasts and check them regularly. Get a mammogram if you can. Get complete medical checks yearly – go every birthday. That way, it’s easy to remember, and it’s your birthday present to yourself, to your health, to those who love you”.

Nicole Graham having radiation treatment

Nicole Graham having radiation treatment

Thank you gifts for the team at Launceston General Hospital Radiation Clinic

Thank you gifts for the team at Launceston General Hospital Radiation Clinic

Changes to look for include:

  • new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
  • change in the size or shape of your breast
  • change to the nipple, such as crustingulcerredness or inversion
  • nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
  • change in the skin of your breast such as redness or dimpling
  • an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.

For further information see:

Breast Cancer Network Australia Homepage (bcna.org.au)

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McGrath Foundation – Providing Support to Breast Cancer Patients

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