Lisa Finocchiaro's survival story
Deciding how to celebrate my 40th birthday I was faced with an intriguing choice – do I have a pedicure or do I have a mammogram? Beautiful, relaxing and pampered, or uncomfortable, half naked, squashed boobies? Now, I like an adventure as much as anyone so I chose mammogram (my first one ever). And why wouldn’t you?! Yes, for the sheer thrill of the experience, but also because my GP had recommended it.
To be honest, it was a very easy decision to make. Seventeen years prior I had watched helplessly as my mother lost her three-year battle with cancer. The delayed diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer – advanced and aggressive – was devastating news. I witnessed my mother undergo a long and very painful journey with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and various medications. I had no idea of the true nature of the mental and physical anguish she endured. My parents kept it all private, and I respected that. But nobody in the family talked about it and I was too scared to ask questions. I didn’t know how to ask.
I suffered a huge loss that I didn’t fully understand. Had our family talked more openly about Mum’s illness and her dying, I feel sure that our goodbyes would have meant so much more than just a kiss on her cheek. I wanted the chance to try and make the last three years of her life special; to be there for her. I also wanted the opportunity to find out firsthand about our family history of breast cancer. My maternal grandmother was a survivor and two other immediate relatives died from the disease. I am determined to try and ensure that I (and future members of my family) don’t suffer the same fate as Mum.
So when my diagnosis of intraduct apocrine carcinoma was confirmed, I lost count of the questions that filled my head. What does this mean? What’s going to happen? Has it spread? Is this history repeating itself? Mum’s battle with cancer suddenly became raw and real all over again. I was really scared. But I didn’t want to panic. I reminded myself that I am not Mum. My situation is totally different. I wanted to take one step at a time and to not worry about scenarios that may never happen.
Thankfully, due to early detection, a lumpectomy was all the treatment required. Admittedly, I shed some tears over the loss of part of my breast. But of course I knew that a dented breast was a small price to pay. I missed not being able to share my experience with my mum. I wanted so badly to talk to her about it.
As the day of the first surgery approached, my then four year old son asked “Why you going to hosti-bull, Mummy?” What do I say? I had to tell them something. I couldn’t just wave away their questions and ignore them. It was important to me that I give my three young boys some sort of explanation.
My watered down, rated G version seemed to do the trick because all three boys came to visit me in the evening after surgery; dressed in their pyjamas and sandals. I could hear them trotting down the corridor, giggling and using their ‘outside voices’: “Where’s Mummy? Is this Mummy’s room?” There was no sign of fear or worry in their eyes. It was all a big adventure to explore the hospital room.
Following the second surgery, it was confirmed that all the cancer and associated dodgy cells had been removed with a good clear margin. Pathology again confirmed that there was no evidence of micro-invasion. Although subsequent scans have been all clear, it’s hard not to worry about it. I’m often in front of the mirror having a feel…was that there last month?…it feels different…did I feel that last time? But I don’t want it to consume my thoughts. Life really is too short.
Something that became apparent to me through all this is that the words “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer” and “I’m a breast cancer survivor” seems to conjure up all sorts of images for people. The main perception being…breast cancer diagnosis automatically equals radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy treatment. I didn’t have either.
So for a while I struggled associating myself with breast cancer survivors. I felt like a fraud! My experience had been a little speed bump compared to the long and painful journeys that so many go through. But my diagnosis was real. The cancer cells were real. And the high risk due to family history is real. Early detection of my cancer meant that I was one of the lucky ones who did not have to undergo any radio or chemotherapy.
I am so glad that I chose mammogram over pedicure three years ago. I can only imagine what the outcome would have been. I want to be proactive. I don’t want to wait for the sky to fall in.
Since my mother’s battle with breast cancer, research has come a long way. I firmly believe that research and early detection have been instrumental in my ‘survivor’ status. In 1994, 30 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer lost their battle. In less than 20 years, that figure has halved to 15 per cent. This is due to research.
To all who are currently fighting breast cancer, I say keep fighting the fight. Share your feelings, thoughts and hopes with your family and friends. You will inspire them to be a part of the search for a cure for breast cancer.
What do you think of Lisa's story? Have you, or someone you know gone through something similar?
Get all the latest trends, photos and news from bh: follow us on...