"I became a member of BCO in December 2012 and I have appreciated all of the support and friendship from the members that I’ve developed a network with.
"When approached to write this, I was asked to speak of my own experience and the Australian Medical system. There is a lot of negative talk about our free system, but for me, and I only speak from my personal experience, it worked extremely well. I also have private insurance, but didn’t actually have to use it and my treatment didn’t change in any way. My entire outlay, which includes all visits with the surgeon, even another surgery to revise the area at the end of my unilateral mastectomy incision line, is only a few hundred dollars of out of pocket expenses.
"It all began when my husband and I had recently moved to our forever home, in the beautiful Lakes district in the East of Victoria, Australia. Life was great!
"My routine mammogram fell due and, as always, I just expected to receive the letter which would tell me nothing was found and I should return in 2 years. This time was different; the tech had actually gone back for more pictures on the right side -- that had never happened before. Three weeks later I was ‘invited’ to attend the call-back center, of Australia’s “BreastScreen”, which is a free service for women over 50, and the call-back clinic is about a 2 hour drive from home, so my husband drove me.
"I have to be honest, I had no idea what to expect when we arrived, but was pleasantly surprised at how well the system works here. We met with the doctor, a counselor and a nurse who explained how this call-back works. I had another mammogram with the head radiologist, Steph, who explained everything that was going on and she showed me what she was concerned about. It looked just like the Nike Tick, microcalcifications was what she called it.
"I sat in a room with another 17 women, all of us sitting in our Christian Dior robes, drinking tea and nibbling sandwiches, all reading the same page over and over, in our magazines. I remember looking around that room and thinking 'Wow, 2 of us are getting bad news today!' As the group thinned out, and everyone else had left, after they were given the all clear. It was just the woman beside me and me, who were left. We had both been given the series of events that would follow: fine needle aspiration, ultrasound and perhaps a stereotactic core biopsy.
"I had the latter and when Steph (the radiologist) took me behind the screen to show me where they had placed the little breast cancer ribbon-shaped marker, it was suddenly all very real. I thought about all the women who had gone down this road before me, my own mother included, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in ’94 just 4 months after my dad passed.
"I waited 11 long days for my results, waiting is the worst, which turned out to be DCIS grade 3. Along with my husband, we met with a surgeon at the same call-back center, who suggested I should have a lumpectomy and 6 weeks of radiotherapy. I didn’t really feel right about that, so I found my own surgeon, who came highly recommended. When I saw him he said he couldn’t guarantee there was no invasive component and I should make up my mind about lumpectomy or mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy. I opted for the unilateral mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy, for a lot of reasons. Firstly, living in a regional area, I would have had to live away from home 5 days a week, for 6 weeks, to do the rads which could only be done in a town a couple of hours drive from here. My husband is a C5/6 quadriplegic from a hang gliding accident 37 years ago, so leaving him wasn’t something I wanted to do. I had lived through my mother’s unilateral mastectomy, so I knew what to expect. Reconstruction was not something I wanted, and my surgeon was fine with that, as was my husband.
"I had my unilateral mastectomy surgery and sentinel node biopsy, with my chosen Surgeon, in a large country hospital a few days before Christmas 2012. I was at the hospital one morning, met all the staff, was operated on and phoned my hubby to pick me up the next morning. I then convinced my husband to take me to the mall on the way home for some retail therapy!
"Surgery and recovery all went well, apart from some minor hiccups, and fortunately for me, I received the final pathology results which showed pure DCIS, grade 3, but no invasion. The relief was incredible, I even did a ‘happy dance’ in the car-park of the clinic.
"The time has flown and I am now 20 months further down the road. There have been a few hiccups along the way, nothing serious, but life has returned to relative normal. I continue to be involved here on BCO, paying it forward, mainly in the areas of foobs and prosthesis and touching base with newbies who arrive here, scared, in the middle of their night, which is my daytime or evening. I have also become active in a local support group.
"I’ve learned so much over these past two years and appreciate all the help I’ve received along this journey. I’m one of the very fortunate ones, life is good for me."
--Ariom, Victoria, Australia