Nobody expects to get cancer but every day 71 New Zealanders are diagnosed with it. Vicky found her warning sign after falling off her horse. She was 27 at the time. “A few days after the fall I checked my body for anything that may be of significance before my doctor’s check-up the next day. And I found a giant lump. It was hard and raised and sat right on the top of my left breast. And by giant lump I mean this felt like a golf ball. I wasn't too worried. My partner was though, and made me promise to bring it up with the doctor.”
While it is common to get cysts in that area and unusual to find breast cancer in someone so young, Vicky’s doctor booked her in for a scan. After an ultrasound and biopsy, she was found to have a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer.
"It was so surreal finding out it was cancer. I knew next to nothing about breast cancer, and had never even heard of the different types,” Vicky says.
“Even while having my biopsy, I was sure it was just a cyst and I was more scared about what the process would be to drain it. I feel so lucky I had such an amazing doctor who sent me for scans.”
Two years and extensive treatment later Vicky says, “Life after cancer is so scary. The fear of reoccurrence is so real.
“But I think about what if I hadn’t got the lump checked at the time. If I had not fallen off my horse, I probably would have dismissed the lump and waited a lot longer before going to the doctor.
“My breast cancer is so aggressive and fast-growing. I am so thankful my partner really encouraged me to get checked. By the time I went in for my first chemo session the tumour had already grown from the initial scan. My treatment was so hard, but luckily worked really well, but I'm not sure how things would have gone if the cancer had the chance to keep spreading.”
This World Cancer Day – we’re emphasising the importance of getting any symptoms you’re concerned about checked by your GP. Early detection usually leads to improved cancer outcomes and cancer can affect anyone at any age.
With the focus on COVID over the last year it’s easy to forget that cancer is still New Zealand’s #1 killer.
“We’re in a unique position in the world – we can go to our GP to get symptoms checked or attend a screening programme. Globally, people are facing delays in diagnosis, treatment, and screening because of the effects of the pandemic. This is hard on our global brothers and sisters, and our international colleagues.” says Lucy Elwood of the Cancer Society.
Finding breast cancer early provides the best chance of surviving the disease. Breast awareness is important for women of all ages, even if you’re having regular mammograms.
Women aged 45-69 years are eligible for a mammogram every two years. While Vicky was outside the breast screening programme age, the Cancer Society strongly recommends women 45-69 take part in it.