A mum’s story: What it’s like to battle breast cancer

Katie Eldridge was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in June 2015. She was 32 and mum to a two-year-old boy and a three-month-old girl.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Katie, from Moama, NSW, describes her journey.

“I had mastitis when my baby was about six weeks old and my doctor told me to massage my breasts in the shower to help.

Doing this, I noticed a lump in my right breast, just under my arm. I thought it was from breastfeeding, but my doctor referred me for an ultrasound and mammogram.

I remember my baby sleeping in the pram during the appointment and seeing a few lumps on the ultrasound screen, but I didn’t think anything of it.

Breast cancer wasn’t on my radar. A few days later I saw my GP to get the results and things spiralled out of control from there.

The GP told me I had cancer – we don’t know why – and I burst into tears.

My husband held my hand in a state of shock.

I remember I was supposed to be going out that Friday night – my first child-free night with the girls since having my baby.

Instead I spent the evening on the couch with my husband, holding each other.

Within a few days I saw a specialist at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for more scans and a biopsy and was booked in for surgery a week later.

I had to stop breastfeeding my baby within two days – that is still one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this whole journey.

I had a large 1.6cm tumour and some smaller tumours. The surgeon also removed all the lymph nodes under my arm. I was told it was quite aggressive.

Six months of chemotherapy and a year of Herceptin treatment followed.

Chemotherapy was tough but family and friends helped look after our children and drove me to Melbourne for treatment.

Some days being able to sit up and hold my baby was an achievement.

I don’t have the BRCA gene but because of my age I had a 30-odd per cent risk of developing another breast cancer.

For me, that was a high risk, so I had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction in 2016.

Now I take a daily tablet which shuts down my oestrogen and a monthly injection to protect my ovaries.

I have no periods, so I have hot flushes.

My body thinks I’m a 60-year-old menopausal woman, which is challenging in your 30s!

A lot of women describe a feeling of ‘loss’ after treatment.

You go through an intense period and when that ends you’re fearful because you’re not monitored as closely, so you wonder what’s to stop the cancer coming back?

We all say how precious life is but when you stare down cancer, that becomes real.

I’m a believer that things happen for a reason and I want to use that reason to do something good.

I’ve set up a local support group for young women with breast cancer, because when I was going through it I didn’t know people of my age in this region who were going through the same thing.”

For support go to Breast Cancer Network Australia or call 1800 500 258.

Watch Jo Stanley as she explores the realities of breast cancer in Australia on House of Wellness TV.