"Breast cancer felt like a rugby tackle; it just came out of nowhere."
Newlyweds Asha and Troy had a beautiful life all planned out. They were about to embark on a dream honeymoon in Iceland, then save for a home and have kids. But all those dreams were shattered by a diagnosis of stage 2 grade 3 breast cancer. "Breast cancer felt like a rugby tackle; it just came out of nowhere," says Asha. "They told me I was going to have to travel 600km away to Perth to have an operation, then chemo, radiation and then hormone therapy." For people like Asha in regional areas, the isolation of this experience can feel particularly severe.
In the lead-up to the wedding, Asha was regularly hitting up the gym and taking aerobics classes. It was during these classes that Asha first noticed the sign that would become the beginning of her experience with breast cancer. “I was jumping around and my right breast would hurt every time I’d land,” says Asha. Like many other people in their mid-30s, Asha thought the pain was a side effect of ageing - “I didn’t think much of it,” she says.
When the big day arrived and Asha put on her wedding dress, she noticed her right breast didn’t fill the corset as much as her left one, Asha didn't think much of it. “I’d always been told one boob is usually bigger than the other,” says Asha.
Asha received some advice from a colleague to see a doctor and after putting it off finally made the appointment. During this appointment, the doctor put two fingers on her breast and Asha sensed his concern. The Doctor had Asha have an ultrasound that same day. “The ultrasound lady was talking to me and all of a sudden, she stopped talking, it was just frantic clicking and moving on the screen and I knew then,” says Asha. Troy, Asha’s husband, came to meet her there and claimed the ultrasound looked like a lightning strike going through Asha’s breast. Two days later another doctor flew up to the regional Kalgoorlie area to perform a biopsy, and after waiting two weeks to receive the results, Asha was given her diagnosis; stage 2 grade 3 cancer, and it was becoming very aggressive.
After receiving her diagnosis, everything moved at a rapid pace for Asha. She was told she would have to relocate from Kalgoorlie to Perth to have an operation, then chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy. In the moment, Asha heard none of this – “all I heard was breast cancer,” she says. Asha was referred to a chemotherapy unit, where she was introduced to Sandy, her McGrath Breast Care Nurse, who greeted her with a smile and a hug. “She made it really personal,” says Asha. “The first thing she said was ‘Don’t worry about anything except for the here are now, we’re just going to talk about everything that’s coming up.’”
For Asha and Troy, starting a family was a big part of their life plan. While Asha was recovering from her mastectomy in Perth, Sandy organised for Asha to begin the IVF process. “I had 14 days to recover from surgery and then two weeks to do my egg collection. We got five eggs. It was because of her incredible expertise, that Sandy built IVF into Asha's treatment plan, she knew that Asha's opportunities would change after she received treatment for her breast cancer.
Asha’s treatment involved chemotherapy in Kalgoorlie and six weeks of radiation therapy in Perth, a huge undertaking given the 600km distance between the locations, which was eased with the support of Sandy.
McGrath Breast Care Nurse, Sandy
As a McGrath Breast Care Nurse, Sandy supports people experiencing breast cancer throughout regional WA. Sandy, now 53, has been nursing since she was 17 and has worked across everything from primary care to intensive care to recovery. “I’ve always had a passion for helping people. I’ve had a lot of family members die of cancer and you have to experience grief to help people go through grief,” says Sandy.
Sandy supports her patients navigate the complexities of their diagnosis and treatment while also providing expert emotional and physiological care. Beyond the expert medical care Sandy also manages the challenges that come with living in rural Western Australia. Many of Sandy's patients, like Asha, must travel to Perth for treatment. Sandy helps her patients and their families manage this travel and the care they receive in Perth. “I really enjoy assisting people on their journey and I understand how hard it is for regional people to access services,” says Sandy.
McGrath Breast Care Nurses not only support those experiencing breast cancer but their families as well. Sandy would sit down and talk to Asha’s family every time they visited during her chemotherapy. “Troy and Sandy become really good friends,” says Asha.