Jane’s road to recovery
A routine check-up which detected breast cancer left the Olympian in shock and tears
FORMER Olympian Jane Flemming has always been at the peak of health. But never has the Australian champion athlete felt more vulnerable than when she received a shock breast cancer diagnosis earlier this year.
“I had no pointers towards breast cancer at all,” the 52-year-old tells Weekend. “I am healthy, fit and have always looked after my body.”
Had Jane waited three more months to find out, her story may not be as “good” as the one she tells today. She discovered she had cancer almost by mistake following a routine mammogram.
“I took an unexpected phone call in the middle of Sydney’s city centre from the specialist surgeon who informed me my biopsy was positive and that I had the opportunity to have further surgery the next day,” Jane recalls of her May diagnosis.
“I was definitely in shock. I called my husband who was interstate.
“We discussed the possibility of me having further surgery the next day and then I called back the surgeon to confirm we would go ahead. It was all very surreal.
“The day was very gloomy. I walked home for 50 minutes to try and digest what was happening. Of course I cried, but I was still very much in shock.”
Jane, who won gold medals in the heptathlon and long jump at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, which means the cancer starts inside the milk ducts.
“At this point we understood it to be completely contained,” Jane says.
“Further surgery showed it was about five centimetres (in size) and it was very difficult to get full clearance after the removal of the DCIS, so more procedures were required. “I had absolutely no symptoms.” Nor did the mother of twins have a family history of breast cancer.
Her treatment required four surgeries in eight weeks, including a double mastectomy at the advice of her surgeon. Jane’s husband Ian Purchas and twin boys James and Samuel were by her side.
“Four months later I feel I have recovered very well both physically and mentally,” she says.
“I was given the all-clear on Monday, July 24, 10 weeks after the first biopsy surgery. It was very intense, (and) at times torturous.”
Jane has been an ambassador for the National Breast Cancer Foundation for two decades after seeing a close friend battle the disease.
“I never thought I would be one of the women I used to interview (as) MC for events over the last 20 years.
“It was purely luck that I discovered my cancer, so no matter how removed you think you are or how little chance you think you might have of getting breast cancer, no one is excluded from the risk. Get a regular mammogram, check your breasts.”
In 2014 Jane was awarded the Order of Australia for services to athletics and the community. She was also named one of Westpac and the Financial Review’s “100 Most Influential Women” in 2016.
The day was very gloomy. I walked home for 50 minutes to try and digest what was happening. Of course I cried, but I was still very much in shock
Jane Flemming watches a Breast Cancer Foundation event in Sydney in 2010, and below right, Flemming carries the Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton through Circular Quay in Sydney on Australia Day in 2006.