No rhyme or reason
Horsham’s Janine English had just turned 50, ran several times a week, went to the gym and watched what she ate.
She considered herself healthy – until a routine breast check turned her world upside down.
“You see breast cancer on television and in the newspapers. You know it exists – you see it everywhere – but you don’t expect it to happen to you,” Mrs English said.
“There is no rhyme or reason for it, unfortunately. I guess if there was, we’d be halfway to a cure.”
A receptionist at Lister House Clinic, Mrs English quickly booked herself in for an appointment. But life was about to get even tougher. “At the time, my mother was in the hospital unwell,” Mrs English said.
“She passed away the day I had my ultrasound and mammogram. I found out it was cancer the day of the funeral.
“You know what it’s like when something goes wrong – you want your mum to be there. It made it even harder.
“It was a shock. She wasn’t really sick, she just went into hospital with an infection and it was just one of those things.”
Mrs English underwent a mastectomy to remove her right breast and started chemotherapy in Ballarat soon after.
She said walking into the oncology department and seeing other patients hooked up to machines was incredibly confronting.
“I think I just sat there and cried all day,” she said.
Mrs English had three chemotherapy sessions before switching to Herceptin, a drug used to treat Her2-positive early breast cancer.
She had Herceptin treatment, given intravenously, every three weeks for 12 months.
“You do get very used to the process after a while and it does become your normal,” Mrs English said.
“I think the worst thing is that most people can hide behind their illnesses, but not when you’ve got cancer and your hair falls out.
“For me that was one of the worst bits. You not only feel awful, you look awful too. And that’s not being vain, it’s just that other people can walk around with illnesses and no one looks at them, but when you lose your hair you can’t go anywhere without people looking at you and thinking you’re probably going to die.”
Four and a half years after she was diagnosed, Mrs English feels like her ‘normal’ self again.
Surgeons spent 18 months reconstructing her breast, her hair has grown back and she is healthy and fighting fit – but Mrs English must always remain vigilant.
“About 12 months ago I found another lump under my arm and the cancer was back in one of my lymph nodes,” she said.
“I thought I was going back down that path again – back to the chemo – but thankfully they operated and it wasn’t anywhere else. I only had to change my medication. At the moment everything is fine and I feel back to how I was before.”
Mrs English said support from family, friends and work colleagues helped her through the toughest of times.
“I had a lovely group of friends I was going running with and one of the ladies in that group also had breast cancer,” she said.
“She was able to say ‘you’ll be right’ and give me words of encouragement when I was down. I could bounce questions off her as well. That group was a great support.”
Becoming involved in Horsham’s Mother’s Day helped.
The community event involves a walk and a run and raises money for National Breast Cancer Foundation research.
One in eight Australian women is diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85.
Mrs English said research was vital to ensure fewer women had to endure a breast cancer battle.
“When I had my first Herceptin treatment, I was the first person there in the morning and the last one to leave at night, but by the end of the 12 months they got me in and out in an hour,” she said.
“Another girl I’ve spoken to since, had Herceptin treatment every three weeks by injection. So just in that short period of time, the treatment has got better.
“If my treatment has changed in four years then who knows where we’ll be in another four.
“That’s what we’re all working towards with the Mother’s Day Classic – although hopefully what we’re eventually working towards is having it gone completely.”
• For more on the Mother’s Day Classic, see page 21. Classic committee has also SCHUBERTS PEST SERVICES
ONE IN EIGHT: Horsham breast cancer survivor Janine English hopes events such as the Mother’s Day Classic will help eradicate the disease through funding vital research. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER