Breast cancer campaign launches today
Edith Hili shares her battle with the disease
The annual month-long international breast cancer initiative, Pink October, kicks off today with a number of informative and fund-raising events set to take place throughout the month.
The three main aims of this initiative are to spread information, raise funds for the purchasing of equipment that will facilitate breast cancer treatment and lastly promote awareness amongst men and women to get regular check-ups.
Malta registered the second highest incidence rate for breast cancer in 2011, according to Eurostat figures. Since then, the absolute number of newly registered cases of breast cancer per year have gone down marginally, from 349 in 2011 to 209 in 2013, the most recent data from the national directorate for health information shows.
Speaking with The Malta Independent about her ordeal with breast cancer, Edith Hili shares her story and the message to all those battling cancer to fight as hard as they can.
“I was diagnosed on 11 December 2013 – a date in your life you never forget. It happened through a routine visit to my gynaecologist, nothing to do with the breast at all. I was actually wondering if anything else that was wrong because I was putting on weight and thought I was become gluten intolerant. She discovered the lump on my breast.”
She explained that her treatment entailed an “immediate ultra sound following the discovery of the lump, and biopsy. The results take 10 days to come out, and that is a nightmare in itself. They immediately told me that I had cancer, because it was obvious from the ultrasound, and you can tell by the look on the doctor’s face. It turned out that I had invasive grade 3 breast cancer, meaning it can spread very quickly so we had to get the ball rolling. I had surgery on the 29 December. Things moved very quickly. After the lumpectomy more tests were done, and histology didn’t assure us that it hadn’t spread elsewhere so we had to start chemo, which happened on 9 January.
“It is important to understand that people can’t dilly dally, you need to read and you need to take action.
“I had surgery again, massive surgery – designed and programmed followed by radiotherapy. Unfortunately because you are so weak from the treatment I got an infection and had to have another surgery. Mentally it was quite destroying and last cosmetic surgery.”
Asked whether she is in the clear, Ms Hili promptly said “nobody is ever in the clear, no doctor will tell you that, but they said that I am in remission. People need to understand that cancer survivors live with this nightmare, will it come back? You live in fear.
“For me the mental pain was much worse than the physical pain. I have two adult children and I am single. One was heavily pregnant and the other is at a cross-roads so I mainly worried about them. I couldn’t worry about myself. The physical pain is all clinical, you do what the doctors tell you, to the letter. I studied everything I could about this situation and decided to fight back as hard as I could. I walked every day, even the day after chemotherapy, I tried to do what exercise I could. I ate healthily, sanitisation had to multiply because of infection, a lot of medication, pills and comfort medicine were given to me to get through the treatment.
“You never think it could happen to you. We are all aware, I had already done a mammogram two years before but you never think it’s going to happen to you. I drink in only social occasions, I don’t smoke and I have been an athlete my whole life. I was shocked from the physical aspect.”
She said that she never carried out any self-examinations.
“But I had done two mammograms. The strange thing is that nobody on either side of my family had breast cancer. I found out through a simple, routine check-up, but I’m the type of person that does a full blood test every two years.
“There is a lot of awareness, newspapers and magazines cover the issue all the time, but you never think it’s going to happen to you. A lot of people don’t realise that the warning signs are maybe there. It is important to keep up this awareness.”
On the importance of support, Ms Hili said “people never really understand. Only those who have walked that road ever really understand. Until it happens to you, you don’t know. I had a very supportive group of friends – that text with encouragement or phone call to see how I was doing that day went a long way. My friends were there for me and I really appreciate that.”
In hindsight, Ms Hili said she would definitely recommend counselling to anybody passing through a similar experience.
“This is how I know Beth from Action For Breast Cancer; I held a private fundraiser and all the money went for counselling. After passing what I went through, and asking myself why I had that sorrow inside, it hit me that I could have done therapy. There are people without a partner or husband like me, or have children and counselling could really provide the support needed.”
Asked about how she feels about the importance of campaigns such as Pink October, and whether, through first-hand experience she had any suggestions for something more that can be done, Ms Hili said: “Initiatives like these are marvellous because they create awareness across the general public, not just women. It runs for a month, it goes viral and there is so much awareness. My dream is that when we fundraise in any way, maybe the money does not always go to palliative care. I really believe that the secret lies in the research. Malta also boasts an active research centre, I think that the secret lies in the research. My brother recently died of lung cancer and I believe that if there was new medicine maybe he might have lived.”
Events such as a motorcycle expo, fashion show and much more are taking place throughout October in collaboration with a number of official partners.
In order to access more information about the local Pink October initiative, go to pinkoctober.support.