Breast can­cer cam­paign launches to­day

Edith Hili shares her bat­tle with the dis­ease

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - ■ He­lena Grech

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.

Edith Hili

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