As part of our new blog series, we talk to Erilan customers about their breast cancer journeys, and how prostheses and mastectomy bras have helped them embrace their new bodies and reclaim their femininity post-surgery.
Today we speak to Kate Christie from Wagga Wagga.
Kate, tell us a little about yourself.
Kate: I’m Kate Christie and I’m 42 years old. I have a husband of 21 years and a son who is about to turn 18. We only have one child and he has a genetic condition called cystic fibrosis and that’s the reason why we only have one child.
I work with my husband in our mechanical business, which means we spend 24/7 together. When I was 39, two weeks before Christmas, I found a lump on my right breast. I forgot to tell my husband about it all day, but I remembered after dinner so got him to have a feel. He agreed with me that I needed to see a doctor. I went the next day and the doctor couldn’t overly feel it but still sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. She gave me a call on new year’s eve to say she wanted to see me.
I was very naive about the situation and thought: ‘Oh, it’s not breast cancer. It’ll be something but not breast cancer”. We closed our business between Christmas and New Year and went back to work on the 4th January and that’s when my appointment was. I decided to go by myself as we had a ‘Customer while U Wait’ service and we agreed that I would call Peter after I had seen the doctor to let him know the results so we didn’t have to talk about it in front of the customer.
I went to the doctor and she said ‘”unfortunately Kate, it is bad news. “ I said, “Oh dear, I should have brought my husband with me”. She asked if I would like to ring him and I said, “No, no, no, I’m a brave girl”. She gave me the diagnosis and I left the surgery. I didn’t cry, I was very brave and thought to myself, I can’t ring my husband and tell him I’ve got breast cancer over the phone. I decided to just go straight back to work. He was very nervous when I got there and asked “What is it, what is it?”. I said, “Well, it’s breast cancer but let’s just go out and deal with the customer, get the job done and then we can talk about it”. My poor husband went red and didn’t cope very well so I went and dealt with the customer while Peter pulled himself together. He then finished the service and we were able to talk. I went and had a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and then discussed treatment.
So Kate, what did you think of the treatment and how did you feel during treatment?
Kate: I stayed as positive as possible. I continued working as we have a lounge at work which meant I was able to relax and rest anytime I needed to. I went through the journey pretending it wasn’t happening and didn’t talk too much about it. I just dealt with it as each problem or side effect arose.
Did you have support during this time and if you did, how important was this support?
Kate: Yes, luckily enough, I still have both of my parents alive and they live here in Wagga and my husband’s parents live here as well. My son was 15 at the time and I asked him to try to behave and not to have too many people over or party too much, which he did most of the time. So support was very important. My husband would come to every chemo session with me and he decided to make a charm bracelet. Each time after treatment we would go down and buy a new charm. Eventually my charm bracelet was full and everything that’s on there is related to my breast cancer treatment journey.
I guess that was something practical your husband felt he could do.
Kate: Yes, that’s right. I also had to teach him how to wash, iron and cook etc. Luckily, my Mum stepped in and did my ironing and things like that for me.
So support is vital, isn’t it.
Kate: Absolutely. Very much so.
Is there a stand out moment for you during the time of treatment?
Kate: We are very lucky in Wagga to have two McGrath Breast Care nurses who were very supportive throughout my journey. Another important factor before surgery for me was whether I was going to have a re-construction or just wear prostheses. So two weeks before my surgery I decided to go and see Jill at Erilan where my husband and I looked at prostheses and discussed my options with bras, clothing and swimwear. This made me very comfortable with my decision not to have a re-construction. I decided to have a double mastectomy and had my left breast removed as well. I was turning 40 the year of treatment and I would’ve been concerned about that breast for the rest of my life if I didn’t have it removed.
Where are you up to now Kate?
Kate: I finished my treatment in September 2016 so I’m nearly two years past treatment. I’m happy and back to normal. This year I was able to resume mowing the lawns, which is my favourite house chore. I’m simply getting on with life.
Are you on any medication?
Kate: My cancer grew on the oestrogen hormone in my system so now I have an injection in my stomach once a month to stop my menstrual cycle and I also take a hormone therapy tablet. Of course, there are side effects. I was always a happy, outgoing person so I also take an anti-depressant, which helps with the side effects of menopause and allows me to be my normal self.
Are there any hints or tips that you would like to pass on? Anything that you have learnt since starting your journey?
Kate: I didn’t realise that there were so many different types of breast cancer and how much we need to be aware of checking our breasts. My main tip to others would be to stay positive.
Would you say that your mental attitude is a main factor in all of this?
Kate: Yes, I do believe so. I think the more positive you are the more you bring about so I always stayed positive and thought good thoughts, not bad thoughts.
Has it changed your life Kate? Some people say it has changed their lives completely and others say they are just getting on with things. We are all different. How has it affected you?
Kate: With a son who has a genetic condition, which is terminal – his life expectancy is around 35 – we have always had the attitude that we will enjoy life. Having breast cancer has confirmed this even more so we always stay happy, positive and ensure that we do recreational activities together.
What resources were available that you were able to take advantage of?
Kate: The Cancer Council definitely has some wonderful literature and resources. I also got some great information from BCNA and they provided me with a My Journey kit as well as a post-surgery bra and ‘fluffy’ to wear after surgery. Also seeing Jill at Erilan and getting my ‘boobs’ back was wonderful. I certainly still feel feminine and surgery hasn’t changed my look in any way. I can decide whether I want big boobs or small boobs so I consider myself very lucky.
You talked about femininity Kate and I know that is an issue for a lot of women. You said you are happy with the way you look and still feel pretty so does that flow over into your relationship with your husband?
Kate: Absolutely! I am very lucky that he is not a ‘boobs man’ so it hasn’t changed our relationship in any way, shape or form. I still feel confident and if I did lose my confidence I think I would wear my prostheses with a bra during sexual intimacy.
Another positive thought I had throughout my treatment and breast cancer journey was that I got to use my boobs for what they were designed. I breastfed my son until he was nearly 2, so I felt lucky enough to be able to use my boobs for what they were meant for and I didn’t need them anymore anyway.
How important was it for you to have a store like Erilan close by?
Kate: It is a lifesaver for ladies like me as there is no other outlet in Wagga other than a department store with very limited stock, so having a specialty mastectomy and post surgery shop nearby is fantastic.
Are you doing things now that you wouldn’t have done before?
Kate: I believe we should give back and help anyone else with breast cancer and I was fortunate that after my treatment I was asked to help run an Encore exercise program, which is run by YWCA. It is a fantastic 8 week program and I am very much enjoying being a facilitator.
My son is also soon turning 18 so that will give Peter and I a lot more free time. We plan to travel and explore our beautiful country and live life to the fullest.
A big thank you to Kate for sharing her experience with us. Want to share your breast cancer story? Send us an email at email@example.com and you could be featured on our blog.