Many of you will have read my previous post (you can see it here) about life throwing me a bit of a curveball. In October last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. While I’ve not been writing about that here on my travel blog, I thought now would be a good time to give a quick update on how things have been going and what will be going on in the future.
As mentioned in the first post, I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, or DCIS, which is a non-invasive form of breast cancer. I decided to deal with it swiftly and decisively by having a bilateral mastectomy, followed by reconstruction. While there are a few different reconstruction options, I chose to have implants.
My mastectomy was done in December 2019, just a couple of days after we returned from a week in Bali that was spent laying in the sun, drinking mocktails and generally relaxing. I was in hospital for five days, and really, it was not as bad in reality as I had built the surgery up in my mind. It was relatively pain-free, and within only a couple of weeks I was back to doing most things, with just a few physical restrictions on things like lifting anything heavy and reaching for anything high up.
It was after the mastectomy that I got the final pathology results – and they weren’t exactly what I was hoping for. While my lymph nodes were clear, they had found a tiny invasive cancer. But because I had acted so decisively in my treatment for DCIS, this was found so early that I didn’t need to have either chemo or radiation. In the words of my surgeon, I was cured.
During my mastectomy I had tissue expanders inserted, and over time they were filled with saline to create a pocket for the implants to eventually sit in. While this process was happening, my surgeon gave me the okay to travel, so we spent two weeks on a cruise between Australia and New Zealand.
We visited a lot of places we had been before which meant we could relax and explore without feeling like we needed to see the main attractions in each place – since we had done that previously. One big name attraction we did visit was Hobbiton, which was fantastic, even for someone who has not read the books. If you are heading to New Zealand, I highly recommend it.
While we were on the cruise, the world was changing. The corona virus was starting to spread beyond China, and little did we know how things were going to end up. I had a trip planned to the Gold Coast (Australia) for the middle of April (I should be there right now in fact!) for the 2020 International Bookcrossing Convention, which I was organising. And on my return I had booked my next round of surgery, where I would have the tissue expanders removed and my implants put it.
As it got closer to the end of March it was clear I would not be travelling to the Gold Coast as the Australian states shut their borders. I was still holding out hope that my surgery would go ahead though. And then a few days before the end of the month, our Prime Minister announced all elective surgery was cancelled until further notice.
I had resigned myself to living for the next few months with tissue expanders. This wasn’t really an issue as they could safely be in place for up to 18 months. They are hard and uncomfortable though, so I was disappointed that would have to stay. I called my surgeon to find out where to go from here. Clearly I would not need to go to the pre-op appointment I had in a few days time.
My timing was perfect. My surgeon had just opened up some more places on the very last day of elective surgery and one was offered to me. I jumped at the chance and had my exchange surgery done on April’s Fools Day. I was my surgeon’s last patient before the ban came into force.
After the last surgery, this one was a walk in the park. Only a single night in hospital and now, two weeks later, I feel as though I haven’t even had surgery recently. I still have some recovering to do, but yes, these implants are much more comfortable.
So where to next? I do still have at least one more surgery in the reconstruction process. At the moment I have no idea when that will be, but I did see something in the news today that suggested Australia would be relaxing the restrictions on elective surgery sooner rather than later, starting with more urgent cases. I am therefore hoping that in three months time when my next surgery is recommended, there will not be any reason why it couldn’t go ahead, but with these uncertain times I guess I will just have to wait and see.
In some ways I am thankful to have had this breast cancer diagnosis when I did. If I hadn’t, I likely would have had two or three trips all in various stages of booking. As it was, I only had the flights to the Gold Coast to be concerned about when we had to cancel everything as the travel bans were put into place. It has likely saved me a lot of money and stress dealing with cancellation of trips.
Overall, when I look back, the last six months haven’t been too bad considering I’ve had breast cancer. None of my three surgeries were too painful, and I haven’t had any complications at all. As my surgeon said, everything has been textbook! I am so thankful I was in a position where my work was this blog and a few freelance gigs so I was able to easily work as much or as little as I wanted to without the stress of an employer making me feel obliged to work more. My husband has a good job that easily pays the bills so my lack of income has not been a huge issue. My kids are adults so I haven’t had to worry about taking care or anyone but myself, and I even managed to fit in two international trips.
So while there is still a little bit to go, I am past the worst of it and it’s now onwards and upwards, hoping I continue to be cancer-free for many years to come!
That’s my update, but I can’t go without my usual public service announcement…
Check your breasts! Do it now! Men get breast cancer too, so yes, even if you are a guy, check!
If you even wonder if something is strange, go see your doctor, asap!
If just one person reads this and acts on this, then good has come from my diagnosis. Did you know that 1 in 7 (think about that!!) women in Australia will get breast cancer in their lifetime. 1 in 7! That is crazy. Think about your family and friends – how many of them are you thinking of? Surely more than seven. It is very possible at least one of them will have breast cancer in their lifetime!
And don’t think “well, it’s not in my family, it won’t happen”. Guess what? 85% of breast cancers are not genetic. That’s right. It’s just bloody bad luck! Luck of the draw! Pot luck! So check your breasts and speak with your doctor – you might just save your life. I’m fairly sure I did!
Want to ask me questions about my cancer or to share your story? I am happy to answer questions in the comments below or you can email or Facebook message me.
For more breast cancer information see my other blog here
Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.