Broken Hill women are being encouraged to check out their chests, wear pink and master a three-step approach during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
This October, the McGrath Foundation is asking everyone to follow this simple process, developed by its Breast Care Nurses, and to repeat it once a month.
CEO Holly Masters says ‘‘if you grow them, know them”, and encourages Broken Hill women to become intimately familiar with their own bodies.
“Part of good breast health understanding means getting to know your breasts, so you know what’s normal for you,” she says.
“Early detection of breast cancer while it is still small and confined to the breast provides the best chance for treatment to be effective. It’s so important that if you find a lump or notice any changes to your breasts that you seek medical attention straight away. Don’t wait for lockdowns or the pandemic to be over.”
Broken Hill local, Julie Garner (52), couldn’t agree more.
“I first found a lump when I was 28-years-old,” she says.
“I [went] to the doctors to tell them that there was something not right, and they kept telling me that I was too young to have breast cancer. It got to the point that I was in a lot of pain, and I kept persisting.
“A specialist who used to come to Broken Hill finally said that I needed to have a biopsy, so I went to Adelaide and had a biopsy. I was 32 at that stage. It came back positive, so I was told that I really needed to have a mastectomy. The pathology was sent to England because it was a very rare type of cancer … I had carcinoma in situ.
“I didn’t have any better treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation, because my specialist virtually just said I didn’t need to have that.
“I had my mastectomy done, and, back in 1986, you basically just went home. There were no breast care nurses or very much help whatsoever.”
Ms Garner says when both her sisters developed breast cancer, she decided to look more closely at her other breast. It was a move that ended up saving her life.
“I decided to go back in 2006 and have a precautionary mastectomy from my other breast and have a breast reconstruction,” she says.
“In doing that, they found that I had cancer in my chest wall above my right breast, which I had done in 1986, so that then led to me having chemotherapy and radiation and a lot of treatment.
“My reconstruction actually saved my life, because, had I not had breast reconstruction, they would never have found the cancer back in the old area. They didn’t know if the cancer had been sitting there for the 20 years or if it was a new cancer, and it had also moved into my lymph nodes under my arm.”
Ms Garner says it was a challenging time for her as a young woman.
“At that stage, I was in a new relationship and not married. It was hard because, really, there were no guarantees. I had the operation and my now husband and I got married the year after.”
Ms Garner says Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an important time of the year for her, and being part of the local support group is helpful.
“It makes people aware, which is really good, and it helps people, like when we have the Pink Shops, you get ladies that will come out and say, “Yeah, look, I’ve had breast cancer.” So it helps them talk as well.”
“The local breast cancer group has a wig bank for anyone that’s had chemo. Anyone can go and get a wig from there free of charge.
Usually, during Pink October, fundraising activities take place.
“Normally, in October, the Broken Hill Breast Cancer Support Group has a shop at Westside Plaza, and they sell t-shirts and merchandise,” Ms Garner says. “We also usually have kite stalls to raise money, we make rosettes which people can buy and they actually put them on their garden or on their houses to show that it’s Pink October.”
“A lot of people like the clubs raise money in their town, people have had their heads shaved to raise money, all sorts of fundraising, and all that money goes to the Broken Hill Breast Cancer Support Group.
“So we fund the wig bank and we also, if anyone needs to go to Adelaide for breast cancer treatment, we will give them a one-off $500 donation to help them along with that as well.”
Ms Garner encourages women of all ages to take the McGrath Foundation’s breast check advice.
“If you feel a lump or you feel that something’s not right, you tell them [doctors] that you want something done.
“You go for it, because it’s not something you can muck around with.”
For further information or to donate head to the Broken Hill Breast Cancer Support Facebook page.