For Emily, the start of her new life as a Mum was transformed in 5 days after finding out she had Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.
Em shared her story with us to help remind everyone with breasts that, particularly during Breast Cancer Awareness month, nothing is more important than checking your bits.
I felt a lump whilst expressing breastmilk for my 3 month old baby.
I noticed the lump (like a tiny stone between my breast and armpit) for about 2 weeks, but it didn't go away.
"Initially I thought it was maybe a blocked milk duct, but it felt different somehow."
I mentioned it to my GP at my next scheduled visit, and she referred me to a breast ultrasound clinic to be sure it wasn't sinister. Sadly, the next day I received a call saying to urgently return to my GP and to bring a support person.
That day I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a very aggressive cancer which would have life altering outcomes.
As a new Mum, being diagnosed with breast cancer completely changed my life. From the time I was diagnosed, to commencing chemotherapy was a total of 5 days. But treatment lasted from November 2020 to July 2021.
In those 5 days, I did a bone scan and CT scan to confirm the cancer hadn't already spread to other areas of my body, I saw a fertility specialist to discuss fertility preservation (egg extraction) and I had to take tablets to dry up my breast milk to stop feeding as soon as my first chemotherapy was complete.
"In the space of 1 year my breasts went from being a a part of me which I associated with sex and playfulness, to the primary source of nutrients for my child, to these death bags that hung off me which I didn't want to think about."
The intensity of my treatment meant there were days where I couldn't be the primary parent to my child, I couldn't take him to the hospital or to my chemo appointments as I feared it could impact his health.
My husband worked full time from home and, in addition, stepped up as carer to our son and myself when needed.
But, having a 3 month old at the time of diagnosis meant my body wasn't ready to extract eggs, therefore my future fertility would rely on the effectiveness of the Zolodex
Today, post treatment, there is still a scary chance of a cancer returning in the near future - that is a fear I will live with for the rest of my life.
However today, 6 months post treatment concluding, I see my breasts (one smaller than the other from the lumpectomy), and I see my scar (approx 7cms) and I’m proud of what I’ve been through.
"I am not ashamed of my scar, or oddly shaped boobs - they represent bravery, strength, resilience and survival."
Breast cancer is far more common than I realised. As a healthy, 32yo woman with no family history of any cancer, I thought I’d be one of the lucky ones and breeze through life with little health concerns.
It was a devastating shock when I was diagnosed, but that's the thing about cancer. It doesn't discriminate. It is just the luck of the draw.
I didn't ‘do anything’ to get cancer; I’ve never smoked, I don't drink in excess, and I have a healthy lifestyle. Some people asked me ‘how did you get cancer’, I think as a way to compare themselves and confirm that they won’t be so unlucky. But the reality is, I didn’t ‘do anything’ to get cancer.
I hope no one else goes through what I’ve been through, but the reality is, many others, approximately 1 in 7 women alone will get breast cancer.
What does Emily want us all to do?
It’s how quickly we act, checking our breasts, creating awareness, busting the myth that it’s only ‘unhealthy people’ who get cancer; it’s not.
Be brave, check your breasts regularly, and speak to your GP if you have any concerns.
Take a friend who is worried about their breasts; book their appointment and go with them.
You might just save a life.
We extend all of our thanks to Emily Halberg who bravely shared her story with us and, now, with you.
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