Raising awareness about breast cancer also means sharing ones personal story, and as a daughter to a cancer survivor I cannot not share with you the story of the extraordinary woman who has given birth to me and has raised me. My mum Jennifer.
Mum had been diagnosed with a rare breast cancer known as Angiosarcoma* in her early thirties. The initial discovery of a lump in her breast a year before was left ignored and dismissed by her Gynaecologist. After the lump continued to grow and as did her concerns, she sought a second opinion.
To her and our family’s horror, the results showed a malignant cancer which had to be operated immediately. Sure enough, she was soon after rushed into the O.R., with the results confirming angiosarcoma*. There was no other option but to proceed with a mastectomy, on the 13th February, her 33rd birthday.
I remember very clearly my sister ( 4 years old ) and I ( 8 years old ) bidding my mother goodbye before this operation, with her parents who flew in from Malta ( we lived in Germany at the time ), and a priest who came to read her Last Rites, as doctors were unsure if she would come out of the operating theatre alive.
Saying goodbye to your mother as a child is one of the hardest things I ever had to do, I can still say today. As a mother now myself of two boys of nearly the same of my age then, I cannot imagine the pain she must have felt when saying goodbye to us.
Mum survived the operation, waking up to a reality confirmed by her doctors that despite her survival of the operation, her survival rate was only that of 8%. Now if that news doesn’t tell you to give up, I do not know what does.
She began her journey of chemotherapies, followed by another 10 to 15 operations to remove several lymph node, other lumps in different parts of her body and the reconstruction of her breast.
We lived everyday, knowing that our days with her were counted, and aware of this soon to approach reality we relocated to Malta in 1992. It was her dying wish to come home, she wanted to die on her soil, where she knew that her children would be looked after and cared for after her passing.
My mum has not only fought cancer, but she has raised us single handedly. We have laughed together, but also cried a lot together. Our life has often been a very very hard one. BUT she won! She survived! when no one, including her own doctors believed she could.
Today as I write this short blog story for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, on the 4th October of the year 2016, Jennifer is alive. She has defied all odds. Today she is a mother of four children (including a little girl adopted from Ethiopia), a grand mother of three and looking beautiful as she ever did before at the age of 55!
No words can express the admiration I have for this bionic woman I am blessed to call Mum. For her unbelievable strengths, her kind heart and her will to live for her children no matter what. She is a true walking miracle and I owe her everything that I am, and who I am today.
The moral of the story? Check yourself regularly! Do not settle for one humans' opinion ( even if this is a doctor ), seek after a second opinion right from the start and always, always follow your instincts. Have faith in whatever it is that you believe in and FIGHT.
*“Sarcoma” is not a word that is generally associated with discussions of breast cancer. Statistically, less than 10% of all angiosarcomas originate in the breast. In terms of breast cancers, angiosarcomas account for a very small percentage of cases; less than 0.05%, or approximately 1 in every 2500 breast cancers.
The prognosis for breast angiosarcomas is variable, but it is a very serious diagnosis, especially if the tumor is of a high grade. It may be estimated that about 1/3 of women who develop breast angiosarcoma may not survive beyond three years following diagnosis, mostly due to metastasis of the disease to other areas of the body.
About 11-12% of women with breast angiosarcoma may develop local recurrence after 2 to 7 years, and in about 8% of women this may occur in the contralateral breast. However, about 50% of women with angiosarcoma of the breast remain healthy and disease free after three years. Unfortunately, high grade breast angiosarcomas are historically very aggressive and on average most patients do not survive beyond 15 months following diagnosis.
Reference website: http://breast-cancer.ca/angiomas/