QIMR Berghofer community fundraiser Tricia Mahoney shares her inspiring story with us
I was 36 weeks pregnant with my son when I first found a lump in my breast. But it was to be another three years before I was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer.
Six years ago, I found a pea-sized lump in my breast. I quickly made an appointment with my GP, who organised some initial scans and an ultrasound, but because I was pregnant they couldn’t do a mammogram. Thankfully, the tests all came back clear, and everything seemed okay.
A few weeks later, I gave birth to my son, Liam. When I finished breastfeeding at six months, the lump still hadn’t disappeared. Something instinctively didn’t feel right.
A year’s worth of GP and surgeon visits, tests including a mammogram, ultrasound and fine needle bioposy – all kept returning the same result. It was ‘just fatty tissue.’
My young family and I moved from Melbourne to Brisbane, and during that transition I kept on top of this lump, it was never far from my mind. I quickly found a GP in Brisbane, and I was sent for another round of tests at the Wesley Hospital.
They also performed a core biopsy, which was terrifying. The results again came back as fatty tissue. My son Liam was now two years old. By this stage it was no longer a pea, it was more like a marble, and I just wanted it out of my body.
Another year went by and I went back in for testing. This time however, the doctors started to ask me whether the lump had changed. All of a sudden the feeling in the room changed. When the needle biopsy and the core biopsy came back, I knew that they’d discovered something.
They said: ‘We need more testing, we will let you know tomorrow.’ They called at 9.30am the next morning. I didn’t burst into tears, I was in shock. Within a week I had a lumpectomy. I went on to have six treatments of chemotherapy and a full six weeks of radiation, six months worth of treatment in total.
I was changing physically, as the chemo was making my hair fall out, and making me feel sick, but my husband and I didn’t want our young children to think the medicine was bad. We wanted to say it was a good medicine. I was on huge amounts of anti-nausea drugs.
They do help, but you can’t sleep. I’d be up at 3am on the computer working, and during one of these ‘chemo hazes’, I saw the ‘Girls Night In’ fundraising event advertised. I immediately loved the concept of getting your girlfriends together and donating the money we would’ve spent on going out. So in between my chemo schedule, we had 65 friends over in our backyard, and raised $7,000.
A year later, we had 120 people in our backyard and we raised $27,000. That’s how the charity ‘Breast Friends’ was founded – my best friend, three school mums and a neighbour.
The idea of a fundraising cookbook came to me two years ago. We all love cooking, and we wanted to create something filled with recipes and personal messages from people who have been touched by cancer. We sold the cookbook on our website, and in shopping centres and markets, and called on friends to help out. Word of mouth got out and now we are sold out!
We had heard about the ground-breaking medical research being done at QIMR Berghofer through the Walk to End Women’s Cancers.
We decided to donate our funds towards QIMR Berghofer research, and support the Institute moving forward. My mission with ‘Breast Friends’ is personal, I want to give back to the organisations that helped me through my treatment, and on a bigger scale, I want to pay it forward.
I look at my daughter and I think, ‘I don’t want you growing up being scared, frightened that one day, breast cancer could kill you”. She knows that her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother, have all had breast cancer. This is why I want to do something for her, and for her generation. To create a cancer-free future.
This is why QIMR Berghofer’s work is so important to us. It’s creating a better future. When I talk to other women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the first things I say to them is ‘you’re not going to die from this, you’re not’, because treatment is advancing every single day.
I’m noticing more and more that every woman’s treatment experience is different, it is becoming more personalised. It was a nice feeling to make the five year anniversary. I skipped out of my oncologist’s office with a big smile on my face, but there is no way
I would stop surveillance all together. Secondary cancer is still always a worry. Two years after I was diagnosed with breast cancer I ended up having a full ovariectomy and hysterectomy, to remove a tumour the size of an orange. For one traumatic week we thought this could be it, that it had spread. Thank goodness it was benign.
My goal is to continue to give back to organisations who helped me and pay it forward for the next generation. I’m excited by what 2018 fundraising holds for ‘Breast Friends’, and how together we can raise funds to support breast cancer research at QIMR Berghofer, and continue to make a real impact.