Caroline Tilah

Caroline Tilah

On the 14/07/2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Everyone who has a cancer diagnosis can tell you the exact date they are told. I now refer to my life now in two stages... BC (before cancer) and PC (post cancer). We are very fortunate that we live in NZ where we have a breast screening program. Because I was having two yearly mammograms my cancer was picked up very early (hadn't gone to my lymph nodes). It was a progesterone, oestrogen and HER2 positive breast cancer which meant it was aggressive but fortunately as it was caught so early it was very treatable. I'm also extremely lucky that herceptin is now publicly funded. This is the wonder drug that ensures those with a HER2 diagnosis now survive allot longer.

I couldn't imagine BC how anyone would cope being told they had cancer. For me I was shocked and very wobbly initially and had a week off work to adjust. I had to chunk the treatment into 4 stages so it wasn't completely overwhelming and focussed on one stage at a time.

Stage 1 now have boobs of a 17 year old ...gone from a g to a d cup.

Stage 2 POISON..... chemotherapy....this was weekly for 3 months and is the hardest thing I have had to go through. Having to turn up and have poison injected into your veins takes allot of mental stamina and was only possible with the support of my chemo buddies.

Stage 3 - BURN ....radiotherapy - 16 consecutive daily zaps of my right boob to be exact. Can't speak highly enough of our radiation oncology unit at Wellington Hospital they have it nailed from a consumer experience perspective.

Stage 4 - RECOVERY. I took five weeks leave after the first three stages and thought when I came back to work I would be able to pick up exactly where I left off. I tried that and 5 weeks later was exhausted and caught a virus. It actually takes 5-6 months to recover from stages 1-3. My immunity was impaired, body extremely fatigued, I got tired very easily, felt much more vulnerable and really felt the cold.

It's been quite the treatment journey and the only way I have been able to get through it all is because of the incredible support I received.

Having breast cancer has changed my life. PC I now exercise regularly, have dramatically reduced my wine intake, eating allot healthier and working on my work/life balance. I actually feel physically unwell if I don't do this and by doing so I'm dramatically reducing my risk of getting breast cancer again (which is a great motivator).

The reason I am so open about my experience and sharing my story, and why Team Itty Bitty Titty are doing the Pink Star Walk for the third time this year, is because I want to raise awareness of the importance of early detection. (Photo the first year and in my eleventh week of chemo).

There was no history of breast cancer in my family. I didn't do my own breast examination BC. Fortunately I did get regular mammograms. What is very worrying is that 27% of eligible women still do not get regular breast screening.

I hope my story inspires you to be doing all you can to reduce your own risk and those that you care about, through early detection. 3300 women and 25 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and more than 600 die. The NZBCF has a vision of zero deaths from breast cancer. By making sure you do your own regular breast examinations and those eligible having regular mammograms you are significantly increasing the chances of early detection and positive treatment outcomes. I am living proof of that. I now have 97% chance it won't come back because of early detection and prompt treatment. 

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