Speaking out for breast cancer awareness
A KORUMBURRA woman is adding her voice to the worldwide movement to make change during October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of August, Susan Sposito is sharing her story in a bid to remind women in the community of the importance of regular mammograms to detect breast abnormalities as early as possible.
“It was quite a shock,” said Susan, who since her diagnosis has had to cancel a planned overseas trip, put work on hold, and undergo surgery to remove her left breast.
“I’d been planning a dream holiday to New Zealand. [My husband and I] had our itinerary planned, and we were getting ready to pack things and go in September. I was so excited. We were treating ourselves to a break after a long hard year of working and building up a new business.
“Now, our holiday plans have been postponed, and I’ve taken leave from my part time job and put my business on hold. So, it’s significantly changed my life, in the short and long term.”
The mammogram at Wonthaggi Hospital that detected an abnormality in Susan’s breast was her first in six years.
Despite having a family history of breast cancer – her mother died from the disease at the age of 39 – a bad experience with a specialist saw her let her regular check-ups slide.
“Because my mother passed away from breast cancer, I’d always been checking for changes and having mammograms. I noticed a change in 2012, so I got a thorough check and they found a benign cyst.
“When they gave me the all clear, they brushed it off and made it seem like I was overreacting. So, after that, I let the check-ups go for a while.”
It wasn’t until Susan went to donate blood earlier this year that she thought about getting another mammogram.
“I hadn’t noticed any other significant changes but seeing the blood van reminded me about the BreastScreen van. I knew I was long overdue [for a mammogram] so I booked in online. It was very easy, the procedure was painless, and the nurse was lovely and respectful.
“Then I was called back, and within a week, I’d had eight biopsies and two needle aspirations. I went over to Traralgon Hospital for another breast screen and that’s when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive lobular carcinoma.”
Having experienced no symptoms in the lead up to her diagnosis, Susan said a mammogram was the only way her cancer could have been detected.
A physical examination to check for lumps or other changes would not have been enough.
“I had no pain, no symptoms. There was a 48-millimetre lump behind the nipple but there was nothing you could feel or see.
“The doctor described it as an insidious cancer and said it could’ve been there for 18 months before it was detected. I had no idea it was there. So, the mammogram saved my life.”
Six cycles of chemotherapy, 28 sessions of radiotherapy and five to 10 years of hormone therapy now lie ahead for Susan.
She’s confident she can beat the disease, and she hopes her story will help other women beat it too.
“It’s a very emotional journey but I’m a very positive person so I try to take it in my stride. It’s been a complete whirlwind but I’m quite determined to get through it and keep a smile on my face,” she said.
“I hate to think what the outcome would’ve been if I’d left it any longer. And that’s why I want people to be aware. Early detection is so important. It can be the difference between life and death.
“So even if you can’t feel anything, go and get checked to give yourself and your family peace of mind. It only takes 10 to 15 minutes and the minor discomfort is nothing compared to trauma you go through when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, especially at a late stage.
“If you are diagnosed, there’s a lot of support and information. The nurses are fantastic, the treatment is very efficient, and if you catch it early enough, you might not have to go through all the chemo or a mastectomy. If you can avoid all that, why wouldn’t you?”
BreastScreen Victoria provides free mammograms to women aged 40 and over at various locations including Wonthaggi Hospital.
All women aged 50 to 74 years are encouraged to have a mammogram every two years.
Women outside this age range are advised to talk to a GP about their risk of breast cancer and the need for screening.
For information or to book an appointment phone 13 20 50 or visit www.breastscreen.org.au.