BCAM: Breast Cancer Stories - Leanne Full
Posted by Buxton Lifestyle - 15 October 2021
Posted by Buxton Lifestyle - 15 October 2021
Buxton Highton Rental Department Manager, Leanne Full, is no stranger to hospitals, specialists, treatments, and medication after years of living with diabetes, Graves Disease and being celiac. With a family history of breast cancer, regular checks and mammograms were a no brainer. In May 2021, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. For Leanne, BCAM is the perfect time to share her breast cancer story. From diagnosis to the devastating impact of a double mastectomy, to getting back to her life, she lets us in on what it's like to live with breast cancer, and what she's learned from her experience.
Before your diagnosis, how often did you go for check ups?
I have been having check ups every two years. My sister had breast cancer 19 years ago when she was 33.
I had no symptoms or lumps, Covid had delayed my routine mammogram by about nine months, and if it had not been delayed the cancer would have been worse when my two yearly came around again.
Can you tell us a bit about how you felt when you were diagnosed?
I wondered 'Why me?' I have had Type 1 Diabetes for 39 years, Graves Disease for 20 years and Celiac for 10 years, and wondered why I had to deal with yet another disease. I was petrified. I watched my sister go through chemo and it is something I didn’t think I could deal with.
My family were shocked and worried as we went through it with my sister, and two of my aunties died from breast cancer. The family support, especially from my 20 year old daughter, was what got me through. All my three kids, family, my best friend, all the team at work, my team of specialists and a positive attitude have been the factors which have helped me through this journey.
What was your reaction to the news that you would have to undergo surgery?
I just wanted it out. I have faced more challenges in my life than most, and I just wanted to tackle it head on
Going through surgeries was hard as my last one was nearly 7 hours on the table and being a Type 1 Diabetic made things a bit harder to manage. I am single and was worried about time off work, even though the team were fantastic and I had plenty of sick leave. I worried about what I would do financially if things didn’t go to plan.
Between diagnosis and surgery, were there hospital visits, medication and so on. Can you describe what it was like day-to-day in the lead up to your surgery?
As I have had chronic diseases all my life I am used to hospitals and seeing specialists, however this was like being stuck in a black hole as I had no control over what was happening. The time between my first surgery and the results (which would then work out my treatment plan) was so lonely and full of fear, the disappointment of having further surgeries and then the loss of my breasts was hard to deal with.
I was diagnosed mid-May and have had three surgeries since early June. The first surgery was a wide local incision where they took the cancer in the duct and removed the sentinel lymph nodes and found more cancer than they thought. The second was wide local incision to get more clear margins, then in August, a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
Were other treatments or post-surgery treatments discussed?
After my second surgery, I had to go back for clear margins, then they would do radiation treatment followed by five years of a tablets to block my hormones, as my cancer is hormone positive.
While I was at the specialist surgery, I made the decision there and then to have the mastectomy. My specialist said they still may not have clear margins so I told her to not only take the cancer breast, but to take both off at the same time. I didn’t want to go through this again as my family history is too strong. I had genetic testing that showed I had a mutated gene and had a higher chance of the cancer returning, so I made the right choice.
It’s been six weeks since your surgery, how are you feeling now?
The first few weeks were really hard and a few times I wondered if I had done the right thing, however, as the weeks have gone by, I feel better and stronger. I've had issues with infection and fluid, but my team of surgeons were straight onto it. I know I will always struggle with strength and movement in my upper chest, but I am ok with that. I am a cyclist and getting back on the bike has been good even though I am not as strong as I was pre-surgery, but that will come back. I am back to getting out in my van and travelling again, which is important to me.
Will you be undergoing further treatment?
I am on hormone blockers for 5-7 years and ultrasounds yearly to check that my implants are all in tact.
Can you tell us what you’ve learned about yourself and life because of this experience?
I've learned I don’t have to be super strong all the time, and need to let people help me when I am tired, or just can't do things like make the bed or mow the lawns (although I can now!).
What would you say to someone who just found out they have breast cancer?
BREATHE, appointments and treatment plans take time, but things will move quickly. You also need to allow others to help, as the grief can be overwhelming.
How often should women self-check or have a check up with their GP?
Self check should be done every month and get your GP to also check. Early mammograms are so important. I'm only 47 and my cancer would not have been felt for years...it was only the mammogram that picked up 3 little specs of calcium. By the time I would've felt lumps, my treatment plan would have been so much more invasive and debilitating.
What would you say to those who don’t go for regular check ups?
It's something that you shouldn’t be embarrassed to do. Life's too short, you never know what will happen.
What does BCAM mean to you?
It's a reminder for me that life is precious, and I have so much living to do.
Breast Screening Australia invites women aged between 50 and 74 to undergo free mammograms (breast screening) every two years. Women aged between 40 and 49 may also be eligible for free screenings. Learn more at breastscreen.org.au.
Breast cancer research is vital to saving lives. Through donations raised entirely from the community, the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) fund vital research projects to help further understand risk factors, develop new ways to treat and monitor breast cancer, improve quality of life for breast cancer patients, improve treatment outcomes and ultimately – save more lives.
For more information on the work of NBCF or to find out how you can show your support, please visit nbcf.org.au