No parent should hear the words "you have cancer". Hear Jess' story.
When Jess was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after the arrival of her second child, she was terrified. She knew nothing about cancer, chemotherapy or any treatments. All she knew for certain was that she was willing to do whatever it took because she didn’t want her children to lose a parent. Thankfully, that fear never became a reality because, thanks to people like you, Jess was able to access new and better treatments that have allowed her to live beyond cancer and be here to watch her children grow up.
I’m Jess—a young mum to two beautiful children, Molly and Hendrix, who are now six and two, but were just four-and-a-half and 10 months old when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2019. My cancer diagnosis was a shock in itself, let alone learning that it was an aggressive type of breast cancer that was hard to treat. In that moment, my heart sank, and I thought of my kids growing up without their mum. But advances in research saved my life.
For me, my life before my shocking cancer diagnosis was good. I was home with the kids, it was busy and chaotic, but I loved it. I was preparing to go back to work in a few short months, and really enjoying watching Hendrix’s sweet little personality develop as he grew out of that newborn phase.
But, everything changed when I felt some pain in my left breast one day while I was breastfeeding.
I thought it was mastitis or a blocked duct. I’d not had either before, so I started to do some research and massage the area a lot. At times, that would make it feel better, then the pain would just come back, so I booked in to see my GP. It just felt like something wasn’t right.
Then, almost overnight, a lump popped up. It came up just before my appointment with my GP and got quite big, quite quickly—so big in fact you could obviously see it protruding through the skin.
I was quickly reassured when I saw my GP. She told me she thought it was a cyst—which are apparently really common when breastfeeding. So, she sent me for an ultrasound and to have it drained a few days later.
By the time I had the appointment, the lump was only getting larger and more annoying. By this point it had quickly grown to a surprising 5cm x 4cm—so I was relieved that it was going to be drained and I’d no longer be uncomfortable.
The draining and ultrasound went well, they took quite a lot of fluid from it to be tested. When I had the follow up with my GP, she told me the fluid testing showed there was no infection. I was relieved.
However, four short days later, the lump was back, and to its original size!
I went back to my GP once again and she flagged it as not normal, but still, I was still being reassured that it wasn’t cancer.
From there, I had yet another ultrasound and to have the fluid drained, again, to test for not only an infection, but for any abnormalities also.
Again, everything came back fine. No infection, no irregularities and they even said there were no cancer cells.
After the fluid returned yet a third time, they now recommended an invasive biopsy. I was told again that everything within the cyst came back clear, but they’d discovered that some of the edges around it were not perfectly round.
Now I needed another biopsy to test the wall around the cyst.
That’s when everything changed.
When I hadn’t heard back from the surgeon’s office, I started to get anxious, and decided to call myself. I was told, “The surgeon will need to call you”. In that moment I was filled with dread as I knew something was wrong.
The surgeon called me back and told me that they had in fact found cancer cells on the wall of the cyst.
I was terrified.
My husband was away for work, and I was calling and calling. When I finally got through to him, I was hysterical. I told him “You need to come home. I have cancer.”
Just two hours later, I found myself going in for an MRI and CT scan and there, in the MRI, as plain as day, you could see two moon-shaped crescents around the cyst. It was the discovery I had been dreading. Cancer.
A week later, I met with an oncologist and talked about my treatment options. Sadly, I was about to discover that a lot of options were taken away from me because of my type of cancer.
It was discovered that my breast cancer was ‘triple negative’. This meant that it was more aggressive and, not being hormone related, it was harder to treat.
I knew nothing about cancer, or any treatments, so I just followed what was recommended.
It was decided that we go with chemotherapy first, with the oncologist basically telling me that with this type of cancer, the chemotherapy needs to work because there aren’t any other treatment options.
At this point I was mostly just confused and unsure what I was getting myself into, but the one thing I was certain of was that I would do whatever it took.
Treatment was hard, but I was lucky that my husband, Phil, was able to have four months off work to be there for me and the kids as our main carer. He did everything.
It was important to me that while I was hardly present, that I still did what I could for the kids, and for our family.
I would still do kindy drop off for Molly and go along to her kindy events and gymnastics to show that I still could. It was so hard sometimes but I wanted to be there.
I made sure I would always make dinner for the kids and even though I often wouldn’t eat, I wanted us to still sit around the dinner table together as a family. I would also make sure that I wouldn’t miss out on bedtime stories and would lay in bed with the kids and read to them, even if most nights I’d put them to bed and then go straight to bed myself.
I wanted to be positive for the kids, especially Molly. I wanted her to know that while I was sick from treatment, it wasn’t forever, and it was going to ‘help mummy get better’.
I went through four sessions of chemotherapy every fortnight and within the first two weeks I could feel the lump shrinking.
I was so very relieved.
By the time I finished chemotherapy, there was no sign of the cancer. They told me I’d had a ‘pathological complete response’ to treatment.
It was the outcome we had all been hoping for. However, I still faced a lumpectomy to remove the remaining tissue, as well as 30 sessions of radiation which we called ‘the insurance policy’.
Whilst my treatment finally finished on 21 April 2020, it was a long and frightening road to get there.
I never thought, especially at 33, that cancer would happen to me—but it did. At first I felt like I had done something wrong. I thought “why me”. I just didn’t understand. I wasn’t the healthiest, but I wasn’t completely unhealthy. There was a lot of reflecting.
Then, eventually, I just accepted it and focused on getting better and staying better for my kids. Always having to be positive for the kids really helped keep my mindset hopeful and upbeat, and now, I don’t see my cancer as a bad thing. I am healthier and stronger than before and feel that I can take on anything thrown at me.
But sadly, I know that this positive outcome isn’t always the case. Women, mothers, sisters, daughters…. not everyone has been lucky enough to experience new and better cancer treatments that have contributed to the significant increase in survival rates we see today.
Even the treatment I was recommended—having chemotherapy first—my oncologist told me that was a new concept but one that had shown promising results.
I thank research for my life.
Research is saving people. It’s saving families. It’s saving mothers like me.
We need to keep funding research. We need to keep finding new chemotherapy options, new drugs, and new information that allows us to make informed decisions and do things differently.
I want to support anything that gives people a chance to fight and live longer, and I hope you will too.