22 years ago, a simple bump in the night caused then 49-year-old June Romeo to notice a lump in her right breast which started her on an unexpected and challenging breast cancer journey. Now aged 71, June—who has connections to the Narungga and Ngarrindjeri nations in South Australia—reflects on her breast cancer journey in the hope to encourage more women of all ages to be breast aware.
My breast cancer journey all started one night while asleep in bed with my husband. In his sleep, he swung his arm over and accidentally hit me in the chest. The pain I felt in my right breast when this happened was excruciating. I was able to rub my breast and ease the pain, but it was then that I noticed a large lump directly under the nipple, another smaller lump further up the breast and one more in my armpit.
I had never noticed these lumps before and contacted my GP the very next morning.
My GP advised me to come straight in to see him and I just remember being very stressed and anxious about what the outcome may be.
I was examined by my GP. He sent me on for a mammogram and biopsy at my local hospital which was all completed within a few days of finding the lumps.
Initially, all the tests came back clear, but I couldn’t shake the bad feeling I had. I wasn’t happy with the results. The large lump under my nipple felt like it was pulsating and throbbing, so I went back and was sent to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for more biopsies.
It was after these additional tests that I received the call from my GP to come in to see him right away.
He advised me that all three lumps were malignant tumours and the large lump under my nipple was “very aggressive”.
It was very confronting, and we quickly moved to discussing my treatment options, which included a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
At that point in time, everything was racing through my head and I was incredibly anxious about the impact my diagnosis and treatment would have on my children.
I had the mastectomy which removed by breast and lymph nodes which left me bruised and sore but, I also felt very lucky after my specialist told me it was fortunate we found the lumps when we did.
After my surgery, I faced more treatment in the form of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But, lucky for me, it was all worth it. I have now been cancer free for over 20 years and my experience has taught me the importance of being breast aware and taking part in regular screening.
Now, I make sure I always attend my two-yearly mammogram with Breastscreen SA, and encourage my daughters to do the same.
I have also taken on the role of Aboriginal Community Ambassador with the Aboriginal Cancer Screening Project where I help facilitate Yarning Circles to promote breast, bowel and cervical screening within the Aboriginal community here in Adelaide.
I am passionate about promoting the importance of screening among not just my own family but in the wider community too. I also want to be there to support other women through breast cancer, to tell them all the things I was never told—like subsidised breast prosthetics and counselling.
If you are aged 50–74, have a mammogram (breast x-ray) at BreastScreen SA every two years. Women from 40 are also eligible to attend. Whether you are eligible for the two-yearly screening or not, it is important for all women to be ‘breast aware’.
Women of all ages should be familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts. If you notice any of the following changes, please see your doctor immediately:
- a lump, lumpiness or thickening of the breast
- changes in the skin of a breast, such as puckering, dimpling or a rash
- persistent or unusual breast pain
- a change in the shape or size of a breast
- discharge from a nipple, a nipple rash or a change in its shape
Find out more about Cancer Council SA’s Aboriginal Cancer Screening Project, and how we can support you to get screened, here.
For more information about breast cancer screening, visit cancersa.org.au/get-screened-and-get-on-with-living/breast-cancer-screening/.