Michelle's Story


I was living the dream.
I was approaching my 60th birthday.
Our 3 sons were grown and starting to leave the nest.

My husband, Bill, and I were starting to slow down, and we were looking at early retirement. It was exciting – we could just pick up our life and go! We’d planned holidays, got a caravan, stepped away from high pressure jobs, and we were enjoying our weekends spending time with friends.

It was very chilled after the chaos of raising 3 boys. We were on holidays in the Kimberley when I started getting pain under my ribs. I didn’t think much of it but was sent for abdominal scans that all came back clear. It was only in passing that my GP asked if I was up to date with my mammograms. I’d had an ultrasound earlier in the year, but not a mammogram so I was booked in.

Two weeks after my mammogram I got THAT phone call. I remember saying to the nurse, ‘This is the call I don’t want to get, isn’t it?’

I was sent for a follow-up and spent the entire day having the whole spectrum of tests. I just knew something wasn’t right. As soon as they said the word cancer, I cried. Reality just hit me in the face. I’m not one to cry often and I try not to panic and get stressed until there’s something to worry about, but that was the moment of realisation. The whirlwind started from there. All our plans and dreams were put on the backburner.

You don’t realise all the different sorts of cancers there are. All the different types of breast cancers. All the different options you have. And all the decisions you have to make in a very short space of time.

I had a week to make big decisions about surgery and reconstruction, while simultaneously planning my son’s 21st birthday celebration. I hadn’t told the extended family to keep things as normal as possible. I didn’t want to worry anybody, especially my ageing parents.

I was diagnosed with a grade 3 aggressive cancer and underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Chemo hits you everywhere, especially your weakest point. At one point, my scar opened and we had to pause treatment. I was terribly sick and had a constant headache for 4
months. I lost my sense of taste and smell. The final rounds were some of the toughest as I ended up getting Covid.

The most confronting thing for me was when my hair fell out. I’d always had nice long blonde hair. I didn’t believe it could hurt when your hair falls out, but it did. In the end, I asked Bill to get out the razor and shave it because I couldn’t bear the feeling.

So many choices get taken away from you when you go through this. We’ve had to make some big financial changes that will affect our retirement and future plans. It just felt like one thing after another.

You think you’ve gone through treatment and it’s all over, everyone thinks it’s all over – your hair starts to grow back and your body starts to recover – but there is still so much other stuff and also the worry that cancer will return.

It’s the ‘unwanted gift’ that keeps giving. I was given information about ‘the place in Cottesloe’ once I left hospital, so I Googled and found out about Breast Cancer Care WA and their support groups. In the beginning, I didn’t say much at all. I was a little intimidated, but my counsellor Aileen prepared me well and I joined in at my own pace. Thank goodness I did because I’ve learned so much. I found it so valuable.

Talking about your emotions validates what you’re feeling. I wasn’t alone and I felt included. I think finding this group has made my journey so much better. It doesn’t pull you down – it actually lifts you up. If you’re having a bad day, you can actually say you’re having a bad day and people understand you. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.

The counsellors are just so gentle, caring, and knowledgeable. It’s important that people know the organisation is here. I’ll need to be on the targeted drugs for the next 2 years if my body can tolerate it, as well as hormone blockers for 7-10 years, which all come with side effects. I’m also considering a mastectomy of the other breast because of cysts, as mentally it’s worrying. I’m hoping I’ve done everything I can to tick all the boxes and give myself as much chance as possible of it not coming back.

I realise life will never be the same as what it was, but I want to be as normal as possible.

To all the supporters and donors, and everyone involved with Breast Cancer Care WA, cannot sing your praises enough. From the support groups and counselling, to the wonderful and informative workshops, it has made a difficult journey so much better for me. Thank you all so much for this valuable resource and the kindness of everyone involved.