JUST over 12 months ago, Deb Brownfield was given the news no-one wants to hear.
You have breast cancer.
However, the 59-year-old grandmother of seven is determined not to let the disease beat her.
‘‘I feel like I had breast cancer,’’ she said.
‘‘I don’t feel like it’s sitting on my shoulder. It’s always there but it doesn’t consume me.’’
Deb has even started back at Echuca South Pre-school, where she works as an early childhood educator three days a week.
‘‘I’m determined to have a positive outlook and it needs to be about love and support, not about cancer,’’ she said.
Deb got the diagnosis on June 23 last year after going for her regular mammogram a couple of weeks earlier.
‘‘It was early stage, but it was aggressive and invasive,’’ she said.
‘‘The first thing I thought was thank God it’s me and not our girls or our son or his partner.’’
However, telling her three children proved to be the most difficult part.
‘‘On the way home in the car, I just pulled over and cried because I didn’t know how I was going to tell them. But I just kept saying ‘it’s small, it’s early and it’s treatable’,’’ she said.
On July 18, Deb had surgery to remove the 2.7cm tumour on her right breast before starting the first of two rounds of chemotherapy a month later.
Her first lot of chemotherapy consisted of four treatments three weeks apart, followed by the second round which was every week for 12 weeks.
And because Deb had the HER2 positive breast cancer, she needed 18 treatments of the drug herceptin which is every three weeks over 12 months.
She also endured four weeks of radiotherapy, five days a week, in Bendigo.
‘‘I needed to take control of what I could control so I asked my oncologist ‘can women who have the same cancer as me and have the same treatment as me survive?’ and when he said yes I decided ‘well, I’m going to be one of those women’,’’ she said.
‘‘It’s kind of scary but you have to pull yourself back from those scary thoughts and I just decided I was going to make it about the love and support in my life, not about how scared the cancer made me feel.
‘‘I still felt lucky and I still do feel lucky. If it had been our girls, our son or his partner or any of our grandkids, I would have found that much harder to bear.’’
Deb said the chemotherapy was tough going — enduring all the side effects, including the loss of hair.
‘‘Having no hair was a bit strange,’’ she said.
‘‘When I would go to the supermarket, I learnt to look down because people either didn’t recognise me or they would look at me and not quite know what to do or say.
‘‘It was just a strategy I used to get through it and you don’t know what the look of cancer means to other people, you don’t know what they’ve been through or what grief it may trigger for them.
‘‘As I got stronger, I started to say hello to people and saying ‘yes, it’s me, I know I look different’ and it helped doing that and it broke down that awkwardness.’’
In a show of support, her family and friends held a crazy hair day where everyone got dressed up with wigs and Deb had her hair shaved into a pink mohawk.
‘‘I couldn’t control anything that was happening to me but I could control how we reacted and we just decided we would make fun of it,’’ she said.
‘‘It was such a funny day and I went off to chemo with all that beautiful love in my heart.’’
She said it was the love and support from her family, including husband Kenny, as well as the community, that really helped her get through the worst of it.
‘‘I had lots of love and support and nearly every day something unexpectedly beautiful would happen whether it was flowers on my doorstep or a lovely message or an inbox just from so many people and different kinder mums that had gone through it,’’ she said.
‘‘Everywhere I went, I would meet my beautiful kinder mums and we could talk about their children which meant we didn’t have to think about or talk about what was happening to me.
‘‘It was so comforting and lovely.’’
And while she remained strong and positive through her ordeal, Deb had her bad days.
‘‘I’ve had my moments, but I liked to have them privately,’’ she said.
‘‘I couldn’t have got through it without the love and support of my family and friends and I never felt I was doing it on my own.
‘‘And ERH’s McGrath breast care nurse Bianca Fleming was just amazing.’’
As well as urging women to have their regular mammograms, Deb encouraged people to support Cancer Council fundraising events such as Daffodil Day.
‘‘Until your life has been touched by cancer, you don’t realise how much good all that fundraising and support does and how far reaching it goes,’’ she said.
‘‘It’s a good way to make your life be about doing something positive rather than the fear of cancer.’’
Deb is now happy to say the results from her recent 12-month mammogram and ultrasound were all clear.
And despite having another three months of herceptin treatment to go and suffering neuropathy (numbness in her fingertips and the soles of her feet) due to chemotherapy, Deb just wants to move on.
‘‘I feel great and I have a new appreciation for every day,’’ she said.
‘‘At the end of the day, it’s cancer. It could come back. But I don’t think it will.
‘‘But I’m not going to let the fear of that spoil my todays.’’