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Sue Reid

14 April 2010 – a date I will never forget, when I discovered I had breast cancer… I was 49.

I don't think anyone can imagine that feeling of absolute terror which strikes when you hear words like “this does not look good… we think you need to consult an oncologist”. I don't remember much in those first few days but I do remember going straight from the mammogram to see my GP who sat me down and said to me “you will have a bad year and after that you will be fine”. How I hung onto those words!

The following week I went in for a lumpectomy and 4 weeks later I started chemo. Within 2 months I discovered another small lump and I underwent another lumpectomy which tests showed was malignant, so 2 days later I had a full mastectomy of the left breast. By this time discovered I had an inner strength and an inner peace and having a mastectomy did not prove to be quite as emotional as it would have been if it were done immediately I was diagnosed. Even losing my hair wasn’t too bad… I had a friend help me cut it all off and then we had a lot of fun trying on wigs and selecting a few for my new wardrobe. I tried to turn everything into an adventure!

Chemo finished in November 2010 and I went for my first PET/CT scan which showed up more tumours in the remaining breast tissue and lymph glands in my armpit. It was decided NOT to have further surgery as this was what was probably spreading the cancer... but to carry on with radiation and at the same time have further chemo.

Radiation was easy – inasmuch as it’s rather like having an x-ray… however the effects catch up and I ended up with raw burned skin which had become infected and because I was on chemo my immunity was low and it took about 3 – 4 months for those wounds to heal. I had to adjust my wardrobe as I had dressings up to my throat... No more skimpy tops!

In December of 2011, I went for another PET scan which showed up some small spots on the scar, my ribs and a spot on my spine. So... in the beginning of 2012 I was back on chemo as well as a drug called bondrinate which is like polyfilla for the bones. My new philosophy was “Oh well! - just more of the same... I've done it before so I can do it again”.

In October 2012 I found a swelling in the lymph glands around my neck The oncologist decided to biopsy this and also remove some stubborn spots around the old mastectomy scar. Unfortunately they all tested positive for cancer so it was decided to radiate the area around my neck with 10 sessions and then I would start my 4th lot of chemo in January 2013. This was now going into my 4th year and I was still feeling strong and coping well.

In August 2013 more lumps appeared along the scar which were removed surgically and tested. The cancer had now changed to HER2 positive and so I was started on a 1 year course of herceptin, further chemo plus 10 more radiation sessions. Once again I was left with open ulcer type sores. A few weeks later I started getting a redness in my right breast and suddenly one day a large lump appeared.

Within about 3 weeks it had gone from the redness to a lump measuring about 8x8cm! Another week went by and it was 10x11cm! I was scheduled for 26 radiation sessions while continuing chemo, hoping to shrink this monster! At the same time we discovered a spot on my liver and so 10 radiation sessions to the liver was added.

This was the first time I got really nauseous and the first time I admitted that I was getting tired of all the treatment which seemed to be consuming my life. My latest philosophy was “The novelty has worn off... I’m over this!!”. I knew all the doctors, nurses, sisters, physiotherapist and staff on a first name basis and began to know about their personal lives too - they had become my friends!

A few weeks ago in January 2014, I discovered some small hard lumps on the breast bone – so 10 more radiation sessions and at least 9 more weeks of chemo has just started, afterwhich we will establish whether or not to perform a mastectomy to the right breast, depending on how much the lump has shrunk... "Oh well!"

One horrible year has turned into 4 but throughout this journey my friends and family have been completely amazing and to this day I am so extremely grateful to them for their moral, financial, emotional and practical support. Never underestimate the power of a kind word or gesture, a cooked meal, arranging shopping or just making a cup of tea. Nothing goes unnoticed!

I have learned through this ordeal to live life as normally as possible... I am a normal mum with normal children. We still argue about normal things and have fun in the normal way. I do not let this disease control my life or who I am. I appreciate my family and friends more and have learned to be a lot more forgiving... you never know by looking at a person what they are going through.

People are always saying to me... “Gosh Sue, you look so well... no-one would guess you have cancer”. Well, that is exactly it we never know the demons people are battling to fight and we should not be so quick to pass judgement unless we have walked a mile in their shoes. Although I wouldn't wish cancer on anyone... you can turn it around and look for the silver lining…there are things I have discovered on this journey I would never have discovered otherwise. There are people out there who have it far harder than me and I thank God that I am still able to share my life with those I love.

My Sister Susie ~ by Carol Dixon

My earliest memory of my sister is being allowed to hold her on my lap when she came home with my Mum from the hospital. I was nearly two and I remember she smelt so sweet, and her skin felt so soft and she had big eyes. She looked like a doll and I was so excited to have a real live doll to play with.

She also was so wonderfully compliant and went along with everything I said - she was always happy to play my games, dance to my choreography and act in my plays along with all the neighbourhood children! She was so easy to love. I had to learn to share her though because everybody loved Susie and they all wanted to play with her too! She had, and still has to this day - an incredible way of attracting people to her - she is so full of life, laughter, fun and lightness! And she has a strength - sometimes seen in her stubborn individualism to make up her own mind and choices! I think it is these two polarities of being that have served her in her fight against cancer.

Who else says - "Yay I have chemo today I can go and visit all my friends!" She turned fear into a friend and has endeared herself to all the health practitioners who have walked this road with her now for almost 5 years. This is my wonderful sweet gentle Susie who has embraced the ONLY good thing about cancer - the support and love of people - and who has stoically endured the pain, chemo and radiation side-effects, surgery, exhaustion, uncertainty, and the ravaging of her beautiful body. Her beauty emanates from within - she is a beautiful woman - and because she epitomizes beauty it cannot be taken from her - even by cancer!

I watch her now - she is too big for my lap, but not my heart. She still smells so sweet, her skin is so soft, and her beautiful big eyes sometimes fill with tears. And then she turns her head to the side and smiles and I see in her that incredible combination of gentleness and strength. Without words she says "thank you for being here for me and for loving me, and I am going to be okay - we are going to be okay". I love her for her hope, her joie de vivre, her amazing spirit and life force! I love you my Susie!

Sue Reid 1960-2014

Sue Reid tragically passed away on Oct 2014 after a 4 year battle against Breast Cancer.
May she Rest in Peace

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