We recently spoke to breast cancer survivor and mother of The Spoonie Society co-founder Helene Hill, Cynthia Steer about her real life breast cancer journey which delves into Cynthia's experience.
In October 2020, a scheduled mammogram revealed a small lump in Cynthia Steer’s breast.
At the time, she wasn’t too concerned. Many women find lumps in their breast, and often those lumps are cysts or other benign growths.
“Having said that it is always at the back of your mind that it could be cancer, but I tried to be positive as I had no family history of breast cancer,” Cynthia says.
Unfortunately, the test results revealed breast cancer.
“My initial prognosis was that it was a small lump which only required a lumpectomy and radiation with no chemotherapy,” she says.
“My treatment would be finished by Christmas!”
Unfortunately, the diagnosis was wrong. In fact, Cynthia had triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) which represents approximately 15 per cent of breast cancer diagnoses.
It’s an aggressive form of breast cancer which only responds to chemotherapy, in conjunction with surgery and radiation, and not hormone therapy.
“Needless to say, I went to a different breast surgeon and not the one who gave me the wrong diagnosis.”
While Cynthia says she never asked “Why me?”, she did find the prospect of facing her own mortality confronting.
“The questions that go through your mind are ‘how bad will my treatment be?’, ‘how long will it take?’, ‘will I get to see my grandchildren be born?’”
“No-one can ever really tell you what it will be like because it’s different for everyone. Despite her personal challenges, Cynthia says one of the hardest parts of the experience was telling her daughters.
“I was offered genetic testing which I accepted. It takes about six weeks for the results which not only determined my treatment plan but also possible ramifications for my daughters. I’m pleased to say I do not carry the troublesome BRACA 1 and other genes.”
The treatment was long. A combination of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, lasting about six months.
“My team could not agree on whether I needed to have oral chemo which acts as an insurance policy to mop up any rogue cells and said it was up to me.
“I opted to have it as I didn’t want to look back in years to come and regret my choice. I wanted to do everything possible to eradicate this cancer.”
Cynthia endured 15 months of treatment in total.
“The physical effects of having chemo, combined with losing your hair is a very challenging part of treatment. Also, the fact that my treatment went on for so long was difficult and meant my recovery was also long.”
Cynthia says while feeling endlessly sick and losing her hair were challenging, having her family altogether was an unexpected blessing.
“I was very lucky and had great support.”
Having been through such a traumatic ordeal, and continuing to work her way through to the other side, Cynthia has this advice.
“Don’t defer your mammogram appointments.
“In a couple of weeks, I am having my two year testing since diagnoses, and for my type of cancer the first three years are the most crucial - but I am feeling well and positive.”