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Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women. In 2016, it is estimated that 16,084 Australians will be diagnosed — that's 44 every day.

According to the Cancer Council, the incidence of breast cancer in Pittwater is significantly higher than the national average.

When Fiona Fryters from Elanora Heights found a lump, she thought she'd pulled a muscle kayaking. "I had an appointment with the doctor on the Monday, was referred to the Sydney Breast Clinic two days later and that afternoon biopsies confirmed invasive breast cancer," she says. "My husband came with me and it still feels quite surreal when I reflect on that day."

Despite having a bilateral mastectomy, chemo and radiotherapy, she says one of the hardest parts was telling her sons who were 18 and 21 at the time. "I still remember very clearly that day but I also remember the incredible strength they showed. Also their vulnerability, the huge amount of love, support and hugs they gave throughout my treatment. My sons shaved their heads as did 10 of their friends that was a very emotional evening. Often I would go for a walk by Narrabeen Lake on my own so I could have a few tears when I was feeling sorry for myself. It's wonderful how good a walk and fresh air makes you feel.

"Breast Cancer Network Australia CEO Christine Nolan says their role is to ensure everyone affected by breast cancer receives the best support, treatment and care appropriate to their needs. "We provide free resources for people newly diagnosed and reach over 80 per cent of Australians affected by breast cancer," she says. "We want to reach 100 per cent of people diagnosed and our work is not done until we reach everyone.”

The online network is free and provides those affected by breast cancer with a forum to connect with others going through a similar experience. Something that is very important to anyone diagnosed with cancer.

Jo, 36, was on a ski trip with her boyfriend when she found what she thought was a bump from falling. "I went straight to the doctor after getting back and she sent me for an ultrasound. The results weren’t good. The wording basically meant that they were as certain it was malignant as they could be without a biopsy.

"I had to make some big decisions. Full mastectomy or partial? Lymph nodes out and risk lymphedema? Genetic testing? Chemo? Radio? What about kids? I opted for partial mastectomy and simultaneous removal of all my lymph nodes (total axillary clearance as it’s known surgically). I followed recommendations to do chemo and radiotherapy. But before chemo I got a referral for IVF egg extraction.”

Four years later and Jo is grateful to be moving on with her life. "We got married one year, one month and one day after surgery. The following year we had our first child and we've now had our second, both conceived naturally. I’m just so glad that i didn't ignore the lump when I found it.

“Cancer certainly puts things into perspective, agrees Cynthia Murphy, 48, who this year celebrates 10 years since her diagnosis. She had multiple tumors in her left breast resulting in a bilateral mastectomy, chemo, radiotherapy and a tram flap reconstruction. "You have to live each day as if it were your last, as you never know what is around the comer, take the time each day to appreciate the little things and make great memories that are going to last,” she says. Cynthia is urging all women to be breast aware (see breakout) and those aged 50 to 74 to take advantage of free mammograms offered by BreastScreen NSW.

"My advice would be - check, check, check and if you are in doubt, see your doctor and ask for a referral. I had a great GP who was switched on, and have continued to stay on with her through the years."


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