ARARAT – Lisa Antonio is a glass half full kind of person, and it is this positive attitude that has helped her fight the battle that one in eight women will also face in their lifetime.
Join Lisa Antonio is this Sunday’s Mother’s Day Classic in Ararat.
As the inspiration for the Ararat Mother’s Day Classic five years ago, Lisa was just 38 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and today she encourages all women to be breast aware and to act early if changes are discovered in their breasts.
It was at a girlfriend’s 40th birthday party that Lisa discovered a lump in her left breast, roughly the size of between a pea and a marble, and as a self-confessed open book she immediately announced the fact that she had found a lump to her friends.
It was at her friends’ insistence, and after a constant barrage of texts and phone calls, that she finally made an appointment to see a doctor, who sent her to Ballarat for a mammogram and ultrasound.
Lisa had the tests in the morning in Ballarat and returned to an appointment in Ararat with surgeon Barry Alexander. Although the mammogram came back clear he was concerned about the ultrasound so took a biopsy.
“As a fleeting comment I said ‘What are my chances of this being something to actually worry about’, because I honestly hadn’t lost a moment’s sleep about it, I hadn’t been thinking about it, I was young and fit and active and not unwell in any way,” Lisa said.
She was told there there was a 50 per cent change that the lump could be cancer.
When Lisa returned to the surgeon a few days later for the results, the answer would change her life.
“I walked into the office, and I said ‘So am I in the good 50 per cent or the bad,’ and he said ‘No you’re in the bad, you’ve got breast cancer’. I was so shocked, I am an optimist, I hadn’t thought about it, I carried on as normal, so it really floored me when he told me that,” she said.
“The next 30 minutes of the consultation he was going through all my options, but to be honest, after he said ‘You’ve got breast cancer’ I didn’t hear much else.”
Lisa then had the difficult task of telling her children, Alex and Jack, then 10 and 8 respectively, and her mum, Bev Campigli, of the diagnosis.
Telling her mum was one of her darkest moments.
“We’d only recently lost my dad, he’d died that same year, so I got in the car and the first thing I could think of was oh my God, how am I going to tell my mum,” she said.
“That stressed me more than anything, I was quite upset, thinking the family had been through so much to then go and give them that news.”
This was just a week before Christmas in December 2008.
After going through her options Lisa made the decision to have lumpectomy, because the lump only measured 11mm, with this procedure taking place in January 2009.
Samples of the cells and tissue in the breast were taken and tested and found to be abnormal, so another procedure was carried out, however again, the tests did not come back clear.
Lisa said that at this stage she had been referred to another surgeon and it was recommended she have a mastectomy.
“I then made the decision that if I was going to lose one of my boobs I was going to lose both, I was going to have a double mastectomy,” she said.
“People even now say that was a brave decision. For me, it really was a no brainer. If I was going to have go through all the treatment and do all the hard yards I didn’t want in the end, potentially down the track, to have the cancer return in the other one.”
Lisa had a double mastectomy in March 2009.
At the same time ‘expanders’ were placed in her chest, after which she received monthly injections of saline, to expand the skin ready for a future breast reconstruction.
The first of two courses of chemotherapy began two weeks before Mother’s Day in 2009, which was also the first planned Ararat Mother’s Day Classic, and she was told she would lose her hair, typically around 17 days after starting the treatments.
“I work for the prison and I was interviewing on the 16th day, and literally just ran my fingers through my hair and looked down at my hand and had 50-60 strands of hair,” she said.
“I couldn’t stop touching my hair all day and these clumps kept coming out.”
The day before Mother’s Day a friend, who is a hairdresser, cut and shaved Lisa’s hair and showing his support, eight-year-old Jack also shaved his hair at the same time.
Lisa suffered badly during her first course of chemotherapy, including being rushed to hospital to have fluids pumped in to her.
After a break, a second course of chemotherapy began in Ballarat and while she wasn’t sick this time around, she was incredibly tired, so friends organised a car roster each week.
Lisa had eight weeks off work during her first course of chemotherapy, as she was too sick, but during her second course of chemotherapy she was determined to get back to work.
“For me it was my distraction and ability to focus on other things,” she said.
“For my second lot of chemo I got so tired, I worked Monday to Thursday, but the benefit mentally that I got out of it far outweighed the fact that I was dead on my feet a lot of the time.”
Chemotherapy was completed in October 2009 .
After this Lisa was placed on the drug Herceptin for 12 months, a drug believed to reduce the likelihood of the cancer returning and will also be on the hormone blocker Tamoxifen for five years.
Once her body had recovered from the treatment, Lisa then underwent breast reconstructive surgery in June 2010.
During her journey, Lisa’s constant source of support have been her children Alex and Jack and mum Bev.
“Normally a lot of people who have cancer have a huge support network, they might be married, they’ve got people there. I was living with two young children,” she said.
Lisa chose to stay in her own home with her children, but received wonderful help and support from her mum.
“My mum was absolutely amazing, she did so much for me during that period of time. Mum was just an angel,” she said.
But it is her children Alex and Jack that Lisa credits as her greatest support crew.
“I’d have my head down the toilet and they’d be pulling my hair back. I never ever shielded them from any of it. I told them everything, they saw the scars, saw me in hospital with all the tubes when I was quite unwell,” she said.
“I believe kids cope better with being given information and they always had the opportunity to ask me things.”
While Jack didn’t fully comprehend the enormity of the diagnosis, Lisa said Alex immediately asked ‘Does this mean you’re going to die’.
“I said no, but I explained I was going to get really sick before I got better,” she said.
The children were a big help when Lisa was feeling at her lowest.
“There’s a beautiful story. A girlfriend rocked up and Alex answered the door and said ‘Shush, mum’s asleep’, and here I am all rugged up on the bed and Jack had laid down beside me and was sound asleep,” she said.
“The kids were at the forefront in helping me get through that.”
Looking back Lisa said it is a bit surreal for her to say ‘I had breast cancer’, but not once did she ever look at her mortality.
“It is one of the worst experiences but one of the most important things I’ve gone through in my life in regards to positive thinking – I’ve lived through it and I can look back,” she said.
“It changed my philosophy on life in regards to not sweating the small stuff, not that I ever did. I’m not a person who focuses on the small stuff. It does make you re-evaluate and prioritise what’s important – and it is your family and your friends that are important.”
Lisa urges women to check their breasts regularly, but also pointed out that partners have a role to play in breast cancer detection.
“I was fit and healthy, I didn’t present with risk factors, so it is so important, not only for women, but husbands, boyfriends, they’re often the first ones to notice the change in relation to breasts,” she said.
“People need to act on that, because early detection is important – hiding from something you may be a little concerned about isn’t going to change it, but if you actually get it looked at you can be in the good statistics. I consider myself a good statistic.
“I’m happy to still be here, I’ve got a lot more living to do, I want to see my kids grow old and all those things.”
The Ararat Mother’s Day Classic was initiated by Lisa’s circle of friends who were originally going to go to Melbourne to take part in the Classic, but decided to try one in Ararat and had hoped to get 30 or so people to walk – that first year saw around 600 turn out.
This year is the fifth Ararat Mother’s Day Classic and over the past four years the event has raised $60,000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Lisa urged people to participate in this year’s classic, but if they couldn’t to go online and make a donation.
“Because one in eight women will be diagnosed in their lifetime and it could be your sister, mother, girlfriend, work colleague and it touches everyone, I’d like to think it’s a small thing to do to spend the day walking,” she said.
“It’s a great community event that we hope is still going in 10 years time. We think it’s important, because it could be your mum or your sister and it’s important we find a cure.
“It (breast cancer) changed me for the better in a way I think. There are a lot of people out there who are sicker than me, I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Go to www.mothersdayclassic苏州美睫培训.au to donate
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