Originally written by ROSS MOIR
HOW could a 24-year-old woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer possibly consider herself lucky?
Shae Spry, who was school captain at Portland Secondary College and graduated in 2003, is just such a woman, after being diagnosed with breast cancer eight months ago.
Shae first noticed something was wrong in early February, when she felt a pain in her breast during a visit to Thailand as part of her Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology masters degree in International Development.
“So I did a self-examination and found what I thought was a bit of a lump, a week before I returned to Australia,” Shae said.
After returning to Melbourne, she booked an appointment with her doctor to get checked.
Her doctor examined her and, while it was thought the lump was nothing, still sent her to get an ultrasound, just in case.
“They use ultrasounds for women in their 20s because they generally have lumpy breasts and the ultrasound is more accurate,” Shae explained.
The ultrasound showed a suspicious shadow, and a biopsy revealed that it was cancer.
Shae received the diagnosis on February 24.
“When I learned I had cancer I felt frustrated because I had almost finished my masters, I had been working with World Vision, my life was just beginning. Getting diagnosed felt like a wall had been built across the path I’d chosen because I had to stop and take care of myself.”
“So recently I had been feeling healthy and striding along and everything I’d been striving for was within my reach, it was frustrating I had to take a year off and take a step back and care for myself. That was annoying.”
However, Shae also considered herself lucky.
“I thought, I’m so lucky to be here in Australia where I can get treatment, because the week before I was in a country where they can’t get treated purely because they happen to live in a country that can’t support them in that sense.”
While in Thailand, Shae had been meeting Burmese refugees who were struggling with health issues due to their lack of legal status and available support.
“They were telling me even if someone gets diagnosed with cancer, there’s no way they’ll be treated because they’re stretched just doing immunisations,” Shae said.
Fortunately, the lump in Shae’s breast was small, only 9mm in diameter, and had a medium growth rate. While doctors were concerned, Shae caught it early enough that it could be treated.
A week after being diagnosed, Shae went under the knife for a lumpectomy to remove the growth. After three weeks recovery she returned to the table so doctors could make sure they had removed enough tissue to provide a good safety margin.
One month after the second operation Shae began chemotherapy, and underwent it every three weeks for three months at the Austin Hospital. That was followed by six weeks of daily radiotherapy at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
Two thirds of breast cancer is hormone receptive, which means hormones can spread it. To prevent this, Shae is currently undergoing treatment that restricts her hormones, essentially putting her into menopause.
“I’m having injections every month to protect my ovaries so I can hopefully still have kids once I finish the treatment, which will last between two and six years.
“That’s the stage I’m at now …
“It’s been a long year.”
Shae finished radiotherapy on September 1, and is currently working out the fatigue the treatments left behind.
“I’m not quite over it, but I’m feeling much better than I did initially.”
Shae said she was fortunate to have the support of her parents, who came up from Portland to help her through her treatment and recovery with care, time and money.
“When you get cancer the bills don’t stop.”
The treatment went well and there’s only a 10 per cent chance the cancer will return in the next five years.
However, the data is largely based on women over 40. With only six per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer below the age of 40, this places Shae among the minority.
Her unusual situation, her captivating story and nearly a year of inactivity while she was recovering inspired her to do something to educate her peers and BreastFest 2010 was born.
BreastFest is a concert organised by Shae, with the help of Rhys Stephens, which will take place on November 5 at The Workers Club, in Fitzroy, starting at 7pm. It will feature Man from the Meteor, Tropical Gordon, The Publican Band and The Star Express. All bands and the venue are volunteering their services for the event.
Funds will be raised through ticket sales, an auction, and sales of BreastFest badges. The auction will include a print of a painting by Shae’s mother, Mary Spry.
Tickets are available online at www.moshtix.com.au and by contacting Shae Spry at email@example.com.
Money will go to onTrac@PeterMac, which supports young people with cancer — which helped Shae during her radiotherapy, and with music therapy — and to Ho Chi Minh City Cancer Hospital, to honour her father, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and the Vietnamese people suffering from cancer as a result of the carcinogen dioxin left behind by the use of Agent Orange during the war.
Shae also hopes the event will encourage young people to take a greater interest in their bodies and get women checking themselves early.
“I really want to encourage all women, no matter what age they are, just to check themselves regularly.”
To help spread her message, Shae appeared in New Idea last week, and was interviewed for The Circle (which screens on Southern Cross Ten at 10am weekdays) yesterday afternoon, although she doesn’t know when it will air.
“Please check yourselves, even if it seems a bit scary just do it, because if you catch breast cancer early and you live in Australia, there’s no way you’re going to die of it.”
Portlanders will have a chance to contribute before BreastFest, with the Portland Cancer Unit selling merchandise in Percy St on October 22 and 23, ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness Day on October 25.