Trust your gut instinct

Ruth Coppard was diagnosed with breast cancer last October, aged 61. Now in recovery, she shares her story to encourage other women to be proactive about their breast health.

Coming face to face with the issue of my mortality was my first hurdle.

I loved and wanted to be with my grandchildren in their formative years. I then faced the loss of my breast, but this was not nearly as difficult as the impact of losing my hair. I had always had a wonderful tumble of curls and it was a very large part of my ‘identity’.

I lost my sister to breast cancer when she was 35 years old, and had been having yearly mammograms since my late 30s. Then in May 2019, I noticed a lump in my left breast. A mammogram and ultrasound showed no concern in that area, but the ducts under the nipple were distended and ‘debris-filled’. On ultrasound three months later I was given the all-clear.

My 2020 screening mammogram in early September came back clear, but I was still concerned about my left breast so I asked for it to be reviewed. In October further tests showed I had invasive ductal cancer.

In December I had breast conserving surgery (a lumpectomy) and one lymph node taken, but in January I was back for a mastectomy and to have all the lymph nodes taken from my underarm area.

Concerned at delays in receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment in the public system, I saw a private oncologist for a ProSigna gene test. My result, within two weeks, showed my cancer was more aggressive than first thought, and I started chemotherapy privately before continuing in the public system.

Chemotherapy was followed by three weeks of radiation treatment in June/July.

I’m feeling on top of the world now!

I’m definitely not the same person as I was pre-diagnosis; I’ve grown immensely in wisdom. I have always found the joy in every day, but now I feel that my outer layers have been stripped away. I have learnt to simply project my happy bubbly self – to trust my authenticity, with a new strength and honesty – from the Inside – the ‘real me’.

The support I receive from Breast Cancer Foundation NZ has been amazing; the nurses were my lifeline in my first few months of breast cancer. Of all the medical people I have spoken with, they have been the most knowledgeable over a very wide range of expertise, offering support, encouragement, and suggestions for a way forward for me to consider. I can’t underline enough how valuable they are.

To other women I would say:

  • Self-examine your breasts monthly, after your period; make this a part of your routine (put it in your cellphone reminders).
  • Get to know what your normal is. If you are one of those who have dense breast tissue, you may not be able to differentiate a tumour from your normal lumps, and mammograms are not as effective as a diagnostic tool for you either, so ask to follow through with an ultrasound.
  • Stand up for yourself; be your own advocate – or find a friend who can do this for you. Be proactive; become knowledgeable and involved in your own treatment. You do have choices – every procedure is agreed upon in consultation with you.
  • Trust your gut instinct. I did, and I’m hoping it’s saved my life.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Here are some of the ways to get involved:

PINK RIBBON STREET APPEAL – Grab a bucket, get pinked up and join thousands of volunteers collecting around NZ on October 29 and 30.

PINK RIBBON WALK – Walk 5km or 10km for the ones you love in Christchurch on November 6.

Visit www.breastcancerfoundation.org.nz to see how you can make a difference this October.

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