Anna Stove

I’ve regularly attended Pink Ribbon Events - breast cancer is close to my heart after my Mum had it twice, once in her early 40s and again in her early 70s.

But when it happens to you, it’s on a whole different level…………

I had a routine mammogram in July 2022 which picked up an abnormality in my left breast.  When the Breast Clinic rang to say something had come up, I wasn’t too worried, even with my family history I thought I would be fine.

When I went to the Breast Clinic for further examination, they also found something in my right breast.  This was a shock as it hadn’t been picked up by the mammogram.

It was the Clinical Breast Care Nurse who examined me before my ultrasound that picked it up.  She noticing dimpling under the right breast. Ultrasound and biopsy confirmed it, but if it hadn’t been for that amazing nurse Fiona (I will never forget her name), it’s likely my right breast wouldn’t have been assessed.

Normally at this stage you would be told to come back the following week to get your results & not to worry too much.  However, due to what they had seen on ultrasound they told me to come back with a support person & we would need to work out a plan.  I remember sitting in the carpark crying & can’t even remember the drive home.  All I wanted to do was talk to my husband, but realised I needed to do that face to face not over the phone.  Both breasts were battered and bruised from the multiple biopsies.

I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS – a pre-invasive type of breast cancer) in my left breast & invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) in my right breast.

I needed to have bi-lateral mastectomies & was encouraged to have reconstruction at the same time. It was going to be a 12hr operation & I was keen for it to happen quickly.  As we had private insurance, we made the decision to move from Public to the Private system to speed things up.

However, my first consultation with my Breast Surgeon was the night NZ went back into lockdown on 17th August 2022 and Auckland private hospitals were shut for seven weeks. It was the toughest time not having a date for surgery. My surgeon was amazing & contacted me every week via ZOOM to support me.

When I eventually had my operation at the end of September, because of COVID restrictions I couldn’t have any visitors, not even my husband.  I still remember Kerry dropping me off with security at Ascot’s front door & waving him off.  Although I was terrified, I think the drive home for him was probably worse. It was the first week that Ascot re-opened and there were only six of us in the entire hospital - it was like a ghost town.  However, I received the most amazing care from the healthcare team.  Although I wasn’t allowed visitors, this actually helped with my recovery – I was out within 5 days.

I don’t want this to be a negative story, I want it to be a positive one.  There are many things to be thankful for;

  • Brilliant Breast & Plastic surgeon who I had complete confidence in
  • My re-construction was done using my tummy. It’s the first time I have felt grateful for having adequate tummy tissue available!
  • Recovery was during COVID lockdown & although it was sad not having friends & family call in, it gave me time to heal at my own pace
  • I actually think friends found it more difficult not seeing me during lockdown, but everyone found their own way to support Kerry & I - regular texts, 100’s of meals delivered & even our gardens got weeded. It was so touching that people knew what was important to us.
  • I haven’t had to have Chemotherapy. 10 years ago I would have, but they now know that Chemotherapy adds no significant benefit to ILC hormone positive disease.

My cancer tested positive to hormone receptors, so my treatment for 5 years is endocrine therapy which lowers the amount of estrogen in my body. As a result, it hopefully blocks the growth of breast cancer cells.

I encourage everyone to get involved with Pink Ribbon events. As well as encouraging people to donate it also reminds women to check their breasts & have regular mammograms.

My experience has made friends sit up and take action.  It’s very easy to put mammograms off, but it’s like your cars warrant of fitness- you’ve got to do it!