Ladies, we need to talk about Breast Cancer. With approx 55 Australians diagnosed each and every day, this disease is, unfortunately, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country. On Wednesday the 20th of October we’re donating ALL profits from sales to Strength Over Cancer, an amazing not-for-profit association dedicated to offering personal training to those who are undergoing cancer treatment.
At 26, Alice was diagnosed with a fast-developing type of Breast Cancer that required over two years of treatment which resulted in having a double mastectomy. Watch below as she shares her story, offers advice and explains how the relationship with her body changed both physically and emotionally.
For the full interview, read on below.
Hey Alice, tell us about yourself.
Hey Alice, tell us about yourself.
Hi I’m Alice Redmond and I am 31 years of age.
I have a loving supportive husband and an 11 month old daughter with another baby due this week. I also have a groodle fur baby called Winnie who is my everything and has been my companion since my first round of treatment.
What are you into?
I love to spend quality time with my family, going on camping trips, holidays and adventures. Before covid became a thing and we were restricted to our 5 kms in Melbourne my husband and I enjoy 4x4 up in the high country and spending time with friends.
Im also a secret nerd and read a lot of books… kindle is my best friend at times.
At what age were you diagnosed and with what type of cancer?
I was 26 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was diagnosed with HER-2 POSITIVE breast cancer which is a growth promoting protein cancer and fortunately I detected it early enough that I was stage one. Due to the fast growth of this type of breast cancer we needed to act fast.
How was your cancer initially detected? Did you do regular breast checks and mammograms before being diagnosed?
I initially detected the lump in my breast myself when I was in the shower and washing my underarms. I felt a large and sore lump in my left breast. From there I went to my GP that week and got a referral for a breast ultrasound.
When I was in my teens I had another ultrasound for a fibroid that was not concerning at the time.
Other then the initially ultrasound I had never had any other breast screens or mammograms as most mid 20’s females and males wouldn’t have. It was a different experience getting your boobs squished in a mammogram machine that’s for sure. It can be very uncomfortable
How did you feel when you first received the news?
When I first received the news of my diagnosis I was in a bit a shock but also remember thinking that I wasn’t surprised as I knew it wasn’t going to be good result due to the size of the lump. Another part of me thought it was a joke, like no way do I have cancer at 26.. what are the chances as my husband had cancer at 24. Great bunch we are!
I was lonely and scared for the first 30 minutes waiting for my husband to arrive to the ultrasound facility. I think I was scared more to tell my family the news as we had only lost my dad to cancer 6 years before I was diagnosed.
After a few days my mind set change from shock to “right lets get this over with”. I was set on being proactive and how quick I could start treatment so I could move on with my life. I had a lot of people say how positive I was about everything which you do put a smile on your face for others but things were different behind closed doors.
Is there a family history of breast cancer? Has any one else close to you had breast cancer?
Yes there is a long line of family history with cancer in general. With breast cancer my paternal grandmother battled for several years before she passed away at the age of 46 and my father passed away at 49 with a due to pancreatic cancer. Research has shown that there is a relation between Pancreatic and breast cancer in the BRACA genes which I was tested for but I don’t have that genetic mutation but a variance in possible another gene that has been discovered as of yet.
So, what was your treatment plan and how long did you treatment go for?
My treatment plan went over 2 years. I had neoadjuvent chemo, which is chemotherapy prior to surgery this helps shrink larger cancers so it is easier to remove later in surgery. Chemotherapy was for 6 months and about 3 weeks after my last round I had under went a double mastectomy and reconstruction. After surgery and once I had healed I started another IV treatment called HERCEPTIN which is a drug used on patients with a diagnosis of HER2 POSITIVE. That treatment was for a year.
Prior to any chemotherapy starting I had multiple biopsy procedures and another procedure called nipple sparring which we to help reserve my nipples as some patients nipples don’t survive the larger surgery due to the loss of the major blood source and see if there was any cancer behind them or not. Fortunately I was able to keep my nipples which I found very important so I could feel that my breast were still mine as much as possible.
I was advised by some doctors in my oncology team to have a few rounds of radiotherapy after my surgeries but I took it upon my self to refuse it as I technically didn’t have cancer or anything to radio but skin.
Did you have any side effects you weren’t expecting from your treatment?
There are so many side effects that I could sit here all day. I still suffer from some of them to this day.
Besides the usual weight gain, hairloss (eyelashes, eyebrows and all body hair), nauseousness, dizzy, and all round off things that took me by surprise was the fatique and after all these years I say to my husband I am the chemo tireds which reading up on a bit more it is very common for your energy levels to take years to return.
Another side effect due to the drugs and putting my body into Artificial menopause would be the extremely lowered libido. This one was a hard one to figure out as I was 26 in a happy romantic relationship with my husband and that was something I missed about myself and feeling normal. It was hard to talk to someone about it as I would have preferred to talk to someone my age. Wasn’t really something you wanted to share or discuss with someone your own mothers age.
How did you friends and family support you during this time?
My family and friends were a huge support over my cancer journey and still continue to be supportive with any check ups or follow ups I might have. My husband and mum were at each chemo round with me and by my bedside for my surgeries. Having such a supportive family is defiantly helped me get through my journey.
My sister and mum were a huge help with my appearance side of things. Which in hind site isn’t the most important thing but when you are 26 and you just want to feel yourself it was something I focused on. Certain products to reserve my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, skin care, headwear and new comfy clothes for hospital visits. One of them was always running off or taking me shopping for a product that could help. In saying that I don’t think I would use many of those things now but at the time it was another thing to help and distract me.
Did you receive any support from charities/foundations/community groups
Yes I did! I was contacted by a friend that got me in touch with this lady called Robyn Vincent who was the founder of a program called Strength Over Cancer.
A not-for-profit organisation that provides personal training to those under going cancer treatment. It was a 6 week exercise program free of charge. It was fabulous as they set you up with a personal trainer who lives closest to you to help you out and take sessions.
What is one thing you would tell someone thats going through treatment that you wish you knew before yours?
This is a hard one as each experience is different. I think it was more my husbands moto that he would say to me even though he is a worry wart is don’t worry or stress about outcomes or results until you know the full story. Easier said then done but it would work to calm me down if I was worried.
Life is going to change for few years, but it does slowly come back. I now look back on what I did and went through and I’m really proud of myself and how far I have come. After almost 5 years I am still working on myself but I also tell myself that I need to stop looking for the 26 year old girl that I once was and start looking for the new strong 31 year old women that I have become or who I want to become.
how long until you found out you were in remission? How long have you been in remission?
My surgical oncologist said to me whilst at my beside after my mastectomy that I am cured as they had the results back and all the margins and scans had said they removed everything. Even though I went on to having treatment for another year with HERCEPTIN I was considered was in remission by my group of doctors as I didn’t have any cancer in my body that they knew of. So you could say I have been in remission for about 3 years. I still have a scan or blood tests done every 6 months and see either my surgical or medical oncologist for those follow ups.
So, you found out you were pregnant with Maggie. Tell us about that, and how your treatment impacted your decisions around feeding your soon to be bub?
The day we found out about our daughter Maggie being a successful IVF transfer was a massive weight off my shoulders with 2 failed embryo pick ups prior and then having a successful collection it was like saying to myself “finally its my turn” there was a few moments of doubt from myself and I found out later from one of my doctors that I might not have success. They are still unsure as to why I had a few failed attempts or couldn’t fall pregnant on my own but due to chemo even with the protection of zolodex my egg count would have been lowered and there is a chance that I would drop an egg every cycle. Seeing as I fell pregnant again naturally when Maggie was only 3 months it was almost like my body needed a reboot. Once I had a successful pregnancy my body was back in motion and is very happy to carry with no complications. When we found out I was pregnant the second time round I think I cried more.. one because I was nervous about having to very young children but two was because my body has finally done something on its own for once and I didn’t need any help from drugs or doctors to get me there.
I guess my decisions on feeding my babies was made for me on the day I was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. When I was told I would need a double mastectomy and reconstruction. They did offer to keep my right breast if I wanted to attempt to breast feed when I became a mum but I just thought realistically that might not happen and I was then told to have children I would need to wait several years till all my treatment was finished so I decide to take out all my breast tissue as I would have been a bit paranoid about the potential for the right side to develop cancer.
So with have all my breast tissue taken out I would never develop breast milk. I looked on the bright side of that by saying the choice was made for me and knowing how hard breast feeding can be for some women I told my self it was one less stressful thing I needed to worry about with a new born. In saying that bottle feeding has its own challengers with making sure you are organised and prepared. I wish I was able to breast feed and have that experience as a mother but I also know that I am extremely lucky to have children so I never dwelled on it.
Lets talk about work, what do you do?
I am a Registered Scrub Scout Nurse who works in theatre assisting surgeons from all specialties but I do look after breast cases in particular that consist of breast cancers and reconstruction. I found I had a drive and passion in this area as I personally went through it. Some might think it would be a trigger or I would feel uncomfortable doing mastectomies and breast tumour removals but I am more intrigue as I want to help and give the best outcome to every patient that is going through breast cancer. Its very rewarding know that you have assisted in something that will hopefully help someone recover from a very serious thing.
What do you feel patients can benefit more from around treatment plans and pregnancies?
Knowing that there is lots of success stories from others who have had similar treatment plans and who have been able to conceive and have a baby down the track. Yes IVF is most likely going to be on the cards for those patients but
I think I felt a bit of doom and gloom that I might be able to but one thing that got me through my treatment was success stories my doctors told me about patients that they still saw had successfully fallen pregnant after chemotherapy.
What advice would you give someone going through breast cancer?
To take each day as it comes. One day you will feel really under the weather so do what you need to do and don’t try to please other people on those days. If you cant answer the phone you will get back to it another day.
Don’t push yourself. Unsure if that sounds self absorbed or selfish but I sometimes felt I was putting I smile on my face to make other people feel comfortable.
What advice would you give someones family going through breast cancer?
To be very supportive. To speak to other cancer survivors families on advice on what you could do to help or assist with your loved one who is experiencing breast cancer or any cancer. It can take a toll on family members having to be the strong one and a full time career. Go to appointments and sessions if you can as when there is a lot of information you loved one might not take everything in and it helps get a clear picture with 2 brains rather than one. If your loved one is a bit more independent with their treatment plan just let them know you are always there, offer to get them out of the house.
How important is the NBCF in raising awareness?
It is very important to raise awareness for NBCF. Especially after the 2 years of covid delays and early detection being slowed down we need to remind women out there to check their breast and for our loved ones to be encourage. We need to check on our grandmas, mothers, sisters and friends as it can happen at any age. I used to even think oh no it doesn’t really matter until Im in my mid 40’s. never did I think I it was something I would go through in my mid 20’s. There is a lot of education and resources to help women and men out there that can be found on the NBCF websites.
Did you relationship with your body change throughout this journey?
Yes it most defiantly did. I have been pregnant for 18 months over the past 2 years so it is hard to explain now as I have so many other changes going on but when I was getting back to a healthier fitter lifestyle post chemo I was aware of how weak and fatigued I was. Also you are aware of small signs of ageing and hormone changes a lot more just because due to the many drugs and treatments I had to take I was always aware of side effects that would happen to my body.
What do you do for self care?
Self care right now doesn’t happen as much as I would like with a young one around my feet but regular exercise and looking after my skin was always enough for me. I would like to say my body is my temple since I had cancer but I also like to enjoy the little evil things in life like chocolate and wine.
What do you see when you look in the mirror
I see different faded scars, but I am proud of all of them.
What would you tell your younger self about body confidence?
I would tell myself so many things if I could go back in time. If only time travel was around. Firstly I think I used to put so much pressure on my self with my weight when I really didn’t need to. Being healthy and strong is the body I should have been working on instead of trying to be the idea of skinny.
What would you tell your younger self in general?
I don’t have any regrets so I don’t think I ever really think about this question much. I was very fortunate when I was growing up in my teens and early 20’s with a loving supportive family. I went on adventures and had a ball with friends going out and enjoying life. There is always the advice of save up more and buy a house early when the market is cheaper but that money was spent on travel and experiences.
Do you feel any different post breast cancer?
Yes I do feel different post breast cancer, physically and mentally. I don’t stress about the small things in life as much but I think that also comes with age. You really start to realise who you are as a person and the friends and family you hold close to you.
Physically I am still trying to get back to my old self but that will come with time and hard work.
Do you believe in everything happens for a reason?
Mmmmm yes and no. No, I don’t really believe in this as there have been certain events in my life that have occurred that have had no positive outcome from that said event.
But then there is the side of me that says yes I do believe in everything happens for a reason as it shapes us into the people that we are today.