Tonya's Story


I am a Fighter. I am a Survivor!






Fiver years ago I was a single mum to two teenage boys working a full time job. I was probably the fittest and healthiest I had been my whole life.


One day in the shower I lifted my arm to wash my hair and I noticed on my right armpit the side of my breast was bruised. I pressed it and prodded it for a few days and it just didn't feel right. I then felt a tiny little lump. I went to a medical centre in my lunch break at work where the doctor told me he thought I had nicked my armpit shaving and it had caused an infection. He gave me a dose of antibiotics.


A few days later the lump had increased in size and my head said something wasn't right! I didn't have a regular GP so I rang around Wollongong looking for a lady doctor. I found one and made an appointment that day. I explained to her the events of the last few days. She looked and felt the lump and expressed her concerns. That afternoon I was having a biopsy and ultrasounds on the lump. I became quite anxious and the wait for the results felt like forever.


The results came back. I was told I had cancer. My life turned upside down. A million thoughts of death and my kids being without their mum were running through my head. I was angry. I was scared.


I was referred to a surgeon who then admitted me to hospital. By this stage the lump had become the size of a golf ball. I could not put my arm against my body. They operated and removed the lump and all the lymph modes under my armpit. I was one of the lucky ones who did not have to loose my breasts but the bad news was that they removed nineteen lymph nodes and four of them were cancerous. This was now secondary cancer. This was not the news I was hoping for. The chances were that the cancer could have spread.


Following my operation I was quite emotional. Linda, my amazing breast cancer nurse came to see me. I cried a lot and we talked about not only my cancer diagnosis but about my fears of being a single mum, how I was going to financially get through the next year of treatment not working full time and having extra medical expenses and specialist fees.  Linda talked to me about the Joanne Mackay Breast Cancer Foundation and how they could assist me. She made a referral on my behalf. 


I went home from hospital with a drip in my arm to drain the fluid. I was told to rest and take it easy but life as a single mum had to go on. The drip didn't stop me getting on with daily activity. I would tie the drip to the kitchen cupboards to cook or drag it around with me whilst doing light housework. The nurses came to my house each day and checked my wound and the fluid. After the fluid reduced the bag was removed and the wound healed a little.


Then Chemo treatment began. I lived closed to Wollongong Hospital so I decided I would walk for my first treatment to clear my head and arrived at the door with a positive frame of mind. I thought I was so prepared. I was so wrong. The chemo ward was very daunting. I sat in the chair and when the nurses came to me in all the protective clothing and put the cannula in me. I just sobbed! It was one of the hardest days of my cancer journey. The chemo treatment was tough and losing my hair was extremely difficult (although the positive was no shaving legs!).


The Chemo made me sick for the two days after the treatment. Half way through I become so unwell I had a few days in Hospital however in-between treatments I felt okay and I never let the treatment get me down. They pumped me with steroids to keep me feeling okay. In addition I had amazing friends cooking me great home cooked meals so while most cancer patients lose weight during chemo, not me! I gained ten kilos!


Next was radiation. Eight weeks of treatment, five days per week. The first few weeks were a breeze. Then the burn started and wow did it burn. I wore a 'hospital made bra' for the remainder of the treatment and joked with the nurses about how sexy it was and complained that I didn't have matching undies. The next day my beautiful nurse had made me a pair.


After nearly one year the treatment was over. This was an exciting part of my cancer journey and a sense of accomplishment! During the next year I had blood tests, mammograms, ultrasounds and visits with my radiation doctor, surgeon and oncologists. I was back at work and I was feeling well, active and healthy. At the end of the year my oncologist booked me in for a fully body scan to check that the cancer had not spread. This was the next tough part of my journey as the scan showed 'hot spots' or pre cancer cells in my ovaries and cervix. My oncologist referred me to a gynecologist cancer doctor at the Royal Woman's Hospital. I went to see her and when I left that appointment I was booked in for a full hysterectomy.


The operation was key hole and went well however a full hysterectomy puts your body into menopause and because I was a cancer patient it meant no hormone replacements for me. My hormone balance was all out of whack and the negative effect for me was more weight gain. The hot sweats are manageable and each hot sweat I am thankful for because I am alive.


The next few years following that consisted of regular breast checks, surgeon check-ups, blood tests and visits to my oncologist. During this time I felt well. There were a lot of nervous waits for results after every test was done and check ups always made me feel anxious but my life went back to normal and I never really thought about the cancer returning. I always had a positive attitude towards the future.


Now as I reach the five year mark I have so much to reflect on and be grateful for.

I am thankful to the GP who sent me for the first biopsy. I feel lucky to have had such professional yet kind medical professionals/specialists and such amazing, caring and understanding nurses.


I will never be able to thank enough the amazing friends that organised many fundraisers and the many kind people in my life that supported the fundraising. This reduced much of my financial worries and gave me financial help that I needed during my treatment.


I was so fortunate to have received financial and emotional support from the Joanne Mackay Breast Cancer Foundation. What an amazing Foundation helping local woman just like me.


I am thankful for the gifts, meals, transport help, messages of support and continual love I received from so many people.


My body has been through so much. My poor veins have disappeared from so many blood tests and cannula’s. My eyebrows and eyelashes never fully grew back. I am little heavier than I was and not as fit. I have a dodgy boob and scars but I have also been fortunate to keep my breasts and my right restricted arm hasn't really had much swelling.


I am proud of all I have been through. I feel healthy, happy and well and I am so excited to be celebrating five years as a survivor!

Tonya Bullock

©2018 by The Joanne Mackay Breast Cancer Foundation.