Updated: Jan 10, 2019
Five year’s cancer free!
This week we had the pleasure of chatting with former JMBCF patient Tonya Bullock who shared with us the inspiring story of her courageous battle with breast cancer and her ultimate triumph over the disease.
JMBCF: Tell us about what lead you to your diagnosis. What changed that alerted you to see a doctor?
Tonya: 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 on my lunch break that day where the doctor 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 increased in size and my head said something was just not right! I found a lady doctor in Wollongong and explained my situation. She looked and felt the lump and expressed her concerns. That afternoon I was having a biopsy and ultrasound on the lump. I became quite anxious and the wait for the results felt like forever.
The results came back. I was told it was cancer.
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 lymph nodes under my right armpit. I was one of the lucky ones who did not have to lose my breasts but the bad news was they removed nineteen lymph nodes and four (of them) had cancer. This was now secondary cancer. This was not the news I was hoping for. The chances were the cancer had spread.
JMBCF: How did you feel when you were first diagnosed and who did you turn to for support?
Tonya: I was a single mum to two teenage boys, working a full time job and probably the fittest and healthiest I had been my whole life. My life turned upside down instantly. A million thoughts of death and my kids being without their mum were running through my head. I was angry, I was scared.
I had an amazing support network including my two boys, my parents, family members and amazing friends. I never felt alone. I had someone checking on me or visiting me, offering encouragement, love and a shoulder to cry on.
JMBCF: How did you hear about the Joanne Mackay Breast Cancer Foundation?
Tonya: After my operation I was quite emotional. My amazing breast cancer nurse Linda came to see me. I cried a lot and we talked about not only my cancer diagnosis but about my fears. Being a single mum, one of my real fears was how I was going to financially get through the next year of treatment (whilst) 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.
During my treatment the foundation paid a few of my household utility bills. This relieved financial pressure and stress. I was blown away with the support and generosity I received from the foundation and was so grateful for the help given to me.
JMBCF: What was your biggest partnering challenge during cancer treatment?
Tonya: Probably one of the hardest parts of my cancer journey was the huge financial burden. I lost my job due to needing time off work for treatment. I used all my holiday and sick pay to live but with all my normal household expenses as well as additional medical expenses and specialist visits fees and no partner to help I was struggling. I was so fortunate to have the financial and emotional support of the Joanne Mackay Breast Cancer Foundation.
JMBCF: Now that you are a survivor, how are you living your life differently and why?
Tonya: Following being diagnosed with breast cancer and recovering from my treatment I have participated in the Breast Cancer Mother's Day Classic. I had the privilege to personally meet Dr Margaret Gardiner. I have also participated in Wollongong Relay for Life and walked the Survivor Lap. I have attended several Pink Days, Ladies Nights In and other breast cancer fund raising events.
It's my little thing in life to be able to give back in a very small way to these great organisations and foundations that help women just like me in the toughest days!
Whilst I faced every challenge of the last five years with a positive attitude, that attitude came from the love I have for my two boys. They were my reason to fight, my reason to never give up and my reason to live! I love them with all my heart.