Awen Griffiths’ breast cancer diagnosis transformed the 47 year old registered nurse, who worked predominantly with breast reconstruction patients, into a patient herself. Awen opens up how her instincts possibly saved her life and how a stay at an OTIS property inspired her to become an advocate for The OTIS Foundation.
It was a cold September day in the Adelaide Hills. I was dressed for the weather in a hat, scarf, gloves and a big warm coat. My ex-husband and I were watching our son, Elis, play football in his Grand Final. In the third quarter, I suddenly experienced a sharp stabbing pain to my left breast. I crouched to my knees in pain, my ex-husband thought instantly that I was experiencing a heart attack. I am a Registered Nurse of 30 years, I knew this wasn’t a cardiac event, this was different.
We returned home and I checked my breast thoroughly for any lumps or swelling, but couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. I booked an urgent Mammogram with BreastScreen SA. I went alone with a positive outlook. They reassured me that despite calcification being present, my mammogram was clear and that I was to “come back when you’re 50”.
Over the next eight weeks I experienced intermittent buzzing sensations in my breast. This didn’t sit right with me, it wasn’t normal for MY breast and I knew in my heart this needed further investigation. I followed my intuition and instinct and rang BreastScreen SA for another mammogram. This mammogram came back showing a small 1cm lesion above my nipple. It was confirmed by my General Practitioner a few days later as Ductal Carcinoma in situ (DCIS). I remember sitting in the GP’s office thinking “Great! I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer on the day I’ve been nursing 30 years…..I have a party to go to tonight!!!”
My GP frantically and nervously looked through her computer for a breast surgeon to refer me to. Due to the work I do, I had a few breast surgeons’ names in my phone! I dialled a colleague and friend and handed her the
phone. He reassured her all would be fine and that I was to attend his office the next day at 9am. I’m glad I’d followed my instinct.
The day for the partial mastectomy surgery came. I was positive and trusted my surgeon
100%. On my return to the ward, I noticed under my gown that my breast looked very similar to pre-operatively. My nurse brain was kicking in and this was the beginning of my transition from nurse to patient. I found myself The day came, the day my body was going to change forever.
The post op news was NOT what I expected. Two out of seven nodes had metastases present and a 4.5cm lobular carcinoma was discovered. This tumour was EXACTLY where I had felt the pain and EXACTLY where I had told the mammogram professionals I could feel the buzzing sensation. I’m glad I’d followed my instinct.
So…….my journey started……seeing an Oncologist (this means you REALLY have cancer!).
During chemo I was told by a friend in Victoria, about The OTIS Foundation. I researched them and was overwhelmed to see what kind of work they do. I contacted them and was thrilled to be offered a property called St Brigids in Goolwa, SA – a 100 year old Baltic pine church that was relocated from interstate. It was beautiful, peaceful and serene. We read, slept in and I made the most of the beautiful outdoor bath! I am forever grateful to The OTIS Foundation and hope one day to become an ambassador for them.
During chemo, my friend’s son, Xander, saw me at the petrol station. It was winter and I was cold. He asked his mum why I was bald and she explained about chemo and its side effects. He said “she must get cold with no hair”. Xander went home, spoke to his grandma, whom is an avid knitter and they both decided to knit beanies to sell at Xander’s school for $5 each to raise money for The OTIS Foundation. This was very successful and Xander is hoping to beat his target in 2019.
The next step of my journey is now all positive. In February 2019, I had my second mastectomy. Losing the second breast was much easier, as I’d had plenty of time to grieve and my obsession with symmetry was getting closer to being achieved. My story ending is thankfully a happy one, but I think daily about the “what if?” What if I hadn’t followed my instinct?
There is certainly a positive to my breast cancer journey and my daily purpose in life is to educate every woman to know what NORMAL is for their breasts. Any sensation, feeling, discolouration, dimpling, discharge, rippling. GET IT CHECKED.
Follow your instinct………my instinct saved my life.
Mother – Friend - Registered Nurse - Breast Cancer Survivor
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This Mother’s Day help us support mums like Awen and especially those who are waiting for a stay at an OTIS property by donating to our Mother’s Day Appeal.
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