For the final article in our series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we meet Kay Leicht (pictured), a 53-year-old mother of three from Bexley, New South Wales, who is celebrating her tenth year of survival from breast cancer.
Kay’s breast cancer journey began in June 1999, and only 18 months later, she was diagnosed with an advanced form of the disease. At one stage Kay Leicht worried that she wouldn’t live to see her children grow up, but then a life saving new therapy gave her a future.
It all started in June 1999 when, at age 42, Kay Leicht was diagnosed with Paget’s disease. Paget’s disease often indicates there is a breast cancer elsewhere in the same breast. Kay learned that one of her breasts would have to be removed.
“It was a heartbreaking but necessary decision,” said Kay. “Fortunately I recovered well after the mastectomy and the rounds of chemotherapy that followed. But I have since had reconstructive surgery, so I wasn’t happy about not having a breast.”
Then in December 2001, just as Kay had started to believe she had survived the worst, she discovered a lump in her neck. A series of blood tests and biopsies confirmed she had advanced breast cancer. The cancer was found to have spread to other parts of her body including the liver and spine.
“At the time I was told there were no available treatments. It was such a frightening time for me and my family. The thought of leaving my three young children without a mother devastated me. I felt cheated,” she said.
Fortunately, only a few months later in March 2001, Kay heard about Herceptin, a therapy that had just been made available for her specific type of breast cancer, HER2-positive, which is particularly aggressive and fast-forming. Eight years later Kay is still receiving the treatment every four weeks. “I just go along and have my treatment and then forget about it for the next four weeks.”
“When I first heard about it, it wasn’t on the PBS and it was going to cost something like $100,000 a year and they didn’t have much knowledge about how effective the drug was because it was so new. I was just lucky that it was then approved for the PBS and I’ve been on it ever since.”
This year Kay celebrates 10 years of survival.
“Am I in remission? I tend to respond to this question by saying my breast cancer is under control, that it is being managed. The chance of the disease returning is higher among women with HER2-positive breast cancer. I always keep this in mind but for the moment I am feeling really well.”
Kay’s advice to other women with breast cancer is to stay positive and be informed throughout the different stages of your breast cancer. There are many different types of breast cancer, which grow at different rates, and respond differently to treatments – so it is crucial that you find out as much as possible at your specific type.
Kay says she definitely has more of a positive attitude these days. “I say “Let’s do it!” to most things nowadays. Of course there are some things I can’t do as well as before but I’m not one to give up. If I’ve learnt anything over this time, it’s not to give up, to keep fighting for your life!”
MORE ARTICLE IN OUR SERIES ON ‘SURVIVING BREAST CANCER’:
- In December 2008, Cathryne Pearce finished 12 months of treatment for early stage breast cancer. Today she continues to work as an occupational therapist and has taken up several new activities that she wouldn’t have considered before her diagnosis. Click Here to Read Cathryne’s Story
- Donna Rullo is 50 years old and lives on a 120-acre fruit farm in Swan Hill, Victoria. She was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in March 2001 at the age of 42 and after undergoing 12 months of treatment, has been in remission for eight years. Click Here to read Donna’s Story
- Lisa Jansz, a 43-year-old mother of two from The Gap in Brisbane, was diagnosed with early breast cancer in June 2007 and again, in January 2008. Having assisted with thousands of breast cancer surgeries during her career as a theatre nurse, has a unique perspective on living with breast cancer. Click Here to read Lisa’s Story