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, Lisa has a unique perspective on living with breast cancer.
“The nature of my work means I know a lot about breast cancer. I know there are many different types of breast cancer which grow at different rates and respond differently to treatments. I know that if diagnosed early, breast cancer can be successfully treated,” said Lisa Jansz.
“What I didn’t know was that I would become a breast cancer patient myself, at just 41. It was a huge shock. I’d been a nurse for 20 years and never did I think I would one day become the patient.”
Just three weeks after her first mammogram, Lisa was diagnosed with early breast cancer in June 2007. After a course of radiotherapy, Lisa says she tried to stay positive, but then weeks later she felt a lump the size of a pea under her right breast. It was a HER2-positive tumour, a fast-growing type of breast cancer that demands special and immediate attention.
“The fact that my tumour was small, just one centimetre in size, was not comforting given the nature of HER2-positive breast cancer. I couldn’t stop worrying about my two teenage children. All I knew was that I had to do everything in my power to survive this. I had to survive for them,” said Lisa.
“I’ve held hands with thousands of breast cancer patients during my career as a theatre nurse, often only minutes before they undergo surgery. I’ve seen and felt their fear as many questions race through their minds: Will I survive this? What will happen after surgery? How will I feel about my body? When will things be normal again? But I never thought it would happen to me and now I can see why these women are so upset.”
In January 2008, Lisa started treatment for her particular type of breast cancer with a targeted therapy which gave her the best chance of survival. She continued to work and was able to rely on a good network of friends – many of them colleagues – to help her through days when she was feeling tired and emotional.
Lisa also gained practical and emotional support from Choices, a network for breast and ovarian cancer patients. She took up art classes and even modelled in a gala fashion parade to raise funds during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2008.
“It was great fun and very inspirational,” said Lisa. “It was held at the St Lucia Golf Course and all the models who were in the fashion show had breast cancer and most of us were bald at the time.”
Twelve months later Lisa was given a good prognosis, but she still worries that the cancer will return.
“I’ve got this constant fear that I’m going to die of breast cancer or secondaries,” she said. “Obviously you look at life a lot differently when you’ve been through something like this, but you have to try and have fun and keep yourself busy and healthy.”
Lisa told me that she has always maintained a healthy diet and recently she decided to join a gym at the Wesley Hospital where she works.
Lisa’s message to other women newly diagnosed is to find out as much as you can about your type of breast cancer at the start, especially your HER2 status regardless of your age or the size of your tumour.
“Keep yourself informed – it will help you prepare for what’s ahead including which treatment options may work best for you. Also, make sure you celebrate special milestones, it’s important to look back and see how far you’ve come!”
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
- Kay Leicht, a 53-year-old mother of three from Bexley, New South Wales, who is celebrating her tenth year of survival from breast cancer. At one stage Kay worried that she wouldn’t live to see her children grow up, but then a life saving new therapy gave her a future. Click Here to read Kay’s Story