We are back with our second edition of “Breast Cancer Stories”. As well as so many out there we are also on a mission to build awareness through the wisdom and experiences of survivors and their Breast Cancer Stories. We want everyone to be informed and know that Breast Cancer does not discriminate and what better way than to show case this through our Breast Cancer Stories series.
This is the main reason why here at Vivid Photography and Imaging, we have jumped on board with The National Breast Cancer Foundation, to produce a glamorous book showcasing women who have either had breast cancer or have supported loved ones during their time of need.
Natalie Brumby is one of the many ladies partaking on this journey with us and is the next courageous lady to be part of the Breast Cancer Stories series.
Breast Cancer Stories: Tell Us Your Story
My name is Natalie Brumby. I’m a 53-year-old single mother of 2. My daughter is 21 and my son is 18. I work as a Manager at an independent girls’ school on Sydney’s North Shore.
Tell us how did you come to find out you had breast cancer?
I was about to go meet a friend that I hadn’t seen in a very long time, I moved my arm and felt a very sharp pain. I dismissed it thinking I had just pulled a muscle. The next day in the shower, the pain came back, and I just began to feel around and discovered the lump. This was a Sunday. I wasn’t concerned as practically everything you read says that breast cancer lumps don’t hurt. I was perplexed though as I also didn’t think it was a cyst as I had already been through menopause. I was not overweight, nor a smoker, only a social drinker and relatively no history of cancer in my family. Monday morning I made an appointment to see my GP. She ordered a mammogram and ultrasound and told me not to delay. I still wasn’t concerned, but I made the appointment as soon as possible.
Tell us about the ACTUAL day you had officially been diagnosed with breast Cancer?
Saturday, 1 June 2019. The day of my mammogram and ultrasound. The mammogram was first. If the radiographer had an inkling during the mammogram, she never let on. It didn’t hurt any more than usual. Once finished they asked me to wait in the cubicle until they called me for the ultrasound. I suppose that’s when I started to suspect something was wrong. She kept going over the same area and there was a lot of small talk and then she said she needed to leave the room. When the door opened again, the doctor walked in. Nothing good ever comes of that. He was very kind and gentle. He simply placed his hand on my arm and said, ‘how much do you want to know?’. I said, ‘tell me everything’. A single tear trickled down the side of my cheek. And so it started. The barrage of information and instructions. My head was spinning but really no time to think. I needed to get a biopsy quickly on Monday but needed a referral from my GP before it could happen. It was 10am on a Saturday morning and I had to get to my son’s footy game or he’d wonder where I was. I managed to get the referral and the appointment was made for Monday afternoon. I went back to my car and sat there for a short time trying to process what I had just heard. My first phone call was to my boss as she was the only one who knew I had been to the doctor. I literally made her fall over! Then one more phone call to one of my closest friends in Melbourne. My timing for both phone calls couldn’t have been worse. They were both shopping! I then made my way to my son’s footy game trying to look as ‘normal’ as possible. My friend knew immediately something was wrong when she saw me. She was shocked when I told her. Just the week before we had been having dinner and drinks together laughing and being carefree. She helped me come up with a plan on how to deal with the children. It was a very long day.
What treatments did you do?
I had neoadjuvant chemotherapy (16 rounds), then surgery (lumpectomy) and finally radiation.
Tell us about your hardest day?
My hardest day was actually the same day I was diagnosed. Despite having some difficult days after treatment nothing compared to having to tell my children that their sole carer had breast cancer. I’m originally Canadian, so have no family Australia. I didn’t know how we were going to cope, and they were so frightened. I had to be strong for them.
Who were the people around you that you felt supported you the most?
Being a single Mum with no family in Australia, I’m a very independent woman who is used to doing everything herself. What I soon found out after my diagnosis was that I couldn’t ‘do cancer’ by myself. I was so incredibly blessed. My friends and my colleagues rallied around. Even people I didn’t know helped. My daughter’s church community was amazing, setting up a dinner roster. I had to set up a calendar for my chemo treatments as so many of my friends wanted to accompany me. It was overwhelming. I found that people’s kindness made me cry much more than my cancer ever did. There are so many good people in this world.
Some of the most important people that supported me were my medical team. I was so fortunate to have an exceptional team around me which included the wonderful nurses at the Chemo Cottage – Mel, Gina and Rebecca, my Breast Care Nurse – Clare, my Oncologist – Dr Forster and my Surgeon – Professor Spillane.
Tell us about the day you were cancer free?
This is funnily enough a tricky question. Is it the day after surgery or the day you’ve finished all your treatment? I’ve chosen the day I finished all my treatment which was Wednesday, 29 January 2020. It was fairly uneventful. I went to my last radiotherapy session at Royal North Shore with a box of chocolates for my radiotherapists. I had been seeing them every day for 3 ½ weeks. We had had some good banter during those times. I had my treatment, said my thank you and made my way home. I had to get my son organised for his first day back at school in his HSC year. Life went on as normal. This is so important.
Did you do anything to celebrate after being cancer free? (Are these photos that Murielle has taken of you part of your celebration perhaps?)
There were a couple of dinners with friends and yes, the photo shoot was part of that.
What would you say to anyone who is just starting the breast cancer journey?
The most important thing is to have a positive mindset. This won’t be possible all the time because, I won’t lie, some days are really hard. But if overall you can get through the days with a smile on your face you will do well. It helps you and it helps the people around you.
Try to do some exercise every day even if it’s just a short walk. It’s important for your mental health and your physical health. Some days you won’t be able to and that’s ok.
There is so much information out there – eat this, don’t eat that, take this tablet, this treatment is best and so on. Do what’s best for you and don’t Dr Google too much! Let your medical team guide you and don’t be afraid to ask them questions or question them.
How has the photography session with Murielle Sassine helped with your self esteem?
It gave me confidence that although I now look and feel different, I’m still beautiful and a very strong woman.
How is life now that you are cancer free? – Do you approach life differently now?
I haven’t changed too much. I try to eat well as much as possible and I have been exercising a bit more. The most significant thing is that I live a life with much more gratitude. At times, prior to my diagnosis, I had lost sight of the fact that many people loved me, when I often felt I was in this life on my own. Cancer taught me I’m definitely not. It also taught me how strong I am because I had often felt weak and vulnerable. These are some of the most important lessons I have learnt in my life, and although it took cancer for me to the learn them, I am so grateful.