Te Aroha Isaia, aged 24, was diagnosed with grade three inflammatory HER2+ breast cancer in December 2016. She began a blog to share her journey with her friends and family, and now she’s sharing thoughts from her blog with you. This blog piece has been re-published with permission by Breast Cancer Foundation.
By: Te Aroha Isaia
Hello hello beautiful people.
Let me first start with introducing myself.
My name is Te Aroha Isaia I am 25 years old.
I am happily married, with 2 sweet little girls aged 5 and 3.
Unfortunately I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24. Her 2 Positive.
I have no family (immediate) history of any cancers.
Since being diagnosed all I’ve wanted to do is raise awareness especially with our younger women.
Let me take you on my journey of how everything started.
I had a tingly weird feeling in my left breast one day. I passed it off as I’m probably due my monthly soon. I left it and tried not to think about it. I then realised that when I lay on my stomach it hurt my left breast and I would get sharp pains. I still passed it off as I’m due my monthly. A few days passed and after getting out of the shower I realised that my left breast was sore when I touched it. Once I actually examined it properly I could see a weird lump and my breast looked slightly disfigured and not the ‘’normal.’’ I asked my husband if it was normal and he suggested that I go and get a check-up done from the GP.
A week passed and the pain didn’t go away. I could see a huge difference between the left and right breast – the left was red, swollen and veiny. I then called my GP to book an appointment.
After the examination they thought it was mastitis. I was prescribed antibiotics and told to return in a week if the pain and swelling was still there.
A week passed and the pain and swelling hadn’t come down but had actually gotten worse. I left it for a few more days to ‘give the anti-biotics time to kick in.’ It didn’t do anything so back I went to my GP.
She examined my breast and her first reaction was “wow, that’s big.” She then referred me to go to the hospital straight away to be examined.
I made my way to the hospital with my husband. At this point I’m freaking out slightly thinking “ok, what is happening; what is this?!”
When I got to the hospital they were super busy so I had to wait. Once they did see me, they did all the tests: bloods, ECG, blood pressure etc. I then got admitted to a ward because radiology was closed for the day so I’d have to be seen in the morning. All I’d been told was that it looked like mastitis or an infection inside the breast tissue and that there may be some fluid inside which would need to be drained. I had to be nil by mouth till I could have an ultrasound on the breast.
I finally got seen the following morning. I was not thinking anything bad at this stage just more like if its fluid can they drain it already. I did not at all think about breast cancer at this point.
When I was getting the ultrasound done the lady put the probe on my breast. Her eyes opened so wide that it made me look at the screen. All I could see was a large black mass. She took various measurements then said “I’ll just go get someone.”
The lady was out of the room for a few minutes.
She returned with a doctor who asked to also examine me. His eyes also widened as he saw the large black mass on the screen. As he was taking measurements, I asked him if he could see any fluid there. “Not that I can see,’’ he responds, “no fluid.’’
I asked whether it be breast cancer. He reassured me that because of my age I shouldn’t be thinking about that; he’s 99.9 % sure it isn’t breast cancer.
I felt better but a little annoyed because they still had no idea what the black mass is.
I got told that there was nothing more they could do and that I would be referred to the breast clinic and be seen in 7 weeks’ time. I went back to my ward and a doctor came in to discharge me with another prescription for antibiotics.
I questioned him as to why I was being given more antibiotics when I’d already had them and they hadn’t done a thing at all. He then said that he would give me a different antibiotic so I thanked him and was discharged.
I went home feeling annoyed, angry and confused because I still had no answers.
After waiting 7 long, nerve-wracking weeks the day had come: the 15th of December, 2016. As I walked into the breast clinic, I was anxious about the news that I was going to hear.
I was the youngest in the waiting room. After waiting for about 30 minutes, I was called in for my appointment by the doctor. She asked me why I’d been referred and how my breast had been since I last saw her. I told her that I’d taken the full course of antibiotics, but that, if anything, it had increased in size and visibility. I explained that I had been very uncomfortable and had stopped sleeping on my stomach and left side due to the pain. She asked to examine it.
I put on a hospital gown and instantly regretted wearing a dress to the appointment – pants would have given me some dignity. As she began to examine my breast, she asked the same questions as the hospital did about breast feeding. She said that she’d have to take some blood from the area and began preparing to insert a very long needle into my breast.
Next came the ultrasound. I saw that large black mass again but I wasn’t too worried because it looked the same size as last time. The lady then scanned under my armpit.
What I saw on the screen, I’ll never forget. Another large black mass was there – a new black mass. I didn’t understand; I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t see it and I wasn’t sore… where had it come from?
I was left on my own for a couple of minutes so the lady who had done my ultrasound could speak to someone. As soon as she was out the door I broke down – all I could think was that it was cancer and spreading quickly. When she came back into the room, I stopped crying so I wouldn’t look like a total dingbat in case it turned out to be nothing.
She sent me back to the waiting room for a mammogram. I wondered why – aren’t mammograms for older people? All the TV ads seemed to suggest so.
I got called into the mammogram room and felt scared and nervous in the shadow of this big, scary machine. The mammographer lady calmed me down – she was lovely. She then proceeded to do the mammogram. I had thought it was going to be really sore, but it wasn’t at all.
As I sat in the waiting room, again, so many scenarios ran through my head. I saw patient after patient walk out of their appointment with happy, smiling faces. I hoped and prayed that I would be in the same boat. I’d been waiting for about 20 minutes when the original doctor I saw came over with a senior doctor and introduces me to her. I was then told that they needed to do a biopsy of the breast tissue. I asked whether it was cancer. They reassured me that it was unlikely, given my age.
A biopsy is basically where they insert a large needle into the breast and take tissue from the area. They gave me local anaesthetic so that I couldn’t feel anything when the needle was inserted. The lady doing the procedure explained everything as she was doing it. She took 5 tissue samples, every time there was a loud snap noise. I felt the first one, but the others, not so much. I felt brave because I actually watched the needle going in and out from on the ultrasound machine. It was a big needle.
After the biopsy was done they cleaned up where the small incision was made and then I returned to the waiting room. I saw more people receiving good news. I prayed over and over again for that to be me, too.
My husband joined me and then the doctor arrived, with a nurse and the senior doctor. My stomach sank and I was scared, but knew to brace myself.
Once in the appointment room, the senior doctor said the blood work had come back inconclusive from the pathologist. She continued, saying they were quite concerned, but weren’t sure what it actually was. I asked the question again – is it breast cancer? She replied that it cannot be ruled out and that the biopsy was the only thing that could determine yes or no. She said the results would take a week, and that they’d like to see me in 7 days to go through them. She then reassured me that if it does come back as cancer, I’d be one of the youngest in the region to be diagnosed; if it is cancer, the good thing is that we’d be able to talk about treatment.
The only thing in my head after that was CANCER. Everything they said after that was a blur – my mind was elsewhere.
They gave us their contact details if we had any questions once we got home. When we got to the car, I broke down in front of my husband. He could see the pain, confusion and emotions that had built up when we were sitting with the doctors.
He reassured me that whatever the results, he’d be there for me and God has our back.
I felt overwhelmed, but then content.
As you know from the previous blog I had to wait 7 excruciating days to get my test results back.
Those days were the longest I’ve ever endured in my life.
I remember the day so well. Before we went into the clinic, my husband and I sat in the car and just prayed up a storm. My legs were shaking as my mind was thinking a million things at a time. My husband tried to hold my hand but I couldn’t stop moving it; I was all fidgety.
A familiar face greeted us – my support person. Her soft smile calmed my nerves a bit. She sat us in a consultation room and said she’d get the doctor.
As soon as I heard those words I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to be leaving with good news. My heart sank.
The doctor looked at me: “I wish I could give you some good news but unfortunately it has come back positive for breast cancer.”
I felt like I’d been slapped on the face hard and my stomach felt all twisted. I couldn’t breathe properly, the temperature in the room felt like it had jumped to 100 degrees in .2 seconds. I started crying – crying because my fears had been confirmed but also out of relief for finally having an answer.
My husband was still trying to comprehend what we had just been told.
The 3-5 minutes after being given the results, I only heard white noise. It was like being stuck in a bad dream that I was trying to wake up from. I started thinking about my 2 girls; what would happen if i DI……. I refused to finish the thought.
Then I snapped out of it and wiped my tears away. I squeezed my husband’s hand, held it tight and said, “Ok, now we know what we’re dealing with. Let’s talk treatment, like you said before.”
The next part of the story was a true blessing and I know God put the medical team in my path for a reason.
My doctor and support person told me they had already filled in my new doctor, an oncologist, who will be with me through the whole treatment side of things. We then sat for about 20 minutes discussing possible treatment plans, how they work and their possible side effects. They had already tentatively booked appointments for scans, bloods etc. and advised me that I would soon be receiving calls to confirm times and dates. They had even scheduled in a possible start date for my first round of chemo in 2 weeks’ time.
I returned to the waiting room to wait for a small procedure where a marker is put into the cancer mass to figure out its exact location.
Both my Dads (I’m adopted) had called and texted and I’d missed their calls. They both knew I was getting my results and were waiting for me to give them an update. I can’t remember which dad I told first – bit of a blur – but they were heartbroken to hear their little girl had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
My dad that lives in Auckland said he would meet me at my home. It was a little bit harder for my dad in Australia, given he was a long plane ride away. I promised him then and there to keep him updated with everything, as if he were sitting in all my appointments with me, holding my hand.
After the marking procedure my husband and I walked, hand in hand but in silence, to the car. He opened the door, I sat down and let out the ugliest, loudest cry noise I have ever made. We sat for about 5 minutes until I was done and then we went home.