Breast cancer fighter inspires women to ‘know your breasts’

A Queensland professional diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at the age of 31 is on a mission to encourage other young women to check their breasts, even if they don’t think they are at risk.

In July, Sarah Anderson received the ‘shocking news’ that she had triple-positive breast cancer after doctors found inflammation and a tumour the size of a cricket ball in one of her breasts.

Within days of her diagnosis, Ms Anderson was preparing for a year-long treatment program of chemotherapy and radiation, as well as a double mastectomy scheduled for next year.

Ms Anderson is amongst one in every four Queensland women diagnosed with breast cancer who are treated at a Mater hospital each year.

Her breast cancer is aggressive, and the cancer cells are growing in response to estrogen, progesterone, and a growth-promoting protein that’s on the outside of all breast cells known as HER2.

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Ms Anderson is sharing her story to encourage other young women to be aware of changes to their breasts.

“Nothing can prepare you for the words ‘Sarah you have breast cancer’,” said Ms Anderson, of Coorparoo.

“I found out through genetic testing that the cancer I have is inherited. I had a very high chance of getting cancer at some point in my life.”

Mater Private Hospital Brisbane Breast Surgeon Dr Emma Clarkson said Ms Anderson had already undergone several rounds of chemotherapy, with ‘a lot more’ treatment ahead of her.

“Sarah had a large mass as well as inflammatory breast cancer,” Dr Clarkson said. “Her chemotherapy is pretty stringent. It’s not an easy thing to go through.”

Dr Clarkson praised Ms Anderson for seeking medical advice when she realised her breast had changed.

“It’s important to be aware of what is your normal when it comes to your breasts. They can change with decades of age, reproductive history and even health,” Dr Clarkson said.

“Sarah has strong coping skills and has dealt with a lot in a short space of time.”

Ms Anderson said she was determined to beat her battle with the disease.

“I will fight this,” she said. “It’s nasty but I’m determined to become disease-free and stay disease-free. I just want other young women to know their body and appreciate it, because a cancer diagnosis means things can be flipped upside down in an instant.”

Ms Anderson who works for a leading Brisbane law firm as a business development and marketing coordinator, has taken some time out to focus on her cancer treatment.

“I’m currently getting the red devil treatment - an intravenous chemotherapy medicine with a bright red colour and some nasty side effects, including infertility.”

Just weeks after her diagnosis, Ms Anderson underwent fertility preservation before starting chemotherapy treatment.

“With a hope of starting a family one day, I sought assistance with preserving my eggs,” she said.

It was after experiencing pain in one of her breasts that Ms Anderson went to her GP for medical advice.

“I had an inflamed and painful nipple and noticed my breast had changed, both in feeling and appearance,” she said.

The GP referred Ms Anderson for an urgent mammogram and ultrasound the following week. After two weeks of numerous scans and biopsies, she was advised to return to the GP and ‘bring along a support person’.

“That’s when I realised the news wasn’t going to be good,” she said.

“It’s been quite a journey already but the medical team at Mater have helped me remain positive during my appointments and treatment.

“Everyone is so positive and willing to help – it’s not just my physical health they are invested in, it’s my mental health too.

“Myself and my family are putting trust in the hands of the wonderful medical team at Mater.”

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