Six months after receiving a devastating stage 1 breast cancer diagnosis, Arnika Kefu is winning her fight against the disease – thanks to treatment at Mater and the love of her family.
The 41-year-old mum of three is married to Wallabies and Queensland Reds great Steve Kefu and is sharing her courageous story with other women for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Mrs Kefu was given the devasting news by doctors she had breast cancer in March, with a biopsy confirming a 2.5cm lump in her breast contained cancerous cells.
Following months of continuous – and successful – chemotherapy treatment at Mater’s Cancer Care Centre at South Brisbane, a soft-spoken Mrs Kefu, has for the first time revealed how she “pulled herself together” for her young family including Laila, 14, Chloe, 12 and Jacob, 8.
“Last year I started getting an inverted nipple but didn’t give it the time of day. Then I started to get some sharp pain and thought ‘this isn’t right’,” Mrs Kefu said.
“I knew if I let my mum and sister know, they would tell me to see my GP – and that’s exactly what happened.”
Mrs Kefu said her GP had found a lump in her breast and referred her for an immediate mammogram and ultrasound.
“Before I knew it, I was in having a biopsy,” she said.
“If I went to the doctor early, it would have been picked up early.”
Mater Cancer Care Centre Senior Medical Oncologist Dr Catherine Shannon said Mrs Kefu’s treatment involved neoadjuvant therapy, which has shrunk the tumour to just 1cm.
“This is often done so when the tumour is smaller, the surgery is smaller,” Dr Shannon said.
She said Mrs Kefu had responded well to chemotherapy and advised other women who had any abnormalities in their breasts to see a doctor immediately.
“We know a lot of women have put off of their screenings due to COVID-19 and telehealth is not the best way of assessing a breast lump,” Dr Shannon said.
Just weeks ago (29 September), Mrs Kefu had a lumpectomy at Mater Hospital Brisbane to remove the tumour.
Mrs Kefu said when her doctor told her she had breast cancer, she “broke down crying” in the car with her husband by her side.
“I was thinking about how we were going to tell our children I had breast cancer, and how they would tackle it,” she said.
“The first 12 weeks were pretty tough. I was faced with having a mastectomy but thanks to treatment, that’s not the case anymore,” she said.
Mrs Kefu explained her diagnosis to her eldest daughter Laila first, and then showed Chloe and Jacob part of a cancer-themed movie, Miss You Already, starring Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore. She hoped it would provide them with a realistic depiction of a woman facing breast cancer.
“I got it ready on the part that explained what cancer was and how chemotherapy would work. I explained how mum would lose her hair and would need a wig. It really helped the kids.”
While parts of her cancer treatment had been extremely challenging, Mrs Kefu said there was nothing her family couldn’t deal with.
“It’s really solidified us as a family unit, we can get through anything,” she said.
“Steve has been a pillar of strength and the kids are just so resilient.”
Mater is a leading centre for breast cancer treatment and research, with one in every four Queensland breast cancer patients treated at Mater facilities across South-East Queensland and in Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton and Bundaberg.
Last year Steve’s brother, Wallaby great Toutai Kefu, was left fighting for his life and his family the victims of a violent home invasion which “rocked the family”, Mrs Kefu said.
“My sister-in-law Rachel suffered serious cuts to her arm during the home invasion and often we sit and look at each other thinking ‘what’s happened’,” she said.
“We are very close, all of us, and our families have banded together to get through everything, including the cancer diagnosis.
“I just want to look back at this time knowing I have minimised the impact my diagnosis has had on my family.”
Breast Cancer Facts
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Australia
- It’s estimated that more than 20,000 women and 200 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia in 2022
- More than 3200 Australians will die from breast cancer this year
- Patients diagnosed with breast cancer have a 92% chance of surviving 5+ years
- If cancer is limited to the breast, the five-year survival rate rises to 96%