Life – Grab It With Both Hands – Elaine Smith – Australia

I was 39 when diagnosed with Breast Cancer in December 1997.   My youngest child was 8 years old and I remember standing at his bedroom door watching him sleep thinking about my diagnosis and crying at the thought of what was going to happen to me and to my family. My husband and I had four children and had just signed a contract to build a new family home.  

My Left Mastectomy was scheduled for December 16th 1997.  The diagnosis was Cancer ‘In-Situ’ but as it was all through the milk ducts a Mastectomy was the only choice. This was followed by taking Tamoxifen for five years.  My husband was beyond amazing and incredibly supportive and I had an extended network of family and friends who gave me such positive support. At 39 to have a breast removed was devastating for me.  Reconstruction wasn’t an option at that stage as I just wasn’t ready for it and wanted to make sure that the Cancer wasn’t going to come back in my right breast.

We had a young family and building the new home we had dreamed of almost seemed like it wasn’t going to happen….but we made it happen. I went back to work four weeks after surgery.  At the time, I was working as a Doctor’s receptionist but working with sick people every day wasn’t helping me mentally and the thoughts of Cancer were always haunting me so I decided to do something about it. I decided to change my working environment and get away from those negative thoughts as much as I could. I needed a job that took me away from the general public, where I could just do my job and go home. I ended up working for a company that made Air Conditioners for Holden cars. For three years I stood on a production line making Air Conditioners until one day I became so bored I decided that I needed more mental stimulation so I applied for a Traineeship in Property Management. I have been working as a Property Manager now for the last 14 years and am still with the same company. The job is demanding, the hours are long and no one day is ever the same as the last so there is no chance to get bored but it is a highly stressful career.

Thirteen years passed from when I was first diagnosed and finally I had the courage to undergo reconstructive surgery using a muscle from my abdomen and my own tissue. The operation was successful and the results were amazing. I was extremely happy to be ‘whole’ again. I took six weeks off work to recover.

On the 29th November 2016 I went for a routine check-up. Every year for the previous 19 years I have been going for routine check-ups and every time I became nervous regarding the results but this time I was working and had appointments to attend in the afternoon. I was hoping that they were not running behind. It didn’t enter my head that there could be a problem.  They called me in and I had the Mammogram. Then I was called back into the room for a second Mammogram. Something was seriously wrong, I could see the X-Ray up on the screen and it wasn’t good. I was then taken in for an Ultra-Sound and was told that I needed a Biopsy there and then. The news was devastating. I had invasive early Breast Cancer in my right breast. I was numb. I left the Doctor’s rooms in total shock.

How was I going to tell my husband and my family? How could I protect them from this news? I completed my appointments that afternoon in a state of disbelief over this new diagnosis. On December 10th 2016 I had a Mastectomy of my right breast. They found that the Cancer had spread to my Nodes under my arm. From the two they had taken during the Mastectomy, one had Cancer in it.  On December 22nd 2016 I was taken in for a second round of surgery to remove another 10 Lymph Nodes and out of those one more Lymph Node had Cancer in it. This time the Cancer had spread. I would need Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy followed by hormone suppressing tablets for 5 or maybe 10 years.

At the time of writing I have completed six months of Chemotherapy treatment and will complete Radiotherapy treatment in two weeks. It has been a long journey and there have been many challenges along the way but I am determined to keep a positive mind-set.  My husband and family continue to be as supportive as ever and I will be forever grateful to them for the love and support that they have given to me throughout this time in my life. Family is everything to me and I intend to be there to watch my Grandchildren grow up. I also have been very fortunate to have a caring and  compassionate employer who has allowed me to take this time out to receive treatment. My job will be there when I wish to return, but for now I will take time out to recover. It’s the mental battle that is the hardest.

We recently went bush-walking in the Grampians and over 4 days walked about 40km’s and I felt amazing when we got home. This was between Chemotherapy ending and Radiotherapy treatment starting. Life goes on and we must just take every day and enjoy it to the fullest. You never know what is around the corner and life can change in an instant. Grab it with both hands and enjoy every minute that you can!!!!

About the Author

Elaine Smith is one of life’s truly unsung heroes, she goes out to face every challenge that life throws at her every day with an amazing positive attitude. Elaine lives in Adelaide in South Australia and is looking forward to rejoining the ranks of the “employed” very soon. We know that Elaine will embrace this like everything else in her life. To contact Elaine email IWT support on and we can put you both together.