Erryn Sims had barely had a chance to sit down when her GP told her, “Sorry, it’s cancer.”
The Sydney three-time mother had been in the shower a week before Christmas in 2018 when she discovered a lump on her left breast.
“I was 34, my father has five sisters, and my mother is one of five girls, and there is no family history of breast cancer,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.
“It did not even come to mind that it was cancer, I was just thinking ‘it was not there before’.”
A few weeks passed, and in mid-January, Erryn decided to check in with her doctor, who sent her for a mammogram and ultrasound.
“I went straight from the general practitioner. Usually I am a procrastinator and would have left what I had scripts in my bag from October before. I do not know what made me do it, but I drove right there, ”she said.
“They said, ‘we’re trying to squeeze you in this afternoon, but if not, we can not get you in until February 5th’ – another three weeks away. ‘
Fortunately, they managed to fit her in, and within days she was sent for a biopsy.
“On Friday (my doctor) called and said, ‘What time can you be here? ‘,” She said.
“When I was sitting on the chair and before he even closed the door, he said – ‘I’m sorry it’s cancer’.”
Erryn was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, and between the scans on 18 January and the lumpectomy on 14 February, it had grown more than 1 cm.
“It’s extremely scary to think about what would have happened if I had left it,” she added.
When her daughter’s 8th birthday party was planned that night, Erryn said, “I was just thinking about getting through tonight and making it special for her if I’m not here for the next one.”
The next obstacle was to explain to his three young girls – eight, five and 18 months old – what was going on.
“The day we met with my surgeon and found out what would happen in the future, we sat down and explained that mom was going to get very sick, mom might lose her hair, but I needed lots of medicine to make mom better, ”she said.
When her middle child asked her if she was going to die, all Erryn could say was, “I do not know, honey.”
“We were very honest with them about everything that was going on, which I think helped.”
While the cancer, which was difficult to treat, had been picked up early, Erryn still required a lumpectomy, 16 rays of radiation and chemotherapy, leaving her with frequent nursing, body aches and morning sickness.
Eventually she was cleared of cancer and now two years later she has checked every four months and an annual mammogram and ultrasound that will continue for the next decade.
She has now committed herself to raising awareness of the condition with which around 55 Australians are diagnosed each day.
“If you find that something has changed, get it checked as soon as possible,” she said, “no matter what your age is, breast cancer can happen to anyone.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a decline in breast screening, breast care appointments and surgeries, with agreed times and closure of BreastScreen facilities, resulting in approximately 98 percent of breast screens being canceled or delayed by 2020.
Diagnosis and examination operations also decreased by up to one-third in the first wave of COVID-19 alone.
National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) Director of Research Investment Associate Professor Samantha Oakes told 7NEWS.com.au that increased investment in more advanced and difficult-to-treat breast cancer would be required to address the potential impact.
“We know that during the pandemic we have seen reductions in breast screening agreements and more worryingly we have actually seen in 2020 alone 1000 fewer breast cancer-related surgeries, which include biopsies and mastectomy, which we believe may mean we may see an increased number breast cancer in the coming years, ”she said.
“Obviously, NBCF is concerned about this statistic.”
‘The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better it can be treated.’
Oakes said 100 percent of men and women diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer will survive to their five-year milestone, but the survival rate drops dramatically as the cancer progresses.
“Unfortunately, if they are diagnosed with stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer, this survival rate drops to 32 percent after five years.
“We know that the earlier breast cancer is detected, the better it can be treated.
“We also still do not have very effective treatments for metastatic breast cancer to really achieve our mission of ending deaths from breast cancer.”
To learn more about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit the NBCF website.