With two young children and a busy lifestyle, Marcela Tester put her tiredness down to being a “working mum”.
The Callala Beach woman was fit, healthy and a regular gym goer.
However, in 2015, at just 42 years of age she was diagnosed with de novo metastatic breast cancer.
The cancer had spread to her bones and liver.
Ironically, her crushing diagnosis came on October 1, National Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
With no obvious lumps or common signs, it was a pain in her side that saw Marcela seek medical help.
“I was tired but I’m a working mum so I thought that was normal.
“Only 14 months earlier I had a clear ultrasound of my breasts.”
Marcela was initially misdiagnosed. Fortunately she sought a second opinion and was quickly sent for an ultrasound which revealed several liver metastases.
While waiting for treatment, the cancer caused Marcela’s spine to break – a pain she described as “worse than childbirth.”
“I was rushed to emergency and they did radiation on my spine. The pain was out of this world,” she said.
Marcela underwent weekly chemotherapy for five months.
She is currently undergoing treatment every three weeks, along with taking new drugs that help strengthen her bones.
Marcela finished chemotherapy in March and is now focusing on her family, and raising awareness of de novo metastatic breast cancer.
“When it comes for metastatic breast cancer, I even didn’t even know what it is, I’d never even heard of it or its signs,” she said.
“When I was diagnosed by son was 12 and my daughter was nine. It was a great shock but I had no choice – I had to fight for them.
“Every day I’m still fighting for them.”
Marcela has joined the Pink Ribbon Breakfast campaign this October to raise funds for life-changing breast cancer research.
She said it’s a great way to show support while raising awareness and funds for research of breast cancer, in the efforts to prevent any women to go through what she and her family has gone through.
Metastatic breast cancer
Metastatic (secondary) breast cancer is invasive breast cancer that has spread from the breast to other parts of the body
Metastatic cancer is also known as advanced or secondary cancer . Many women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer have been diagnosed with breast cancer before. For some women, a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer may be their first diagnosis of cancer.
How does metastatic breast cancer develop?
In some women with breast cancer, cancer cells break away from the cancer in the breast. The cancer cells spread to other parts of the body in blood vessels or lymphatic vessels and form a new cancer deposit. This can happen before or after treatment for breast cancer.
The original cancer in the breast is called the primary cancer. If breast cancer develops in another part of the body it is called a metastatic breast cancer or a metastasis.
Where does breast cancer spread to?
The most common places that breast cancer spreads to are the bones, liver, lung and brain. Having metastatic breast cancer does not mean that cancer will spread to all these places.
What are the symptoms of metastatic breast cancer?
Possible symptoms of metastatic breast cancer are listed below. Every woman’s experience of metastatic breast cancer is different. Symptoms depend on what part of the body is affected. They may develop over weeks or months.
It’s unlikely that a woman will have all of the symptoms listed below. Some symptoms may not be due to metastatic breast cancer at all.
If breast cancer spreads to the bone
One of the first symptoms of cancer in the bone is usually a constant ache or pain in the bone. The pain can get worse during movement and can make it difficult to sleep at night.
If breast cancer spreads to the liver
Symptoms of cancer in the liver include weight loss, tiredness and discomfort in the area of the liver (on the right side of the abdomen or tummy). Some women also feel sick or lose their appetite. Some women can develop jaundice. Some women develop a swollen abdomen because of a build up of fluid (ascites).
If cancer spreads to the lungs
One of the first symptoms of cancer in the lungs is shortness of breath or a dry cough. Some women also have chest pain or a feeling of heaviness in the chest.
If cancer spreads to the brain
Symptoms of cancer in the brain can include a headache that doesn’t go away, nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting. Headaches may be worse in the morning. Sometimes cancer in the brain causes changes in the part of the body controlled by that part of the brain. For example, an arm or leg might become weaker or your vision may become blurred. Cancer in the brain can also cause seizures (fits). In rare cases, cancer in the brain can cause confusion or a change in personality.
International Breast Cancer Awareness Month
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) is calling on the community to partner with them to raise vital funds for breast cancer research by hosting a Pink Ribbon Breakfast in October.
Every day in 2017, 48 Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 8 women will die from the disease, leaving countless families devastated.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Pink Ribbon Breakfast campaign held in October for International Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The campaign will focus on research that will have the biggest impact and save lives.
This includes metastatic breast cancer, which is breast cancer which has spread beyond the breast.
With the five-year survival rate of metastatic breast cancer much lower than early stage diagnosis, it is crucial for the community to come together to fund research that will improve outcomes in this area.
Funds raised through a Pink Ribbon Breakfast will directly support NBCF researchers including Associate Professor Claudine Bonder from the University of South Australia.
Professor Bonder and her team of researchers are searching for a treatment for metastatic breast cancer by repurposing an available drug that blocks blood vessel development and potentially prevents further tumor growth due to breast cancer.
“Our research can result in a new treatment option for patients with the most difficult to treat breast cancer. Continuous support from the Australian community is so important to ensure we achieve the necessary advancements in treating metastatic breast cancer,” Professor Bonder said.
In developed countries like Australia, up to one-third of women who have been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will go on to develop metastatic breast cancer.
This can occur more than 10-15 years after the original diagnosis.
Professor Sarah Hosking, Chief Executive Officer of NBCF, said “we know research is the only way to stop deaths from breast cancer and create a better tomorrow for those affected. Our researchers have come a long way but there is still so much to be done to reach our goal of zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030.”
There are many ways to get involved. Whether you host a Pink Ribbon Breakfast at your workplace, at school or even at your home, all funds will contribute to NBCF’s goal of raising $2 million for breast cancer research.
►Register to host a Pink Ribbon Breakfast here.