The following article features in Issue One of the ST BREAST magazine.
West Australian mum Leah Stupar was only 32 years old and breastfeeding her second child when she first noticed lumps in her breast. While she was initially diagnosed with mastitis, she sought a second opinion and was diagnosed with breast cancer. A surgeon advised that her chances of surviving for five years were “thirty percent at best”. Now 12 years cancer-free, she is telling her story to give other women hope. The baby daughter she was breastfeeding when diagnosed is now 14 years old. This is Leah’s story, in her own words.
“My cancer journey began when I developed mastitis while breastfeeding my second child. A while after I finished feeding, I noticed some lumps. A doctor felt comfortable they were part of mastitis and didn’t do a biopsy. But a few months later, one of my breasts felt bigger and it also dimpled when I squeezed it gently, though it wasn’t painful. Around the same time, Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer and I realised that no one is immune from breast disease. I sought a second opinion. A biopsy revealed I had a 5.5cm grade 2, stage 3, oestrogen-positive invasive lobular carcinoma.
I saw a surgeon who told me rather abruptly that my chances of surviving the next five years were 30% at best and that I should “go home, eat chocolate, drink red wine and make the most of my children”. I was only 32 years old. My husband and I drove home in shock, not knowing where to turn.
Then I met a lady at the Cancer Council who gave me hope. She had a very similar story to mine. She was also diagnosed at 32, but was still going strong in her sixties. I decided that I needed to find the best oncologist and get this thing sorted. Enter Professor Arlene Chan from the Breast Cancer Research Centre in Western Australia.
After my surgery, I went to Arlene’s office full of anxiety, but she quickly put me at ease.
Professor Chan told me she had evidence of women in the same situation as me, who were still going strong after ten years. She asked me if I was prepared to fight. I explained I was young and fit.
Arlene said she’d be hitting me hard with treatment, to give me the best possible chance. Four years after my diagnosis, I no longer felt under threat. Had I been diagnosed five years earlier, the outcome would not have been good. A few people had survived - like the lady I met at the Cancer Council - but most didn’t. The reason I’m here today is unequivocally because of research. Without the trials and research that had been done before I was diagnosed, I would not be here. I’m now twelve years cancerfree. I have an 18 year old son, a 14 year old daughter and a gorgeous husband by my side.
Please support Breast Cancer Research Centre-WA; the work they do saves lives. I’m living proof.”