“I am 65 years old now and I was diagnosed when I was 47. My story really starts back in my early thirties, when I started having breast lumps removed that were fortunately, all benign. Because of these lumps, I was on six-monthly monitoring. Ironically, I had just been put on 12-monthly monitoring and I was 10 months in when I found more lumps under my arm, which turned out to be lymph node involvement.
I chose to have a mastectomy. As it turns out, this was a good choice – the cancer was throughout the entire breast. And there were actually three different types (of cancer) within the breast. I probably would not be talking to you today if I had not made that decision. The surgery was followed up with 6 months of chemotherapy and subsequent oral medication. Two years after the initial surgery, I had a similar presentation with the other breast so chose to have that removed as well, with breast reconstructions being done at the same time.
At the time I was first diagnosed, I was working full time, in a senior role as an auditor with the Australian Tax Office, a role I continued throughout my treatment. I had an 18 year-old daughter still living at home – my other two children were young adults. My son and his wife had just left a week earlier to travel for a year through the UK and Europe. My elder daughter was studying medicine at university, graduating the year of my diagnosis.
When I was diagnosed, the prevailing medical wisdom was, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t prune the roses without gloves, don’t carry stuff on that arm’. To me, who had always been fit and active, this was not a good outlook. I was sitting in a hospital bed hearing this and then I read in a magazine about DAA. I just thought, ‘this is what I am doing’.
So that’s when I started paddling. It’s for all ages. Sadly there are many younger women who have a breast cancer diagnosis and paddle with DAA groups, however the average age of my present team (on Bribie Island, Queensland) is 68. We had one fantastic woman who was still paddling at 92 after a cancer diagnosis at age 88! She hung up her paddle last year.
We train three times a week. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to compete nationally and internationally with both DAA and as a member of a sports team as I regained my fitness and health. As I become older, I am now becoming more involved in coaching. I have travelled the world with Dragons Abreast. That, and the lifelong friendships that I have formed, are the best things to have come out of my whole cancer experience.
We certainly have our sad moments and we have all lost friends to breast cancer. We have our Angels Abreast, who are out there still paddling with us in spirit. And we hope that DA may have helped to make the lives of these women a bit better along the way.
DA is not a formal support network, but we are all people who have gone down the same road. We all have ups and downs, in health and in life, and the support DAA can offer is the type of support that for me, is the most valuable. I am not the sort of person who can sit down and drink coffee and talk about having cancer. But I can get out there and paddle and get support that way.
We are the face of the statistics. Out there on the water, in pink, paddling, we can make people think about breast cancer. And we can show those who might be watching, who might also have been diagnosed … ‘I can do it’.”
*Sue Bowen shared her story with Specialised Therapeutics in August 2017