Birthday present leads to cancer diagnosis
WHEN Carol Lockhart's mother died of breast cancer, she was advised to have annual mammograms. It was 1992 and an advertising campaign was running suggesting women give themselves a birthday present each year by booking a mammogram.
That's what Mrs Lockhart had been doing for almost 20 years, when she unexpectedly received a call-back to the Lismore BreastScreen site in 2011, aged 60.
"Most women went in, came out smiling and went home,” Mrs Lockhart said. "I thought it would be the same for me.”
Mrs Lockhart was diagnosed with two malignant carcinomas in the left breast in August 2011, and within two months had had a mastectomy.
Over the following two years Mrs Lockhart underwent chemotherapy, bone scans, heart tests and 26 sessions of radiation therapy in Lismore.
Lismore Base Hospital Visiting Medical Officer, Dr Sue Velovksi was the surgeon who performed Mrs Lockhart's mastectomy at St Vincent's Hospital.
"When I first met Carol I let her talk and talk, and out flowed a life story, history of breast cancer in the family, fears and concerns,” Dr Velovski said.
"Fortunately, Carol accepted the advice of her treating team and had great support from her GP, Dr Carl Currie, something a lot of patients just don't get in the city. She walked her path and I saw her fears decline as she jumped each hurdle.”
Mrs Lockhart documented her treatment and recovery through regular emails she sent to her close family and friends after each treatment session. The aim was to relieve her husband Charlie of having to recount her latest treatment to everyone who phoned. But after two years, Mrs Lockhart had also documented her entire journey without even realising it.
"My surgeon is still trying to get me to write a book,” Mrs Lockhart said.
She was full of gratitude for the clinicians and staff who guided her through what was a very distressing time. The personalised care from staff at the North Coast Cancer Institute - Cancer Care and Haematology Unit, St Vincent's Hospital, and a wonderful breast care nurse, made her feel as though her situation was unique and important.
"The feeling of being part of a team is amazing,” she said.
Breast cancer patients are treated by a multidisciplinary team of clinicians working together across the Northern Rivers. Through weekly meetings, cases just like Mrs Lockhart's are reviewed and discussed, with the team cross-referencing their expertise to provide the best treatment plan for each patient.
"I'm not sure if people are aware of the fantastic services we have in Lismore,” she said. "We have no idea how lucky we are.”
Since Mrs Lockhart's diagnosis in 2011, advances in breast cancer treatments have brought new diagnostic methods and treatment options, which are now being used by the staff at NCCI.
These include Deep Inspiration Breath Hold, a specific approach used to treat young women to reduce the radiation dose to the heart during radiation therapy.
The cancer institute has also acquired a prone breast board by donation from the Byron Lighthouse Run that also helps target localisation and reduces treatment side effects for women.
This month, the Casino grandmother had her annual check-up, and showed no signs of the cancer, six years to the month after her first operation. She said she wouldn't necessarily go back and change anything.
"I have been given a gift that I have found out what is important in life - a beautiful family, three grandchildren and wonderful friends.”