Brushed off by two doctors three times, Leah Yaxley kept pressing her doctors until they made the terrible diagnosis no 32-year-old expects to hear. DANIELLE NOHRA reports…
AFTER experiencing excruciating pain in her left breast, Calwell’s Leah Yaxley went to the doctor on three occasions and was turned away every time.
At the time, the 31-year-old didn’t fit the bill for breast cancer. She was younger than 65, she had no family history of breast cancer and yet, at the age of 32, she was diagnosed with a grade three triple positive invasive ductal cancer, or in other words an aggressive, fast-growing type of breast cancer.
The mother of three has now gone through three of her six chemotherapy treatments, but has been on a frustrating journey to get there.
Her first trip to the doctor was just after she’d finished breastfeeding her youngest child, who is now 15 months, so the doctor blamed it on that and off she went, still in pain.
“I was brushed off by two different doctors, three times,” Leah says.
“After that I just left it. You put your faith in doctors and think it’s going to be okay.”
Not long after Christmas Leah was playing with her youngest child when she landed on her breast causing excruciating pain.
“The fall and the pain didn’t match up,” she says.
“A week later I noticed quite a large bruise on the top of my breast.”
It wasn’t so much the bruise Leah was concerned about but the pain, so she headed back to the doctor, who said: “It’ll be nothing”.
This time Leah pushed for tests, she needed to make sure there was nothing else going on.
“It was so frustrating. If I was 65 it would have been straight on to a mammogram, no questions asked,” she says.
From there Leah was sent to get an ultrasound and then a mammogram but was told it just looked like some tissue damage so she went back to work as a nurse following her maternity leave.
She says two other sonographers still had to look at the tests, by law, but she assumed it would all be the same result.
The first two sonographers said it was fine but the third found a little, teeny, tiny 6mm lesion inside her milk ducts so Leah was sent to get a biopsy and even the doctor said it just looked like calcification and it would be fine.
A couple of days later the doctor rang Leah with the results.
“He said: ‘I’m really sorry but it’s actually cancer’,” she says.
“When he said it to me it was a real pause in that moment. I was beside myself. Then the fear settled in as I thought, how far advanced is it?”
When Leah spoke with the oncologist he told her that had she left it until there was a lump, it would have been too late.
“It’s scary to think that so many times I’ve been told by a doctor or practitioner that pain in your breast is not a sign of breast cancer,” she says.
“I’ve been a nurse for 11 years and you put your faith in medical professionals but how many times has somebody been misdiagnosed?”
After her experience Leah is urging people to go and get another opinion if they’re not happy with what they’re being told.
“It’s your livelihood, it’s your life,” she says.
After three rounds of chemotherapy, Leah says unfortunately her cancer hasn’t shrunk, but she says it’s good news in that it hasn’t grown.
She’s staying positive and says she’s hopeful she’ll see improvement once she starts her Herceptin drugs, which is used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer.
“I’ll also be having a double mastectomy after the chemotherapy and then radiotherapy if it’s reached my lymph nodes,” she says.
Her diagnosis had been hard on everyone involved, Leah says, especially the week she has her chemotherapy but she knows she has to stay brave regardless.
“I think you don’t know how brave or strong you have to be until you have no choice,” she says.
“I’ve got three kids who need their mum. I’ve got so many school lunches to make before I check out.
“It’s important for me to find that inner strength to be there for my kids.”
A huge part of her strength has come from a Facebook page she started called “Breast cancer 32 and it could happen to you”. It has more than 450 people following it and has become an online community for Leah and others.
“I started the blog because when I was diagnosed it was so confusing,” she says.
Leah says she’s had people contacting her telling her how it’s helped them understand their loved-one who is going through the same thing, or it’s resonated with other cancer battlers.
“If I can help one person through the blog than this whole shitstorm has been worth it. That’s the nurse in me,” she says.
But the nurse in Leah has also found it hard to let others take care of her after taking care of others for so long and when her friend offered to start a GoFundMe page to raise funds for her medical bills she was reluctant to say “yes”.
“I never wanted to be a charity case. I said ‘no’ for the first two months and then my medical bills started coming in,” she says.
Not being back at work has caused big financial stresses so Leah let her friend start the GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $1300 so far.