Grab your boobs please and pass the message!

07 Mar 2019

Tamara Henwood is a new Mother’s Day Classic Community Ambassador based in Adelaide. After being diagnosed in May 2016 with triple negative breast cancer and undergoing a double mastectomy, six months of chemotherapy and more than 20 sessions of radiation, Tamara is now set to run in her second Mother’s Day Classic this coming May with her family by her side. Recently, Tamara was a guest speaker at the launch of the 2019 Mother’s Day Classic in Adelaide. She noted two special groups, Dragon’s Abreast and Running Mums Australia with providing her with amazing support during and beyond treatment.

This is an edited excerpt of her speech.

Grab Your Boobs Please’. It was an off the cuff remark that formed the basis of what became my little village, my little tribe of support through my active treatment for breast cancer. It led through a thoughtful friend, to a fundraising page and a Facebook community that saw me raw and real. Some of my family couldn’t watch my video posts, but appreciated that I was open to sharing (perhaps occasionally oversharing) for those who needed to see how I was faring. Some of what I shared was very cathartic, if not self-indulgent, but, I knew early on that it was beneficial when I received messages from as far away as Canada from people who related my treatment and thoughts to theirs. There were also messages from women who had some serious scares after grabbing, finding something and following up with doctors.

On the 16 May 2016 I found a lump in my left breast, it was a Monday. On the Tuesday the GP referred me for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy if required. She was happy enough that is would only be a cyst, and wanted imaging to confirm it. I always had, lumpy, dense breasts, but this lump was different. Wednesday saw me spending several hours waiting for the imaging and biopsies. Waiting is the worst. I left there following a very frank conversation with the radiologist to expect a diagnosis of cancer. Telling my husband was hard. Thursday, we sat in a surgeon’s office and had the diagnosis confirmed. On the Friday our daughter turned 3. Quite a week.

I’m a very process driven person and quite practical, so immediately we knew that we would only be dealing in the facts, what we knew, not the ‘what ifs’ and most definitely never the ‘why’. It was what it was – and ‘why’ to me is a waste of energy, there’s nothing in ‘why’ that would help.

The appointments to follow, along with the surgery and chemotherapy, radiation and BRCA testing were approached with quiet confidence and a notebook to record everything we wouldn’t remember.

Our support network, championed by my amazing husband Tim, ensured our kids had their childcare routines maintained and we were very honest with them in an age appropriate way. To a 3-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, ‘The doctor has to cut mummy’s booby off as there are 3 yucky lumps that could make me very sick’, and ‘Although I’m not sick, the doctor has to give me medicine that might make me look and feel a little bit sick. I will be sleepy like Jeff from the Wiggles and how funny will I look with no hair?’ That all made enough sense for them to carry on, business as usual.

My diagnosis of Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast cancer couldn’t have come at a better time. Seriously. Our kids were old enough and young enough. They were out of nappies but still too young to have the thoughts about cancer that really scare kids only a few years older.

My children don’t need to know or be concerned right now at 5 and 7 that they may carry the same BRCA 1 mutation that my Dad, my brother and myself carry. On a side note, my brother’s partner also carries the BRCA1 gene mutation…what are the chances of that?

Genetic mutations, subtypes of breast cancer and targeted therapies were discovered through the unwavering, continuous and immensely appreciated research that continues day after day, year after year. Research into every aspect of the disease currently known and the volumes of ‘stuff’ the brilliant scientists are yet to discover. The research that guided my amazing treatment team to prescribe two different chemo protocols and the breath hold technique through radiation that protected my heart.

This research is vital, life-saving and life-changing. In 87 days we’ll meet for the Mother’s Day Classic. We will continue to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation to build towards the goal of $40 million by 2020 and to ensure the discoveries keep coming. Sign up, turn up and walk or run with your family and friends. It truly is a special day.

If only my darling cousin Leanne was diagnosed with what we know now of triple negative breast cancer. This year will be 12 years since she passed away. Diagnosed at 38 with 2 young children, just like me.

I knew my family was scared. I knew some of them were having a tough time with it all, I knew the hardest thing for me was the waiting – for scans, for results, for my new normal to begin. The hardest thing for them was not truly feeling how I felt or knowing my thoughts as I lay awake some nights. I tried to reassure them with my posts, what you see, is what I was feeling, ‘and by the way don’t forget to grab your boobs please and pass the message.’

One of the greatest learnings to come from my diagnosis was to be less independent and more selfish. I did this by promising that I would accept every offer of help that was made. I would say yes, even if I didn’t need that help right then. I promised to call on the person when I did need it, and I followed through. I asked my family and friends to lean on each other for support when they were having a bad day and to come back to me when they were feeling strong. I needed all my strength for me. I’ve definitely pulled back on those things now, but the lessons learned remain. I really need to look after me in order to look after those near and dear to me when they need it.

Setting goals through my treatment was something I felt I needed to do, my fitness goal was to run the half marathon at the Gold Coast in 2017. I saw an exercise physiologist who has had specialist training to train cancer patients post-surgery and throughout chemo, she was amazing, keeping me strong and healthy, monitoring me extra closely on my harder days. Following our move to South Australia, my back gave me immense trouble and reminded me how managing fatigue post-treatment was very different to before diagnosis and forced me to be patient and begin building strength from the beginning once again. I made the decision to wait another 12 months to fulfil my goal. A half marathon in 2018 on the Gold Coast, my hometown, in the year both the event and I turned forty. I did it. I was more resilient than I could have imagined. Perspective changed, and growth was achieved.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m quite practical and another goal following treatment was ‘to never sit in a chemo chair again’. To that end, with my BRCA 1 mutation, I have had prophylactic surgery and chosen not to have reconstructive surgery. I have chosen to remain flat. I save lots of money on bras and running is even more enjoyable. There’s always a silver lining, although you need to look hard when the sky is full of grey clouds.

My message was clear and remains clear. ‘Grab Your Boobs Please and pass the message’. I want anybody and everybody to be aware of their bodies and have any changes in or on their skin to be checked as soon as possible. Be your own advocate. Or contact me and we’ll make a plan together. I’m always happy to speak from my experience.

Join us for this year’s Mother’s Day Classic, set an example to make a difference, raise funds for the research that is life-changing and create some lasting memories with some special people.

Tamara Henwood

14 February 2019