22 Oct ‘Feel your boobs ladies’ – Barb’s lifesaving plea to women
The late Dr Peter Fox had nagged Barb Dickinson to get a mammogram for years, but the fear of knowing she might suffer the same fate as her mother was too much to bear.
“It was always in the back of my mind that if mum couldn’t beat it, I couldn’t beat it…and if I didn’t know about it, then it wasn’t real,” Mrs Dickinson said.
“I know it might sound a bit silly, but I was so scared of it that I’d rather not know. Because of mum’s history, Dr Fox wanted me to get a mammogram, but I always found an excuse not to and I just kept putting it off.
“Then one day…someone must have been watching over me. I was in Warrnambool and had to fill in a few hours while I waited for my daughter who was at TAFE. So, I went for a walk and I saw this sign that said ‘free mammogram screenings’.
“I was looking for something to do and I could hear Dr Fox in my ear, so I went in.”
Mrs Dickinson, now 78, was 52 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She said being diagnosed with what her mother had died from hit her very hard.
“I knew something was wrong straight away. The nurse doing the mammogram had a look on her face…of course she couldn’t tell me anything, but I could tell,” she said.
“The next morning, Dr Fox’s clinic rang and said I needed to come in and see him. I have no idea what I did that day…I was in a bubble.
“Then the appointment came and Dr Fox told me what I already knew, I had breast cancer – a lump in my right breast. I cried and cried.
“My brother was 12 when mum was diagnosed and now I’d been diagnosed and I had a 12 year-old son. It was too much…I’d watched mum die and if she couldn’t beat it, I couldn’t beat it – that’s how I felt.”
But, Mrs Dickinson had the lump and the lymph nodes under her right arm removed and got to work beating the odds – all the while holding down her job at Bonlac in Timboon.
“I’d work on Monday until 2pm, then drive to Geelong for chemo and radiation treatments. I’d stay at my father’s in Ocean Grove, then get the first appointment on the Tuesday morning, drive home, go to work and sleep at home in Newfield with my husband Norman.
“Then I’d work Wednesday until 2pm, drive to Geelong, have my treatment, stay at Ocean Grove, get treatment the next morning again, drive home, work, sleep at home, go to work Friday until 2pm and so on – it did this for a month to get treatment every day.”
Mrs Dickinson said she won the battle and for the best part of 10 years she lived a normal life with a mammogram every 12 months and twice-yearly checkups with her oncologist.
“Everything was good until 2004…I had my regular mammogram and in the space of 12 months, from the previous one when nothing was detected, I had another lump as big as a 20-cent piece,” she said.
“This one was in my left boob, and we did the whole thing again – surgery to remove it, chemotherapy and radiation.
“Unfortunately, Norman had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, which is cancer of the blood platelets in bone marrow. He’d been at the Peter MacCallum centre in Melbourne for two months before I was diagnosed the second time and joined him there.
“So, our kids (David, Craig, Hayley and Stephen) had both parents at Peter Mac at the same time. Norman lost his battle with the mongrel, and I beat mine again.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign aimed at shinning a spotlight on the most common cancer among women.
Mrs Dickinson said if her story gave just one woman a little kick-along to go and get a mammogram, she was more than willing to share it and help raise awareness.
“I think there are other women like me, who have history in their family but don’t get a mammogram because they are too scared it could be bad news,” she said.
“I suppose I’m here saying that treatments are so much better than when my mother died and if you find out, it isn’t the death sentence it used to be and you can beat it.
“So, to all women, whatever your age, please feel your boobs. If there’s anything suspicious, get it checked out…early detection could save your life.”