Remarkable tale of survival as lump sends athlete off track
WHEN athlete Ange Reid was told she had breast cancer, the passionate ironwoman competitor was determined to come out a winner.
"There was a small lump that I went to have checked," the 49-year-old Northern Rivers resident said of the day in December, 2013, that she got the shocking news.
"They said 'That lump is fine but there is something else in there that's cancerous'."
Surgeons scheduled Ms Reid for a lumpectomy but that operation proved unsuccessful and by December 31, 2013, both of her breasts were removed.
"My surgeon told me it was not a good idea because the cancer was not there a year ago," Ms Reid said.
"She said removing one breast was the best option but I ended up ringing her and asking for her to take both of them because I didn't want to have to be worried about getting cancer in the other one."
Making the choice to have a double mastectomy was hard for Ms Reid but she said she would not do things differently.
"You really fear re-occurrence for the cancer," she said.
"And for a reconstruction, you're going to have two different shapes of breast, they won't match and you're going to worry all the time - I just thought 'do them both'.
"I had small boobs anyway and my husband said to me 'You keep your breasts or you keep your life'."
The mum of two had six rounds of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiotherapy.
About 18 months after her treatment ended, surgeons began the reconstruction process.
Ms Reid, who is extremely fit and takes a lot of pride in her appearance, said the hardest part of fighting cancer was losing her hair and knowing that the impacts of chemotherapy would knock her off her feet.
"Not having hair really, really knocked me about," she said.
"I didn't want to wear wigs, they weren't me and they were really itchy and they looked fake.
"Half way through the chemo I started getting sick.
"I just wanted to keep working, keep exercising and I thought it wasn't going to stop me but it did in the end," she said.
"The radiation isn't too bad.
"I think the fact that I was so healthy mentally and physically, it was easier for me to get through."
Ms Reid will soon compete in her first ironwoman competition since her cancer journey started three years ago.
She said getting back on track was tough but her life had changed for the better.
"I don't think of the cancer as a negative thing in my life," she said.
"I probably don't take things as seriously and don't stress about things as I used to.
"It brought my family closer and I don't judge as much anymore."
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women, with 48 females a day told they have the disease. Breast Cancer Network Australia CEO Christine Nolan said about 17,586 women and 144 men would be diagnosed this year.
BCNA has a range of resourcesincluding the My Journey Kit for people newly diagnosed with breast cancer and Hope & Hurdles, for women and men living with metastatic breast cancer.
- Details: bcna.org.au or phone 1800 500 258.
Cancer Council calls for more public investment in research and other initiatives to improving healthcare across our region
CANCER is our region's biggest killer.
NewsRegional can reveal that cancer was behind 13.7% of the 6404 deaths in the Northern Rivers between 2010 and 2014.
Of the 880 people who died from cancer, the 2016 Social Health Atlas of Australia shows lung cancer claimed 173 lives, colorectal cancer killed 58 residents and breast cancer ended the lives of 61 women in the five years.
Circulatory system diseases were our region's second biggest killers, with 377 lives lost. Heart disease killed 199 residents and strokes cost 67 people their lives.
With 296 deaths, external causes were our region's third biggest killer.
These included 74 people dying in traffic accidents and 88 lives lost to suicide or self-harm.
Respiratory diseases were our fourth biggest killers, with 138 deaths over the five years.
Northern Rivers residents were least likely to die of endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases, with only 31 lives lost to these between 2010 and 2014.
Health experts say the Northern Rivers faces significant cancer challenges.
Cancer Council NSW's Rowena Terone said our region urgently needed extra specialist palliative care doctors and nurses and more indigenous-focused care options to "ensure that every person with a life-limiting cancer who needs specialist palliative care has access to it, when they need it".
"The diagnosis and treatment of cancer can place a significant burden on regional and rural cancer patients in NSW, their families and carers as patients living in rural and remote areas are more likely to have limited access to health services and have to travel long distances to treatment centres," the Northern NSW community program coordinator said.
"We know that cancer survival rates decline as remoteness increases. We have even heard of patients who have chosen to forfeit vital treatment because of the financial impact and lack of available accommodation options when being treated away from home."
Breast Cancer Network Australia CEO Christine Nolan said her organisation was investigating the gaps in cancer services and care across regional Australia.
"The experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer can differ greatly depending on where you live - and that shouldn't be the case," Ms Nolan said.
"As a society we have come a long way in breast cancer research, treatment and support services but there is still more to be done.
"We know there are considerable variations across the country in terms of what services and treatment people are able to access."
Death divides the genders
HEART disease and preventable cancers are among the key reasons why more Northern Rivers men die than women and why our male residents don't live as long as females.
Analysis of five years of death data for Lismore, Kyogle, Ballina, Byron and Richmond Valley reveals 3829 men died during 2010-2014 compared to 3115 women.
Males, on average, died at two to four year younger than women, depending on the local government area in which they lived.
PA Research Foundation's Dr Sandro Porceddu said about one in three men would be diagnosed with a cancer by the time they celebrate their 75th birthday.
Dr Porceddu said with men smoking and drinking more and experiencing obesity at higher rates than women, the easiest way to reduce the life expectancy gap was as simple as changing lifestyle choices.
"Men need to get serious about managing their cancer risk because their risk is higher than women and their life expectancy is shorter," the radiation oncologist said.
"Men need to reduce their smoking rates, aim for an ideal body weight and reduce their alcohol intake."
As men are less likely to go to their GP than women, the PA Research Foundation is urging employers to give their male workers a "health pass" - an afternoon off to have their health assessed.
"The idea here is that there are risk factors that are preventable, men are more likely to be impacted by those risk factors but they are reluctant to go to their GP," Dr Porceddu said.
"It's the inherent issue of maleness. Men are generally workers who find it difficult to find time and who have the 'she'll be right attitude' approach to their health.
"We want to close the gap and most cancers are preventable by changing lifestyle factors and most cancers are curable if detected early, but the problem is getting men to go to see their GP."
- For more information, visit www.menshealth.org.au.
Health insurance giant trials palliative care program to make life better for chronically ill
PRIVATE health patients across our region are expected to benefit from a new palliative care program being tested in Brisbane.
Insurance giant Bupa has joined forces with St Vincent's Health Australia to offer in-home intensive specialist medical services for people who have chronic illnesses or are in the last few days of their lives.
As well as practitioner visits, a nurse can stay with the patient and their family overnight to ensure the patient remains comfortable at all times. If the two-year trial is successful, Bupa says it will "explore" opportunities to extend the service to customers in regional centres.
This means more of our region's residents will have the option of dying at home as their private hospital supports them and their families and carers though home visits from doctors, specialist nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and counsellors.
If it is rolled out here, the program would also mean private palliative care patients could get direct access to a hospital bed instead of having to first present at an emergency department.
Ovarian cancer patient Mary Lou Houston said the in-home palliative care support was keeping her healthier and happier than she would be if she was hospitalised.
The 66-year-old mother and grandmother was given a five-year life expectancy in 2007.
Her body is finally caving in to the impacts of ongoing treatments, including irreversible damage to her kidneys and heart.
Mrs Houston spent 16 weeks in hospital last year.
"While we were in hospital my readings for my heart and kidneys weren't flash hot," she said.
"They asked me how I would feel if they called in the palliative care team.
"They said the team would help me a lot more than being in hospital."
Mrs Houston said she felt her physical and psychological well-being were much stronger thanks to the in-home support. .
She said it also meant and her husband Dennis was better able to care for her.
"The nurse and doctor come in and ask me how I'm going, they're always caring," she said.
"It's easier on me, it's easier on Dennis.
"It has helped me stay out of hospital," she said.
St Vincent's Private Hospital Brisbane chief Cheryle Royle said it made sense to offer at-home palliative care support was because it was cheaper than hospital admissions and much better for patients to be in their own surroundings.