Elizabeth Naish was a fit, active, 45 year old working mother of two when she noticed a lump in her breast during a routine weekly self-check.
It was October 2017 and Elizabeth’s GP found at least 15 in the other breast. Her radiology appointment was longer than most with more than 100 images recorded. The news at this point was almost definitely breast cancer but the extent wouldn’t be known until a biopsy was done.
For someone with a needle phobia, the journey was beginning to look like a nightmare, but Elizabeth steeled herself because it just had to be done. That first biopsy led to the need for many more.
“I stopped counting after 20 biopsies were taken of the lumps because there were so many more to come,” Elizabeth said.
Mater Breast Surgeon Dr Emma Clarkson discussed the options with Elizabeth who decided on a double mastectomy.
“I am adopted so I have no idea about my medical history and whether this was hereditary or not but I just knew the surgery had to be done,” she said.
In less than eight weeks after feeling the first lump in her breast, Elizabeth had her surgery on 22 December 2017 and was home by Christmas Eve.
“I had no time to process anything and was acting purely in survival mode,” Elizabeth said.
“Lindy, one of the admin staff in Radiology at Mater, even called me on Christmas Day to check and see how I was, which was such a lovely thing to do.
“Even though I was in shock from everything, I knew I had to think about moving forward and rebuilding,” she said.
Elizabeth began having open conversations with her colleagues, family and friends about breast checks.
“I would straight out ask people how often they checked their breasts and there would be a few titters especially from the men but I’d explain that even they can get breast cancer!”
“When I brought it up while volunteering at my child’s school a mum burst into tears and told me she had just been diagnosed the day before and I was able to support her even though I was just a short while into my journey.”
“Encouraging people to get checked is why I’m always sharing my story – it’s important that people take charge of their health and don’t take it for granted,” she said.
Participating in Mater Foundation’s Climb for Cancer event in June is a practical opportunity for Elizabeth to be part of something bigger and share an experience with her 19 year old daughter Bronwyn. Bronwyn decided to register for the event after watching her mother cope with the diagnosis with such strength and realising that she too could make a difference by spreading the word to her friends.
“I am actually so proud to be her daughter, but I’m never going to do it as fast as she is,” Bronwyn said.
Climbing 810 stairs and 37 floors, Elizabeth will be dashing up the stairs dressed as ‘Wonder Woman’ aiming for a time of eight and half minutes.
“When I did the climb last year it was pretty tough towards the top and I thought I really couldn’t keep going on. What got me there was a reminder of all the biopsies I’d had, the people who’d been there for me and the difference it would make if I could say ‘look at the time I did!’
“The support I received at Mater was exceptional, and after experiencing what I have, I believe I can do anything. That’s what I tell myself and it’s incredibly empowering," Elizabeth said.