“When my hand first brushed against a small, hard lump in my chest, I didn’t think anything of it. It was like a frozen pea situated high in my breast. Still, when Angela caught me rubbing at it, she urged me to get it checked. I was convinced it was just a cyst and it took me four weeks to make an appointment.
When they told me it was stage 3 breast cancer, I don’t think it sunk in. All I could think was how the timing was inconvenient – work was busy and I’d just lost 17kg (which probably helped me discover the lump); I was fit for the first time in my life. Suddenly my diary was full of appointments for surgery and post-op therapy. I didn’t worry as I was being looked after by Kylie Minogue’s surgeon so I knew I was in the best hands. I mean, look at Kylie today!
I urged Angela to get a check-up but I never thought she’d be diagnosed as well. When she called to tell me about her diagnosis, I couldn’t help but snort, “Seriously? I’ve shared everything in life with you, do we really have to share this as well?” I made light of it because I wanted her to know that things could be OK on the other side of the doctor’s ‘I’ve got some bad news’ speech. My cancer was more aggressive than Angela’s so I had to have a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy andradiation.
For the most part I handled it well. There was only one time during chemo when I felt so sick and tired that I wanted to give up. I even made a video for my two kids, telling them I didn’t have the strength to carry on anymore and they needed to stop the treatment and let me go. Despite living 30 minutes away, Angela got a sense that something was wrong and my phone started ringing.
It sounds macabre, but we actually had some fun going through radiation therapy together. Because we’re identical, the nurses would get terribly confused so we took joy in turning up at the same time just to see their faces!
Looking back, we got through it the way we’ve gone through anything – with humour and by each other’s side. You’re never the same after going through cancer. I feel well today but it’s a different type of wellbeing. I have aches and pains, and I’ve never been able to lose the weight again, but I know it’s not important. I’ve got one life to live and I’m going to make the most of it.”
“When you’re an identical twin, you share a special language. We were eight or nine when Marlene got hit by a car. I wasn’t by her side but I immediately knew something bad had happened. She and I can have conversations just by looking at each other and it still freaks our mother out. That’s probably why I didn’t panic when she told me she had breast cancer. I knew everything was going to be OK because I could feel that Marlene was sure of it herself.
My reaction to my own diagnosis two weeks later threw my doctor because I smiled. Obviously there was relief that Marlene had saved my life as it was only at her behest that I got checked out, but I also found it funny that we’d now be going through cancer together – even that had become a twin thing! Mine was caught early and I only needed a lumpectomy and radiotherapy.
Post-cancer treatment was tough, physically. I got an infection from the surgery and my skin blistered during radiotherapy, but Marlene and I tried to make the experience as light as possible. There were times when we’d cry from the pain but, mostly, we tried to see the funny side of things. We laughed when we turned up to our first day of radiotherapy and saw our gowns with our names on them hanging side-by-side, and we created mischief with the nurses who often made us sit at opposite ends of the room on separate machines. Humour made things easier.
Although I found watching Marlene go through treatment much more painful than experiencing it myself, part of me was grateful that I had her by my side – I could see how lonely this journey must be if you’re alone. Only someone who’s been through something similar can understand what you’re feeling.
It’s been five years since our initial diagnosis. I can’t lie – breast cancer is a life-changer, but I’ve learnt you can’t let it define you. We’ve moved forwards at a rapid rate; we both have two kids and have become grandmothers and world travellers, but although we don’t spend a great deal of time looking back, we’re aware this bright future may not have been possible had it not been for early detection – and each other’s support.”