Mum documents breast cancer journey

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 09:18 19/05/2014
Hamilton mum Ally Armstrong
NICK REED
POSITIVE LIGHT: Hamilton mum Ally Armstrong decided to keep a visual and written record of her experiences after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, following a routine mammogram as part of the BreastScreen Aotearoa programme.
Ally Armstrong
Ally Armstrong
VISUAL DAIRY: One of Ally Armstrong’s photographs detailing her lumpectomy and subsequent treatment.

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"The doctor started talking to me and said the word ‘cancer' and that was it, I didn't hear anything else after that. It was like I was not even there, I was just in shock. And then the tears started."

Hamilton mother-of-six Ally Armstrong was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, following a routine mammogram as part of the BreastScreen Aotearoa programme.

The news initially traumatised her and, for the next few weeks she was in denial. "My mum died of cervical cancer when she was 40, so to me cancer was a death sentence - I didn't want to know about it."

But, by the time she began her treatment, Armstrong had decided to take the opposite approach: She began documenting her breast cancer journey in photographs, taking images of her wounds and her body as it changed during treatment, which began with a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy, radiation therapy and Herceptin treatment.

"I just wanted to know everything there was to know and I was fascinated by my body and my recovery and I wanted to record that in some way. I also kept a journal which has been great because I can look at it and know ‘I went through all this, but I'm here now'. That's got to be a good thing," she said.

Her regular emails to friends and family were in turn encouraged with positive feedback.

"I fed from it. They gave me the strength to get through and continue doing what I was doing."

Armstrong, who works at Waikato Regional Council, said her employers had been extremely accommodating in helping her get through her experience.

Her experience made her passionate about encouraging other women to take care of themselves and remain vigilant about their breast health.

"My breast cancer would never have been picked up by feel. It could only ever have been identified by a mammogram, so one of my passions now is to encourage other women to look after themselves and get a mammogram."

Armstrong said the wealth of research on breast cancer taught her that if breast cancer was caught early enough it was usually very treatable.

"I discovered I had many choices, the biggest was to stand up and show other woman that being diagnosed with breast cancer is not the end of the world. Yes, I had six weeks off work recovering from surgery. Yes, I felt sick from chemo. Yes, I developed extensive DVT. But I owe it to myself, my family, my supportive work colleagues and all those women who have lost their battles with breast cancer to help and encourage the women who are yet to journey down this path."

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As part of Breast As part of Cancer Aotearoa Coalition's annual fundraising drive, Armstrong emphasised the need for regular mammograms. The Show Your Heart for Women Living with Breast Cancer campaign is this year supported by biscuit manufacturer Arnott's, with 20 cents from every pack of Tim Tam biscuits sold in Countdown supermarkets between May 12 and June 8 going to the coalition.

HIGH TEA FUNDRAISER

Tile Warehouse and Murray Charteris Flooring are hosting a "high tea" afternoon tomorrow to raise funds for the Breast Cancer Foundation. "This will be our third year running this event," organiser Grace Schrieber said.

"Last year we had a huge effort from those who supported us and 80 ladies attending. With door sales and raffles we managed to raise just over $2500 for this very worthy cause.

"We have a guest speaker who is involved in the care of breast cancer patients and a brave lady that has been through breast cancer who will share some of her experiences, so it is also a very beneficial and informative afternoon."

The high tea will be held at the Tile Warehouse Showroom on Devon St from 2pm to 4pm. Tickets cost $25 and can be bought from either business. 

mike.mather@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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