Like the 17,000 other women in Australia that receive similar news every year, Carol Boulous got her breast cancer diagnosis in 2016. Now aged 70 years old, at the time of her diagnosis Carol was 67.
Carol, who is of Lebanese ancestry, was born in Inverell in country NSW. The family later moved to Sydney, where she grew up with her brother and two sisters. Carol worked at a bank for most of her adult life and more recently as a teacher’s aide prior to her retirement. The Northmead resident and her husband Simon have two sons and four grandchildren.
With no family history of breast cancer and no serious concerns about her breast health, Carol first started coming to BreastScreen NSW for her free mammogram following advice from her doctor in 1994. Together with her sister in-law, Carol has been coming for a screen every 2 years ever since.
Following her 12th screening mammogram at the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute’s (BCI) Sunflower Clinic at the MYER store in Parramatta in March 2016, Carol received a phone call request to attend BreastScreen NSW’s assessment clinic at Westmead Hospital for further review. Nervously presenting to her appointment with her husband for further tests, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer on the 6th April 2016. Three small masses were found in her left breast, two were malignant lesions. “I remember the nurse holding my hand for 4 hours during my assessment” recalls Carol. “I remember being reassured, you will get through this and reflect on your experience in 10 years… if the breast cancer professionals can see a future for me in 10 years then surely I will be okay?” Carol thought.
Through her breast surgeon Dr James French and her oncologist Dr Rina Hui, Carol had her left breast removed (mastectomy) and commenced chemotherapy once a week for 3 months together with Herceptin treatment every 3 weeks for 1 year. Her treatment was wholly organized by BCI “which was so good as you’re not in the right frame of mind… the nurses make it so easy for you, they’re angels, everything was coordinated, all the appointments” Carol said.
The weekly chemo sessions made Carol very tired and she lost all her dark hair, the grey ones remained. Her sister in-law Kerry would accompany Carol to her appointments – her support person during screening all those years was now her support person during her treatment to rid her of this horrible disease. Despite her ordeal Carol felt “very lucky… having a supportive family, like an army around you”. Carol also had access to BCI’s Best Breast Friends group for support and took up the exercise classes offered for cardio and weights at Westmead.
Following her initial treatment, Carol has follow up appointments every 6 months with her breast surgeon and the oncologist to ensure the cancer does not return. Three years on Carol feels blessed. “You’ve just got to live every day, I will not let cancer interrupt my future”. Carol now spends her days with her family, quilting, knitting and occasionally picking up her grand-children from school and enjoying their company. Her nieces visit Carol regularly as they are quite protective of her and want to make sure she’s okay.
Carol was surprised upon learning that less than 1 in 2 eligible women actively participate in breast screening – “it’s got to be the most important thing they do, if you don’t do it the options aren’t good. Look after yourself, give yourself every chance – this (breast cancer) you can change”.
Asked for what advice she can offer other patients of breast cancer Carol offers: “you will get through this journey, don’t let it take over you, you’ll get there, live day by day”.