Three days before Christmas last year, and five days before her 33rd birthday, Sydney mum Rhiannon received the news she had cancer.
She’d found a lump in her breast during a routine self-check.

Rhiannon was tempted to wait it out to see whether the changes were just part of her menstrual cycle, but her husband Kyle convinced her to follow up with her doctor.

What followed was a week of tests, a biopsy and scans.

Soon after, Rhiannon’s doctor confirmed she had cancer, but didn’t have all the pathology results back to give her more information.
Rhiannon spent the Friday before Christmas seeing a specialist, working through her diagnosis and meeting the doctors who would be managing her treatment.

“My doctor was really in my corner, being able to go in before Christmas was particularly wonderful,” she said. “It kind of made Christmas bittersweet. When my husband hugged me, he hugged me longer. There were some very special moments in a way.”

Rhiannon told her sister about her diagnosis on Christmas Eve, but waited until she’d had further scans and tests before telling the rest of her family in mid-January.

Diagnosed with stage 1 invasive hormone-positive breast cancer, Rhiannon was believed to have two lumps.

The plan was for her to have 16 rounds of chemotherapy, including two different drugs, followed by surgery and radiation.

Rhiannon had challenges with neutropenia (low white blood cell counts) during her first four rounds of chemotherapy, ending up in hospital for six nights, and having treatment delayed as a result.

 

“I just kept failing my blood tests,” she said. “In that time, I could feel my tumour growing.”

By the time her first phase of chemotherapy was complete, Rhiannon was thought to have five breast lumps, and her surgeon recommended bringing surgery forward.

In early May, Rhiannon had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, as well has having eight lymph nodes removed. It turned out she had just one 4.8cm tumour, rather than the five lumps seen on scans, and her cancer was restaged.

“If it had got any bigger, the surgeon said she could have really struggled to get clean margins,” she said.

Rhiannon is now starting further chemotherapy, and as her cancer is hormone positive, she will be having various treatments and infusions for the foreseeable future to keep her in menopause.

 

Juggling mum life with cancer treatment has taken some adjustment. Rhiannon’s husband Kyle is Canadian, so he doesn’t have family in Australia, while her own family lives on the South Coast.

“My husband’s workplace has allowed him to work from home full-time, which has been amazing,” she said.

Keeping up with her energetic one-year-old son, Lennox, is another challenge.

“He’s visited me in hospital and he has had to come to a few appointments, but thankfully overall he doesn’t really understand what’s going on with me.

“If I’m unwell, he does get a bit sad.”

But the innocence of childhood also brings some light-hearted moments.

“Once he walked up to a man in the grocery store and called him ‘Mummy’ because he was bald,” Rhiannon shared.

Soon after her diagnosis, amidst all the Googling, Rhiannon found out about Mummy’s Wish.

She’s received a care pack including some books and a bear for Lennox, as well as a voucher to use for groceries.

“That was really helpful at the start, the bills really rack up early on especially when you’re having all those scans,” Rhiannon said.
She’s also been able to connect with other mums who understand her experience and the considerations, like fertility or career goals, that can accompany a cancer diagnosis in a younger person.

“Whenever I walk into a cancer clinic, I’m the youngest person by a couple of decades,” Rhiannon said.

“People my age generally don’t know how to support someone with cancer; they’re often a bit scared to even say the word ‘cancer’ to you.
“I’ve learnt no one is too young for cancer, cancer can get anyone.”

– Accompanying photographs taken by Running under the sprinkler photography