Talking about the big ‘C’

Richelle Le Roy with sons Kegan, 8, Jackson, 12, and Caleb, 14. Photo: Tracy Hardy.

Richelle Le Roy was combing her hair and it was falling out in clumps.

“I stood there and I just burst into tears,” says the Papamoa mother-of-three.

“I remember stamping my feet going: ‘Oh my god this is really happening’.”

She remembers that day in every detail, the emotion, the hurt and the instant urge to shave all her hair off.

“I made the hairdresser cry,” says Richelle. “She was shaving my head and she was crying.

“When I had no hair whatsoever I looked at myself and thought: ‘God I don’t even feel like me anymore’.”

Richelle was diagnosed with breast cancer on September 22, 2014. As the ribbon cutter for this year’s Pink Papamoa Walk on October 11, Richelle shares her story with The Weekend Sun.

It all started with a lump underneath her left breast. She found it while in the shower.

“I’d had a couple of fibroadenomas before which are just hormonal-type lumps. So I just assumed it was another one.

“But I always remember the GP telling me a fibroadenoma moves. This one was like a marble and it was just a hard lump sticking out.”

A week went by and nothing changed. A mammogram was scheduled, but still no sign of the big ‘C’.

Next, an ultrasound a biopsy and more tests. There it was, Richelle had cancer.

“One of the scariest things was it wasn’t picked up on the mammogram,” says Richelle. “It was 2.5cm and the surgeon said it had probably been there about six months going by the size of it.”

But, they’d caught it early enough.

Richelle had a lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and lost her left breast.

“That was big shock. You go from just a lump, then the whole breast went. But getting around the breast thing was okay because I knew I had to have it done.

“Chemo was the worst, the worst part of that was losing all my hair. It felt like my whole identity had just gone.”

“Sometimes I struggle with it but that’s just a little offset looking at what I’ve got now.”

One year on, Richelle feels like a whole new woman. One breast or two, she’s here, she’s standing and she’s living life.

“It’s kind of like now it’s been a new beginning for me, a new appearance. I physically feel really well and I’ve got a much better outlook on life. Small things don’t bother me as much as they used to.”

It is what it is. “That’s always been the thing since I got diagnosed is it’s probably been one of the sayings of the year. You can’t escape that fact.

“It’s been a crazy ride. I wouldn’t even call it a journey, and it’s just a mad road trip. I don’t look back now. I just live life now.”

You’ve got to remain positive, says Richelle. She tears up when she thinks of the support of her family and friends.

“My husband just took it all in his stride, he’s been awesome, very supportive.”

She’s been on both sides, the support person and the patient.

Richelle’s mum Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 after noticing a change in the appearance of one of her breasts.

Her aunty was diagnosed just before Richelle and they’ve recently found out Carol’s aunty and cousin were too.

But it’s not determined genetic. “At the moment I’m going through genetic testing with it because there’s more and more popping up,” says Richelle.

Her main message is to be vigilant and get checked. “The longer you leave it, the harder it’s going to be to treat. If you are diagnosed, be positive and have that support of your friends and family to fall back on, that’s what’s going to get you through.”

For more information about the Pink Papamoa Walk on October 11, visit www.breastcancerbop.org.nz

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