Just eight days before she gave birth to her first child, 33-year-old Brega van Vugt noticed something strange going on with her left breast. The young mother, who lives in Melbourne, was in the shower one day when she noticed a lump in her breast.
Brega believed the lump and discomfort was probably just a simple pregnancy symptom, but she did decide to go get it checked out, just in case.
“I just assumed it was my milk coming through, as I couldn’t feel anything else,” says Brega. “I spoke to a midwife about it, and she said the same things, that it was probably just a milk duct and encouraged me to massage it. But when that didn’t do anything, I went to my GP.”
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After several tests, she was given the shocking news that she actually had a four-centimeter cancerous tumor in her breast.
“I went through a lot of testing including an ultrasound where they found an abnormality,” says Brega. “It was the first sign something was wrong, and then I had a biopsy before being referred to an oncologist.”
Brega’s particular form of cancer is a hormone-receptor-positive type, meaning that it is accelerated by estrogen, a hormone that is normally found in women’s bodies but which is particularly plentiful during pregnancy.
“I felt winded. I was completely shocked,” she says. “If I didn’t have a baby coming within a week the treatment would have been straightforward, but that complicated things a lot.”
Brega’s pregnancy made it difficult to prepare mentally for cancer treatment. On March 11, she and her partner, Angus, welcomed their new baby girl, Etta Hope. Three weeks later, Brega would begin her treatment. She wasn’t even allowed to breastfeed her daughter because of the hormones involved.
“I was advised not to breastfeed because the type of cancer I have is driven by estrogen, and, if milk came in, it would have been bad news for me.”
Brega’s current treatment is a “less intensive” type of chemotherapy than she would ordinarily be going through. The easier treatments are helping her cope with life as a new mom and a cancer patient.
Once she completes 12 treatments, however, she’ll begin a stronger treatment that’s more likely to cause nausea and other unpleasant symptoms. She will then need either a mastectomy or a lumpectomy.
When Scott Tierney, a friend of the family, heard about the distressing news, he decided to create a GoFundMe page to help the family with their medical expenses.
“I had been speaking to Angus about the upcoming birth of his baby, which was really exciting, being his first-born, but then things went quiet,” says Scott. “I tried to contact him, and, after a while, he slowly let us know what was happening.”
So far, the page has raised more than $25,000. Scott also ran a 204-km race to raise money for the family.
“They are great people and good things come back to great people,” he says.
As for Brega and Angus, they’re very grateful for Scott’s friendship and support during this time of struggle and hardship.
Early detection, Brega says, is the “best weapon” against cancer. In between caring for her baby and going through treatments, she’s doing her best to encourage others to be aware of their bodies and to get checked out if something doesn’t seem right.
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