Melbourne mum Susan Mackenzie was pregnant with her fifth child when she found a "little lump" on her breast. Three months later it had tripled in size.
"I thought, that's not good," she told Yahoo News Australia. "I went to the hospital and when I got my results the nurse asked if I had a support person. I was like, 'What for?'"
The then 33-year-old was in total disbelief when she was told she had breast cancer, and later found out it was the "most aggressive kind" known — Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). She was advised to immediately start chemotherapy despite being four months pregnant.
"I was anxious about it, but I had to trust their [the medical team] decision."
Mum received chemotherapy with newborn baby in her arms
After giving birth to her son Jackson in May, 2020 Susan continued weekly treatment with her only "chemo buddy" being her newborn baby as her husband was not allowed to attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She received radiation and chemotherapy as well as surgery to fight off the cancer, and it was successful.
However after welcoming her sixth baby Cooper at the start of this year, Susan received the dreaded news — her cancer was back. Now at 35 years old, the cancer has spread to her lungs, ribs, bones, liver and pelvis.
"I have to keep going. I've got six little kids [under the age of 10]. They need to go to school, there's daycare appointments. So I still have to get up every morning and soldier through, but I'm in pain," she said.
More research and treatment needed for TNBC
TNBC is the most aggressive and deadliest form of breast cancer and differs from other kinds as it does not have the three hormone receptors most commonly found on breast cancer cells. Around 15 per cent of Aussies diagnosed with early breast cancer have TNBC.
For all other types of breast cancer, 92 per cent of patients have a five-year survival rate. But with advanced and metastasised TNBC seven in ten patients will die within five years of their diagnosis, according to breast and ovarian cancer charity Pink Hope.
"I keep getting reminded that there's not a lot of treatment options for Triple Negative. A lot of treatments might work for someone else but they won't work for me," Susan said.
Ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, Pink Hope are premiering a documentary called Beyond the Diagnosis: Confronting Triple Negative Breast Cancer, to shine a light on this type of cancer in the hope more research will be conducted.
"I'm determined. I've got a lot of fight left in me," Susan said.
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