As part of our new blog series, we talk to Erilan customers about their breast cancer journeys, and how prostheses and mastectomy bras have helped them embrace their new bodies and reclaim their femininity post-surgery.
Today we speak to Marg Vonarx from Boorooma.
Marg, tell me a little about yourself?
Marg: I’m a 69-year-old grandmother who has three beautiful children and eight grandchildren that I love dearly. I spend as much time as I can with my grandchildren. Unfortunately, only three live in the same town as me so I go to all their sporting events and spend as much time as possible with them. I have grandchildren who live in Adelaide and I try to see them at least twice a year. They grow up too fast if you don’t see them often. I also have one grandchild who lives in Canberra.
I have a wonderful husband of 45 years, who is unfortunately not well at the moment but hopefully he will be on the mend soon and we won’t have to attend the hospital as frequently.
Marg, how long is it since you were diagnosed with breast cancer?
Marg: It is 14 years now. I just felt a lump, actually at my son’s wedding. It was only the size of a pea so I thought it can’t be anything much but I had better get it checked out when I get back home. Unfortunately, it was breast cancer but fortunately for me, it was in the very early stages and I was able to just have a lumpectomy and then radiotherapy. I did have some lymph glands removed. At that stage they hadn’t started the lymph node biopsy. If I were diagnosed now I wouldn’t need radiotherapy, as I didn’t have anything in my lymph nodes.
So, you aren’t on any medication?
Marg: No, I haven’t ever been on any and I feel very fortunate in that way. I’m much better off than a lot of other people and that’s why I want to help others who go through so much more than me. I just feel very fortunate when I see so many other women struggling.
How do you help out other people?
Marg: Well, about 12 months after I finished my treatment I attended an Encore program, which is a breast cancer exercise program, provided by YWCA NSW. I really enjoyed that program and afterwards I helped out as an assistant for 12 months. I then did more training becoming a Facilitator, which I am still doing. It is an incredible program where people meet others who are going through similar experiences. It helps people regain their confidence. Some of the people attending the program where in the local breast cancer group and they encouraged me to go along and be part of that. I’ve now been involved in that group for 11 -12 years.
So you have been around women who are going through treatment with breast cancer for a while now Marg. What are the changes that you have seen since the time of your diagnosis? Changes in say, support?
Marg: Well, I think the McGrath nurses are a blessing. They weren’t around when I was diagnosed and they give a lot of support to women. Women have someone they can talk to and can help them out with their concerns. The treatments have also changed dramatically. With research it is improving all the time. Also, Erilan wasn’t around when I was diagnosed and I have seen how important it is for women to have a place where they can get advice for those bras, prosthesis, head wear and any other types of clothing that they may need. BCNA are doing a wonderful job with all their advocacy and getting out programs such as rebates for prostheses.
So what is that program because I don’t think a lot of women who may have had breast cancer 15 – 20 years ago know about it.
Marg: Well, with the Medicare program for prosthetics, it is called the External Breast Prostheses Re-imbursement Program, women who need a prosthesis, that is a breast form, can pay for it up front and then claim up to $400 back from Medicare per prosthesis every two years.
You mentioned BCNA. What is your involvement with it?
Marg: I am a Community Liaison for the group, which means I am a contact for them if they need to get any information out to the public. My role also included promoting the organisation and any functions that may be happening.
Marg, what would you say about your breast cancer experience? Some people say it has changed their lives, some say it is the worst thing ever. What do you think now looking back?
Marg: It has definitely changed my life. It makes you realise what’s important in life and what isn’t. I notice everything in nature a lot more now. The things that are important now are simple things such as my family and what I spend time doing and who with. I think it’s important to live day by day. I have always been somebody who’s been out there in the community helping so this just gave me another reason to get out there and help others less fortunate than myself.
In other words, you could say, and correct me if I’m wrong, that having breast cancer has not been the most terrible thing that could happen to you.
Marg: No, definitely not, definitely not. I can see a lot worse things out there than breast cancer. I have also had bowel cancer but I still think there are a lot worse diseases than breast or bowel cancer. A lot of people are facing terrible struggles every day.
Note from Erilan’s founder, Jill Tucker: I’m very pleased to say that, since this interview, Marg’s husband has been given the all-clear and is improving daily.
The Erilan Team would like to say a big thank you to Marg for sharing her experience with us. Want to share your breast cancer story? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured on our blog.