It has been a rollercoaster

Brenda and Avalon

“This disease has shown me that things can change so quickly. Whilst I’m well and stable, I want to make the most of every day. I now appreciate the little things in life and I am so grateful for time I spend with loved ones, with my family,” says member, Brenda Suttill.

Brenda lives in Christchurch with her daughter, Avalon, 13, husband Mike, and her guardian angel – Gizmo the dog.

“I was given my advanced breast cancer diagnosis in January 2021 – at the age of 42. In mid-December 2020, It all started with a cold that I couldn’t shake off. I noticed a lump under my arm and thought maybe my lymph nodes were inflamed because of the cold. The doctor gave me antibiotics and booked me in for a mammogram just in case. I wasn’t particularly worried as three years ago I had a similar lump that they said was just a cyst and I’ve been having annual mammograms since.

“After our Christmas holiday, in the first week of Jan, I had the mammogram and was sent for a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed high-grade carcinoma. Then a subsequent PET scan revealed the cancer had already spread to my liver and throughout my abdomen. I was in shock and devastated.

“I was told I have an aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative breast cancer. They said the disease is treatable but incurable and that I would be on treatment for the rest of my life. It was completely life shattering. I was a fit, active, busy, working mum with so many plans for the future. It all happened so fast. I felt like someone pulled the rug out from under me.

“I’m currently undergoing immunotherapy treatment. It isn’t funded in NZ but luckily we were able to fund it from my life insurance terminal illness benefit. I am so grateful that for the last 5 months it has kept me stable.

Brenda, Avalon and Mike in Hobbiton

“I work for a not-for-profit company. Working helps me feel like I am making a contribution – to my family and community. Being able to work keeps me sane and is sometimes a welcome distraction. I try to keep life and routines as normal as possible. I’ll keep working as long as I can.

“Being part of Sweet Louise has given me a lot of hope and comfort. Amidst the despair and devastation of this disease, hearing the stories of hope, strength and survival from others, it is inspiring and it gives me hope that this isn’t a death sentence. It is just part of life, and we are all just people, dealing with it as best we can. The online support group gives me hope and strength on those dark days when I need it most.

“Our family recently took a trip to the north island and Sweet Louise gave us tickets to go to Hobbiton – something I’ve always wanted to do. My daughter and I loved it – it was awesome!

“It is so important to spend quality time together as a family. I want to create as many happy memories as we can together. I am currently working on legacy projects for my daughter with photos, books, and videos – it’s a treasure trove of happy memories so she will always know how much I love her.

“For me, knowing all the details and the facts about my breast cancer and the treatments is a coping mechanism. It makes it all less scary. But I know others might feel differently. I’ve been able to share some of what I’ve learned with other members facing the same type of cancer – it really helps to talk about it with others.

Gizmo the dog!

“My dog, Gizmo, is my guardian angel and never leaves my side. I walk him every day, which keeps me active and brings me so much happiness. We love walks on the beach and exploring all the beautiful parts of Christchurch.

“My whole family has been amazing in supporting me through this.

“It’s the small things and the routines that mean so much to me now like helping my daughter with her homework in the afternoons and watching movies together. I am grateful for every moment, every laugh, every hug and every beautiful day.”