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This is the third and final story published in the NZ Herald Canvas Magazine.

Sweet Louise meetings are a double-edged sword for 67-year-old Lynda Ames.

As one of the longest standing members, it’s devastating when she meets other women, gets to know them, and then one day they don’t come to meetings anymore.

Lynda has been “fortunate” to have been living with breast cancer for nearly 30 years. But many of the friends she has made through Sweet Louise have not been anywhere near as lucky.

Lynda was diagnosed with primary breast cancer in 1990 at age 38, after noticing a pea sized lump across the top of her chest. She went through seven weeks of radiation, a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy.

Five years passed and she should have confidently felt in the clear. When she began to feel fatigued 18 years later in 2008, she wasn’t expecting anything serious after a routine blood test. Unfortunately, it was abnormal and the scan showed that 70 percent of her liver was compromised with metastatic breast cancer.

On the positive side, Lynda and her husband, Richard, were living in Brisbane, where the drug Herceptin (which is used for breast cancer that is HER2 receptor positive) was funded for both primary and secondary cancers. “If I had been in New Zealand, I don’t think I would have got it at the time, as it was only funded for primary cancers,” Lynda says.

Combined with hormonal inhibitor Arimidex, the treatment has been wonderfully successful.

“People perceive that funded drugs extend life for a short amount of time, but in my case, it has been 10 years,” says Lynda, who receives intravenous treatment at Auckland Hospital every three weeks, and will continue to do so until the regime no longer works.

At the moment, it is so successful that the mets on her liver are so tiny the doctors are not sure if they are cancer or scar tissue.

Lynda is also fortunate not to experience some of the more severe side effects of Herceptin that others do, such as heart problems.

Lynda enjoys going to Sweet Louise meetings (she has learned to live with the horrible reality of losing friends to a degree). “I dropped back a bit on going for a while, but on the positive side, Sweet Louise has given me the opportunity to meet some very dear friends and to meet others who have had longevity.

“It’s good to be able to share my story with others especially if they have the same mets, let them know they can get through it and hopefully give them the inspiration to keep going.

“The meetings also refocus me, I hear about other treatments, the right people to contact for help…”

Lynda strongly believes it is important to advocate. “Hospitals are so busy, you can fall through the cracks. One time I phoned to ask to be considered for an earlier appointment if there was a cancellation, and I was in the next day.”

Lynda is also very grateful for the vouchers she receives from Sweet Louise, including haircuts at Servilles, beauty therapy, meals from, cakes from Loaf and trips to Hoyts Cinemas.

Having just relocated from Mangere Bridge to Whangaparaoa, she’s looking forward to continuing to help her husband with their business, the Drone Warehouse.

She’s also looking forward to continuing her good health by looking after herself, eating well and exercising and she has booked a first, – a 10-day retreat at Vipassana Meditation Centre in Kaukapakapa.

Sweet Louise receives no government funding and relies totally on the generosity of New Zealanders like you.