Wednesday was my sister Karen’s 49th birthday. Sadly, she wasn’t here to celebrate that with us.

In early 2010 Kaz was struggling with terrible back pain – she saw doctors and was hospitalised several times for pain relief. We thought Kaz must be like mum, who has had debilitating osteoarthritis for many years.


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But Kaz’s pain progressively worsened and she was referred to a specialist who identified immature red blood cells circulating. This was the first indication that it might be much more serious than initially thought. I remember vividly the day we arrived thinking it would be leukaemia and left that afternoon with a probable diagnosis of advanced metastatic breast cancer.

To say her diagnosis was a huge shock is a massive understatement. We have no family history of breast cancer and the women in our family have lived long and healthy lives. Karen had also had a mammogram a few months before her diagnosis and it hadn’t detected anything out of the ordinary. However we later learnt that she had dense breast tissue, which made it difficult to detect abnormalities in her breast.

Melissa McGregor and her sister Karen Stonestreet on Karen's wedding day.
Melissa McGregor and her sister Karen Stonestreet on Karen’s wedding day.

Together, we set a goal of 1000 days for Kaz to live to the fullest. We knew if she could make it to 1000 she would have beaten the odds and it was a goal we all shared in so we could enjoy each other’s company as much as we could.

Being relatively young and fit she responded well to treatment initially, enjoying a good quality of life. But of course it wasn’t always easy. There were difficult days with complications along the way.

Looking back, I can only marvel at how brave she was and am so grateful for the support Kaz received from our family, friends and her support networks. Her local health care team, including her McGrath nurse, were amazing.

Kaz is no longer with us but we did enjoy almost 1000 more days together. That was incredibly special, and we made the most of that precious time. Kaz got married, went on an overseas holiday and miraculously finished renovating her home. There were countless happy memories, none more so than the three extra Christmases we enjoyed together.

October is breast cancer awareness month, and today is world metastatic breast cancer day.

I can think of no better way to celebrate my sister’s life than to share a little of her story and her messages about health awareness, early diagnosis and persevering. That is what she would have wanted.

Kaz used to say "if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t" and her journey was a telling example that we know our own bodies better than most. If Kaz was here still she would say "get them checked, ladies, and persist until you get your answers!" Because she knew that an early diagnosis can make the world of difference to you and your family.

Today, a breast cancer diagnosis for many men and women is vastly different from what it was 20 years ago. Considerable advancements have been made in research and detection and treatments are now much more advanced in ensuring that men and women being told of a breast cancer diagnosis have a future to look forward to.

Metastatic breast cancer – often referred to as secondary or advanced cancer – where the cancer spreads to other parts of the body is a different story. One in 10 women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop metastatic breast cancer within five years of their diagnosis. It is the second most common cause of cancer death in Australian women. However, recent research suggests only 48 per cent of Australians are aware of metastatic breast cancer.

It is clear we need to do more to raise awareness about this aggressive disease and to invest in better treatment options. Tackling a problem of this magnitude is everyone’s responsibility. I am immensely proud to work for a company committed to the development of innovative medicines that can profoundly affect people’s health. Pfizer has invested heavily over the last 10 years in improving metastatic breast cancer outcomes. We are not alone in this endeavour; other innovative companies, research institutions and governments are doing the same.

It has been nearly 20 years since we have had any treatment advance in this space. The good news is there are some new, targeted treatments on the horizon, and I feel privileged to be in a position to help bring these to the Australian women who need them. I feel hopeful and optimistic for the future and encourage women to look after their health.

Melissa McGregor is managing director of Pfizer Australia.

This article was originally published at the “Article” source noted above and distributed by The Tutu Project for informational purposes only.

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