‘Staying Positive Has Helped Me Survive’ – Kerryn’s DIBH Story
Breast cancer patient Kerryn Clark, from Gippsland in Victoria, recently became the first patient to receive Deep Inspiration Breath Hold Treatment (DIBH) treatment at Traralgon’s Latrobe Regional Hospital.
DIBH treatment is a radiation therapy technique where patients take a deep breath during treatment and hold this breath while the radiation is delivered. By taking a deep breath in, the patient’s lungs fill with air and their heart moves away from their chest. In doing so it avoids radiation exposure to the heart.
Here married mother-of-four Kerryn (48) shares her experiences with radiation therapy using DIBH with Targeting Cancer:
“I was diagnosed with cancer in my left breast last September. My sister and I had gone for a mammogram in the traveling bus, I then went onto have a biopsy, which had revealed a tumour.
“My Mum had breast cancer about five years ago, so I’ve been touched by cancer before. The news was a shock, but I try to be one of life’s optimists – I’m not a stressor. My feeling was, ‘okay, this isn’t going to kill me – let’s get on with treatment’.
“When I had the initial surgery they found that they didn’t get a clear enough margin around the area, which is when I had to have a second operation. That was probably more of a shock – knowing that I had to go through another op.
“I needed radiation treatment every day from Monday to Friday for six weeks. Melbourne is a six-hour round trip from my home so I was relieved to hear I could have the treatment in Traralgon. The staff at the Latrobe have been brilliant.
“My Mum received chemotherapy and radiation therapy as part of her treatment, but I must admit I didn’t know much about radiation therapy apart from that it targeted the cancerous area. I certainly didn’t know much about Deep Inspiration Breath Hold Therapy. When they told me I would be the first patient at Latrobe I was like, ‘okay – no pressure then!’.
“My initial thought was how big the machine looks. At first I wasn’t sure how long I could hold my breath for. One day my youngest son came up with the idea of practising – he would time me holding my breath. That certainly helped!
“During treatment, you hold your breath for about 20-25 seconds. There’s a green line from the machine and when you see that, you have to hold your breath in. That’s when the machine does what it needs to do.
“I can see why some people would find the treatment hard – it’s not the easiest thing to hold your breath under those circumstances. I found it easier to turn it into a ‘game’ by counting in my head, so I know when the end is near. I have had a couple of nurses say how good I am at holding my breath!
“As the first person to receive this treatment at Latrobe, I was asked to do an interview for one of the television stations. Apparently after I was on the news there were quite a few women enquiring about whether the treatment would be right for them. I think that’s great – anything that can help people get through this is brilliant.
“I haven’t experienced too many side effects, although probably around the third week I started to have a burning sensation and a sort of pimply rash on the skin in the treatment area. There’s been times when I’ve come home and just crashed out after treatment. It’s not been too bad though.
“After all my treatment finished for the next two weeks or so my skin was very red and sore an quite fragile, I had to be very careful not to go out in the sun. I slept a lot for the next few weeks but feel pretty good a few weeks on.
“I’ve been able to carry on working as a hairdresser for three days a week. I don’t mention to people I’m having cancer treatment as I don’t want to make it the topic of conversation. I think for some people unfortunately their treatment can consume them, but I didn’t want it to with me.
“I’m generally an optimist and I think that staying positive has helped me cope with my treatment. I think you do what you have to do to survive. I’m lucky to have great family support as well.
“I’m feeling positive about the future – I’m just trying to stay relaxed. If you get stressed then I think it effects those around you. As a mother of four children, I think it’s very important to stay as calm as you can!
“If it helps other people by raising awareness of this treatment and sharing my story then I’m very glad to help. One thing I would advise all women to PLEASE, PLEASE go and have a mammogram. It only takes 10 minutes and who knows – it could help save your life.”
An expected 18,000 new cases of breast cancer will be reported in Australia in 2018, with an estimated 2600 in New Zealand.
For more information on DIBH and how it is used in treatment, click here.
For more information on radiation therapy and how it can help treat breast cancer, click here.