When Loretta was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in 2018, she was told that she might have only three months to live.
Amazingly, five years on, Loretta is still alive. Her cancer has spread to her bones but not to her organs.
She is focused on living her life to the fullest – spending time with family, seeing more of Australia, exercising and eating healthily.
She also wants to raise awareness about the support available to people living with cancer.
Getting connected to the right support at the right time
After receiving her stage 4 cancer diagnosis, Loretta was very unwell physically and emotionally.
Through a social worker, Loretta was connected to a Cancer Council counsellor, which helped release the pressure valve. “With him, I could talk about things I couldn’t talk about with my family,” Loretta remembers, “it was a huge help because, around that time, I really thought that it was the end for me.”
It was a time of great upheaval for Loretta as she’d also just separated from her husband. Her son and his girlfriend moved in with her to lighten the load and Cancer Council was able to provide emergency support, helping with groceries, fuel and electricity, and also connecting Loretta to a pro bono lawyer to sort out her will.
Loretta remembers feeling a little embarrassed to need this help. But accepting the support made it a little easier to get through that difficult period of her life. As she remembered making monthly donations to the Cancer Council as a young adult for quite a few years, so felt like I had come full circle.
“I was happy to know that my money was going towards helping people like myself, dealing with this disease, at a time when it was most needed,” Loretta remembers.
Choosing quality over quantity, but getting both
When she first chose to not have chemo in 2018, having been given only three months to live, Loretta “chose quality of life over quantity of life. Somehow, luckily, I’ve gotten both”.
Five years on, Loretta makes sure to always have something to look forward to and loves to spend quality time with family.
She does pottery classes with her daughter, often travels to watch her son play in his band, as far as Brisbane when she can, and tries to visit her siblings and her great nieces and nephews as regularly as possible.
Loretta says that “sometimes I forget that I have cancer, which is strange to say in a way. But when I’m not in pain, it’s not in my head making me emotional. Emotionally and mentally I’m okay now”.
Managing cancer symptoms and mental health
Living with advanced cancer is a balancing act for Loretta. “I don’t know how long I have to live. One year, five or ten years, who knows”, she says.
As the cancer has spread to her bones, she’s received radiation therapy to treat it. This has healed a few broken bones, including a fracture in her spine just before a recent trip to Darwin.
“I couldn’t walk for three days and had to go to emergency, but a couple of weeks later, I was able to walk again”, Loretta says, “I went to my oncologist and she just said, ‘go to Darwin, keep doing the things that motivate you to keep living'”.
Looking ahead, Loretta’s planned trips to the Gold Coast and New Zealand, where she’s hoping to “get another tattoo to add to the chest tattoo I got across my scars after my double mastectomy”.
Loretta is part of a Stage 4 Pink Sisters support group, who support each other Australia wide, including NZ sisters, and also shares tips and encouragement with her sister, who is currently undergoing treatment for bowel cancer.
She has also been lucky to access a cannabis oil prescription since 2019, which helps her sleep well and wake up pain free.
While she’s “hoping not to need it any time soon”, she knows that she can always contact Cancer Council to access professional emotional support at any time.
If you, or anyone you know has any questions about cancer and our cancer support services, visit our support page