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Personal cancer story

Breanne Shaw

I was diagnosed with bone cancer when I was just 14.

Breanne Shaw

It all started with what we thought was just a persistent sports injury in my arm. When the pain refused to go away, my parents thought it would be best to visit the doctor and get it checked out. The doctor's appointment was on a Friday. He sent me for an ultrasound and x-ray, and by the following Monday I'd received my diagnosis.

The whole family was incredibly shocked and surprised to found out that this supposedly simple sports injury was actually cancer. The diagnosis came out of the blue – no one saw it coming. My whole family, including my mum, dad and older brother, had their lives turned upside down. We had to adjust to a new type of normal.

After the diagnosis, I was sent to many different doctors in Albury (where we live), who referred me to a surgeon and oncologist in Melbourne. This geographical issue made things tough. We were always commuting back and forth between Melbourne and Albury for another test, more results and overnight stays. Mum and dad had to take time off work, I stopped going to school and my brother (who was doing his HSC) also stopped school for a while.

To help my brother get through his exams, my parents would tag team between Albury and Melbourne. One of them would spend half the week with me and the other half with my brother. Then they'd swap, only seeing each other briefly in these moments.

I started my treatment with 10 weeks of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour at the Royal Children's Hospital. I then had major reconstructive surgery on my arm, followed by more surgeries, including two more reconstructions where the tumour was.

I then had 40 weeks of chemotherapy – that's nearly 11 months! While the hospital staff and nurses were lovely, the treatment was very tough. I was always sick with high temperatures and nosebleeds. I would try to come home to Albury for the weekend, but would find myself back in hospital. The treatment felt like it was never ending.

There were a lot of kids that I met in hospital who sadly passed away in the time I was there. I would be playing cards with them one day and then never see them again. It was incredibly sad and a lot to deal with as a 14 year old. The hospital helped with supporting us all, taking our mind off treatment and giving us people to talk to if we needed it.

I look forward to seeing what the future brings and using my cancer experience to help other people."

Breanne Shaw

I finally finished treatment on 10 October 2011. I started going back to the hospital for six weekly check-ups, then these were pushed back to three monthly and since the end of last year, I only need to go in every six months. I’ve also now transferred to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, as I'm getting too old for the Children's Hospital.

Since finishing treatment, I've been passionate about raising awareness of childhood cancer, particularly in my local area of Albury. I made a YouTube video to raise awareness of the disease which lots of people saw. After the success of the video, I was on local TV and radio talking about childhood cancers and sharing my story. My principal and a friend of my mum’s then nominated me for (and I actually won) the 2014 Young Citizen of the Year in Albury. I was up against so many inspiring people doing amazing work in the community; I still can't believe that I won! It was lovely to receive recognition for something that I’m passionate about.

I am also involved with a lot of charities like Cancer Council, Make-A-Wish, the Ricky Ponting Foundation, Country Hope, The Sony Foundation and Challenge. I participate in Albury's Relay for Life every year and am always busy supporting these organisations at talks and events.

I hope that by sharing my story through all these different avenues, I'm helping other people who are going through a similar experience. I mentor a number of people affected by cancer in my area, giving them someone to talk to, which is nice for me too. I didn't have anyone to talk to when I was going through treatment and I know how beneficial this would have been for me. I think it also helps for them to know that they're not alone in what they're going through.

Throughout my cancer journey, I always tried to remain positive. While things were difficult at the time, for me there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

My arm is okay now. I can do most things like drive a car and write, but I can't lift my arm above my head, so it makes things like washing my hair tough. Over time, I've gotten used to it and found ways to do everything with one arm. I hardly even notice it anymore.

I finished year 12 last year and am doing a double degree in social work and human services at La Trobe University in Wodonga. I want to be a social worker, in either paediatrics or adolescents, but definitely in cancer.

I look forward to seeing what the future brings and using my experience to help other people.

Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer