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Personal cancer story

Kellie Heritage

Telling my kids, then aged 10 and 13, that I had breast cancer was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

I first found a lump in my breast in 2010, when I was 35. I knew how important it was to get it checked out, but wasn't too worried when I saw the doctor. He sent me for further tests, including a core biopsy, mammogram and ultrasound, but he also didn't seem too concerned.

I went back for the results on my own, pretty confident it would all be fine, and that's when I got the shocking news that it was actually breast cancer. I was really frightened of what it all meant for my family, thinking about my husband, Pete, and our kids. I was so shocked – I couldn't believe it had happened to me.

I started reading about breast cancer on the Cancer Council website to learn more about what was ahead. In a funny way I was glad to have been diagnosed in October, when there's an extra focus on women's cancers, as it meant I didn't feel so alone.

Kellie Heritage

Kellie four months after finishing her treatment for breast cancer. 

I knew it was going to be important for my husband Pete and I to tell the kids the truth – we didn't want their imaginations running away with them, or for them to assume the worst. Because of that, we shared everything with them, and encouraged their questions when I had a lumpectomy and then five weeks of radiotherapy. My youngest was a bit confused and asked if I was going to be zapped by laser guns during radiotherapy, so I took the kids to an appointment where he could see me lying on the table during a session. Then they understood what was really happening to their mum – there weren't any laser guns being zapped around the room!

The radiation really took it out of me and I was pretty tired all the time. I was grateful that my employer, Woolworths, was really supportive and great through it all. We live in a country town and I'd been working at the supermarket for more than 10 years, and I was touched by how lovely some of the regular customers were.

I had a second operation to make sure they'd gotten it all, and was so happy when tests showed that it had all worked and I was in remission. It was hard to get back to normal life after everything I'd been through, but as months then years passed with good test results, I was able to stop worrying about it returning and just get on with life.

Today I have been cancer-free for seven years but I'll never forget the lessons I learnt along the way. It's so important to enjoy the simple things in life, to just laugh and enjoy every day. I'm so grateful for my close family and friends, who were such a great support at every step – they cooked meals, helped with housework and gave support in so many practical ways. Even their simple "thinking of you" messages meant so much throughout my journey.

4 people smiling and sitting.

Kellie and her family at their first Relay for Life after Kellie's treatment.

I now share my experience with everyone who will listen, even our customers at the supermarket. People have gotten themselves checked because of things I've told them, and I'm so glad that my story could help make a positive impact on others.

My message to everyone is to be aware of your body – don't be afraid to touch yourself! Early detection really is key. If something is different or doesn't seem right, please see a doctor and get it checked it out. It really could save your life.

Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer