SITTING in her beautiful garden at her Spring Gully home of 38 years, Annie Young is proof that life does go on after breast cancer.
The 72-year-old grandmother of eight has embraced life since entering remission after being diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago.
Thankfully, breast cancer survival rates are at an all-time high, with recent reports showing 88 per cent of Loddon Mallee women are still alive five years after a breast cancer diagnosis.
But it is still the most- diagnosed cancer in Victorian women.
One of the two McGrath Foundation breast cancer nurses at Bendigo Health, Sharon Salter, said she had taken on 40 new women diagnosed with breast cancer in the past three months.
She estimated she had looked after more than 100 new patients in the past year.
Annie was diagnosed with breast cancer two days before Christmas in 2005.
She is often called by women who have been recently diagnosed with the illness.
“They want to hear how survival goes,” she said.
“The first 12 months after diagnosis is a busy time. It’s taken up with a lot of care and hands-on treatment.
“I withdrew a bit. That was how I dealt with it.
“Then you regain your life.”
The former secondary school teacher librarian said the support of her friends and family helped her through the year of treatment.
“I received very good advice from my surgeon.
“He said, ‘Firstly, don’t take any other advice than that from your surgeon and your breast care nurse.
“‘Secondly, don’t keep it a secret. Share it with your friends and they will support you.’ And it was true.”
Annie has taken many positives from her experience.
She has thrown herself into the things she loves, from attending the Australian Opera series with her husband Rob, to singing in the Forever Young Choir and volunteering as an usher at The Capital theatre.
Annie has travelled extensively with Rob and is embarking on a trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel with friends next month.
“There were things I was going to do, but those days were always ahead of me.
“Now if someone invites me out to lunch, I go.
“After cancer, I think you realise you have to do the things you want to do in life.
“It brings you back to the things that are important.”
Stories like Annie’s are becoming more common in Victoria.
Women living with breast cancer in this state today are more likely to survive for at least five years after their diagnosis than they were 20 years ago.
Breast care nurse Sharon Salter said the work of the foundation co-founded by Jane McGrath and her former Test cricketer husband Glenn had also been influential in getting the breast care message out.
Sharon’s work at Bendigo Health extends to supporting and educating women throughout their breast cancer.
She said the increasing survival rates were a lot to do with prevention and higher awareness of the issue within the community.
“A lot of people know what we’re doing,” she said.
“The McGrath Foundation does a great job of getting awareness out into the public about breast health.
“The whole idea is to get the message out that if you do notice anything different, go get it checked out.”
For Annie, there is also another message to be spoken loud and clear.
“I don’t let my life be defined by my cancer, but it’s part of life and you live with it,” she said.
“The value that I place on friendship and family is emphasised.
“After cancer, you can get on with your life.”