***UPDATE: FEBRUARY 2018***
What an eventful 9 months it has been! And while we all wish this update could bring news that allow us – and especially Renee – to breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction… unfortunately it isn’t. Sometimes life just really wants to test ALL of your strength!
Since this campaign first went live and started accepting donations in May 2017, Renee was scheduled to undergo 16 rounds of chemotherapy prior to surgery. However, chemo was stopped after 10 rounds and surgery was brought forward as Renee’s body was not responding to treatment.
In October 2017 Renee underwent a unilateral mastectomy, breast reconstruction and axillary clearance of lymphnodes. Cancer was found in one of the removed lymphnodes. However, Renee was told the cancer was still unlikely to have spread.
The 5 weeks of scheduled radiation therapy was brought forward to December 2017.
With the hope that Renee would be in remission as of 2018, this was unfortunately not the case. A full body scan in January 2018 (after radiation) found the cancer had spread to her liver and lungs. This was not the news we wanted to hear. Everyone, including Renee’s treatment team were in disbelief and devastated with the results, and her case became a lot more rare!
Time for plan B:
Renee is now undergoing a new treatment combining an immunotherapy drug with a different chemotherapy drug. Immunotherapy is an emerging treatment for cancer which has shown some supportive evidence so far. However, it comes at a cost… literally!
Due to being a relatively new treatment, the pharmaceutical companies are charging for the drugs.
Government funding is not yet provided for the drug “Keytruda” on the PBS for breast cancer patients. This forces patients to self-fund in an attempt to save their life.
The cost for each dose is $5,000 which significantly reduces once reaching $60,000. This will cover approximately 6 months of treatment (2 per month) with the hope that it is successful!
If the treatment does work, it will continue indefinitely. If not, new drugs/treatments will be trialled.
From the beginning of this journey, Renee has been so incredibly strong and optimistic, and has remained her beautiful (inside and out) and hilarious self. It is a testament to the incredible lady she is, and the incredible lady we want to see being happy and healthy.
Anyone that knows Renee, knows she would help those in need however she can – but right now she needs US! Financial help can remove some of the burden off Renee and her family during this difficult time.
Renee has also had to resign from her part time job and defer from her studies at university during this next stage of treatment due to its indefinite timeframe.
Renee, myself and family would like to thank each and every donor (whether they are friends, family, or complete strangers) for your very generous donations so far. The increased treatment cost, along with multiple requests from others, guided our decision to re-open this campaign and increase the goal to $80,000. We have estimated the new costs will exceed an extra $60,000 on top of the funds already received. The remaining funds from the previous campaign have been deducted from this goal.
Of course, we do not want anyone to feel obligated to donate, but any assistance will be appreciated beyond words.
If you have any questions at all, please reach out to me via the envelope next to my name on the campaign.
Thank you in advance with the utmost appreciation,
**End of update - original story below**
On the 24th of May 2017, my gorgeous 23-year-old cousin Renee was diagnosed with an aggressive, and extremely rare form of breast cancer (A less than 1% chance for someone her age).
Only 3 weeks prior to her devastating diagnosis, Renee noticed an unusual large lump in her breast and knew it had to be checked. After an ultrasound, the doctor reported “normal” breast tissue and was not concerned of its cancerous potential due to her young age, and she was brushed off. However, thankfully for Renee’s extremely thorough GP, he was dissatisfied with the report and trusted Renee’s gut instinct, and therefore sent her for a second opinion with a breast surgeon.
This breast surgeon agreed with Renee’s GP and immediately investigated further. Within a few days Renee's life was turned upside down… her life for at least the next 6 months was completely planned out for her by the specialist and his team.
One year ago Renee was embarking on an exciting journey through Europe, never imagining that one year later she would now be embarking on an entirely different journey.
Since her diagnosis, Renee has already been through a whirlwind of appointments and investigations as a matter of urgency to determine the most appropriate and immediate plan of action.
It was decided by Renee's wonderful team of specialists to start her treatment process with chemotherapy as soon as possible. Due to the type and grade of cancer, Renee will endure a mastectomy on the affected breast and also on the other as a preventative measure. A breast reconstruction will follow from this.
Prior to any of the daunting treatments to come, Renee has already had to endure, 2 ultrasounds, a core biopsy of the lump, CT scan and full body MRI to investigate whether cancer has spread to her organs (thankfully, it has not!!), and a genetic blood test is yet to confirm the exact type of cancer as it is non-hormonal. Next, was surgery to investigate lymphnode involvement (lymphoscintigram) with the subsequent removal of 4 lymphnodes (unfortunately the cancer has been found in one of the nodes and will also be removed during upcoming surgery).
In addition to everything already faced within this short time, then began the personal and confronting process of being sent to the IVF clinic to produce and preserve Renee's eggs for her future, in case the chemotherapy affects her fertility. Definitely something this 23yo - who was currently focussed on beginning her career as an Occupational Therapist - had not felt the need to think of just yet!
And so, the frightening process started of Renee's treatment plan on June 16th 2017, to fight the cancer with 4 fortnightly visits of intense chemotherapy, to be followed by 12 weekly sessions. In order to easily prepare Renee for her chemo sessions, a PICC line was inserted into Renee’s arm which will remain there for the next 5 months. Although for a good reason, this is an uncomfortable and restrictive addition to her body, and is a constant reminder of her cancer. With the prospect of losing her hair, Renee has been given the opportunity to use a relatively new device called the ‘Cooling Cap’, which has a 30-40% chance of preventing loss of her beloved hair – a sense of her identity.
Since her diagnosis, Renee has been unable to work and has exhausted all her leave. Her parents have also taken numerous days off to support Renee and attend all medical appointments. They now have returned to work to earn money to cover medical costs, as well as general living expenses, which has put an unpreventable strain on their finances.
Thousands of dollars have already been spent on IVF, appointments, and surgeries as well as the ongoing costs of medications, bone marrow injections, treatments etc., and the upcoming cost of surgery.
No one should be faced with the awful diagnosis of cancer, and it is baffling that a healthy young lady could have been so unlucky and forced to put aside her life and fight this horrible disease. Feeling helpless, myself and Renee's extended family and many friends have struggled to find how we can best support her through this journey aside from providing social support and encouraging words of comfort. So, this is our opportunity to support Renee and her family in a way that is helpful beyond words, as they would never ask for this kind of help themselves!
With your help, the stress of trying to find the money to cover the costs already endured, ongoing and yet to come, can be relieved. Any contributions no matter how big or small are genuinely appreciated and will assist in relieving the unnecessary stress at this time. No one should have to endure financial stress at a time like this, so we ask for assistance of those willing and able to help in this way, so Renee and her family can focus on her health as a main priority. The funds will go directly to Renee so medical and other costs can be taken care of as soon as possible.
Despite all the negativity that surrounds cancer and its treatment, Renee has remained optimistic, positive, determined, and is eager to be an inspiration to others and not let herself be defined by cancer. Renee is also determined to spread awareness by her story and will be doing her own fundraiser at the end of the year to help donate towards research for Breast Cancer Australia.
We thank everyone in advance for their support and hope Renee’s story can encourage both females and males to check their breasts for anything out of the norm, and as Renee says, “If you feel something is not right, trust you gut instinct and request a second opinion if necessary”.
- Thomas Giaquinta
- Kerry Turnley
- Noreen Falvey
- Bridget Doyle
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