We launched this page in 2010 in acknowledgement of the special needs of young New Zealand women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. Because only a few young women get breast cancer it can be a lonely experience. Its difficult to find someone about the same age who has been through it or shared a similar experience, and doesn’t mind talking about it.
In October 2011 we were pleased to announce an on-line forum for young New Zealand women, kindly hosted by Breast Cancer Network Australia at http://www.bcna.org.au. Click on Join our Network and create your profile using 3124 as your post code. Using Find Groups enter the key words New Zealand and scroll down to locate the NZ Young Women’s Group. Please register your interest in joining the group.
The forum is a joint project of BCN and Breast Cancer Support. If you have any problems registering please contact [email protected]
Breast cancer support groups can be found in many NZ towns and are definitely worth contacting. Some may offer just the support that you need. Most will try to put you in touch with another woman with a similar age and experience to you. But a younger woman attending a group might find the focus is on the needs of an older group. Fifty+ is the age when the majority of NZ women get breast cancer so some groups reflect this. Your issues may be more related to sexuality and dating or finding a life partner, treatments that put your fertility at risk and how to cope with study, career or financial hardship. Young mothers may find they need practical assistance and help with telling their children.
Knowledge from reliable web sites can be empowering, and you can communicate with peers through chat rooms, forums and bulletin boards. Its reassuring to register and find other women have had a similar situation to yours and have got through it. Families and friends will usually offer what love and support they can, but a young woman also needs the best information available, tailored health and support services, possibly counselling and practical help.
On this page there are links to services in New Zealand that will meet some of your needs. Although comprehensive services tailored to young women may be hard to find, information and support is available, although it may take some effort to source.
Diagnosis is sometimes delayed in a young woman for a number of reasons. Neither a woman nor her doctor may think breast cancer is likely in her age group. The message that women should be aware of their breasts and get any change investigated quickly may not have reached very young women. As a result, biopsy and diagnosis may be delayed. Mammography alone is not reliable as a diagnostic tool, particularly as breast tissue in young women is often dense on x-ray. Ultrasound and a biopsy are likely to be needed to give a diagnosis.
If a young woman is worried that her breast symptoms are not being adequately investigated she should persist in asking for further tests or look for a second opinion.
The last thing any young woman is expecting is the news that she has breast cancer. Her life may feel as if it has been turned upside down, but there are important decisions to be made, needing a cool head. Because it is not easy to take in all the information you will be given it is advisable to take someone with you to appointments.
You may be unsure that you have been given all the information and advice needed, or if all possible options are in front of you. Some decisions about treatment need to be made quickly. However it is good to discuss whether you can take a little more time not every diagnosis requires you to make immediate choices. If you need to discuss it further or get a second medical opinion, your GP should be able to guide you in the process.
The treatment of breast cancer in young women can be life-saving but side effects can be challenging to cope with. Peoples experiences with treatment are not all the same. No woman is likely to be prepared for possibilities such as surgical changes to her body, loss of hair, possible loss of fertility and early menopause. The likelihood of these outcomes should be explained in a way that can be understood, and referrals offered to specialist services.
In New Zealand the services available could vary according to where you live. If a Breast Care nurse is available in your town or hospital, she will have information about local breast cancer groups and medical services. The nearest branch of the NZ Cancer Society is also a good place to ask about groups, information, counselling, travel assistance, home assistance, accommodation and other support. The Cancer Society has on-line information leaflets or will post leaflets on request. In smaller towns information about travel assistance and services may be available at the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Cancer Connect peer support service may be able to put you in touch by phone with another young woman with similar circumstances. Trained volunteers provide this service. Contact Cancer Connect on 0800 226 237.
Exercise can be very beneficial in the healing process. Pinc & Steel offers tailored exercise programmes during recovery and does Club Physical Cancer Wellfit programme. After recovery you may be interested in joining one of several New Zealand Dragonboating teams.
Most cities and larger towns have a breast cancer support group. They may be able to link you by phone to another young woman. Smaller centres may not have groups but a support group can start up anywhere if there are two or more women who want to get together. An advert in the local paper or public notice board to meet over coffee could be a way to get started.
To locate support groups in New Zealand call our office 09 636 7040.
Articles to read
Breast Cancer Network published several articles for young women in 2010 in Upfront U Kaiora magazine. Please see Young Women with Breast Cancer (Issue 89) and Fighting for her Fertility- Kates Story (Issue 90) The Healing Journey, Young women and Breast Cancer (Issue 91) and Resources for Young Women (Issue 92).