A breast cancer journey during a pandemic

Two women standing inside a lobby
Dr Sanjana Kondola and Amy Duckworth
October 29, 2021

The breast cancer journey from diagnosis to chemotherapy, mastectomy and radiation therapy is difficult in normal times, but throw in the COVID-19 pandemic and it becomes even tougher, as single mother of two Amy Duckworth found out.

At the end of 2019 and in the middle of her nursing exams, Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer following the discovery of a lump. It wasn’t the Christmas gift she was expecting nor wanted.

Amy said the initial diagnosis was devastating for her, her children and extended family.

 “It was very overwhelming, there was so much information, and everything was happening so fast,” Amy said.

“One day I was sitting my exams and the next I was having chemo. That was my present and it became a very different Christmas.

“I didn’t have time to process it emotionally and it was heartbreaking to tell my children, who were so young they really didn’t understand how big of a deal it was.”

After six rounds of chemotherapy at Fiona Stanley Hospital, Amy had a bilateral mastectomy and spent a further two weeks in hospital. This was at the peak of the pandemic where there were state-wide restrictions on hospital visitations, so Amy’s children and family were unable to visit.

“Cancer is very isolating as your immune system is compromised so when you throw in a pandemic it is an even more isolating experience for a really long time,” Amy said.

“It was hard for my children having a sick mum, not being able to visit me in hospital, or go out when I returned home.”

A woman and two young childrenAfter surgery, Amy’s remaining treatment was at Rockingham General Hospital (RGH) with Dr Sanjana Kondola where she underwent a further 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 rounds of radiation therapy. As Amy was young and fit, she was able to have chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time.

Amy was also Sanjana’s very first RGH patient to undergo chemotherapy using adjuvant (after surgery) Kadcyla – a targeted therapy given with the intent to kill any cancer cells left in her body after surgery, that significantly increases survival in patients.

Sanjana said Amy was an amazing and resilient patient who came to every appointment with a smile despite her tough her journey.

“She was a mum, she continued to play football, exercise and study to become a nurse while fighting breast cancer,” Sanjana said.

“She has had practically every treatment available to treat her breast cancer, including hormone blockers which has forced her into early menopause, but she has remained strong and positive. Amy is someone to be admired.”

Despite a challenging and isolating experience, Amy said it has bought her children and family closer together.

“It has really made us all aware of life and the need to approach it differently,” Amy said. 

Amy said her experience at RGH with Sanjana has been amazing. 

“The continuity of care is very important and that’s something that has stood out, everyone knows my name,” Amy said.

Nearly two years later, Amy’s recent pet scan is clear and her immune system is working again. She is essentially cancer-free.

This Breast Cancer Awareness month, Amy wants to remind women to check their breasts regularly.

 “If you’re over 40, go get a free mammogram. If you’re under 40 and think something isn’t right – push for it. Trust your own body,” Amy said.

Amy would like to thank her network of close friends, family and everyone at RGH who have supported her throughout the last two years.

Amy is now looking forward to finishing her studies next year and to finally becoming a registered nurse.

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