“Check your breasts regularly – if you find anything, see a GP.”
That’s the advice from breast cancer survivor, Glitz and Glamour Ball co-host and cancer research fundraiser Chris Downing.
Today is World Cancer Day and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) is raising awareness of cancer research as part of the “I am and I will” campaign.
“In 2015 I felt a lump in my right breast. I usually checked every six months or so and I was waiting to hop in the shower when I raised my right arm and found a lump – it was about three centimeters”
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 when I was 48. I was married with two children. My daughter was in her second year of University and just about to start her exams, my younger daughter had just started a traineeship. I was working four days a week and saving for some holidays – life was going great.”
Chris Downing is part of a dedicated group of Wollongong women who have all survived breast cancer and committed time to raising awareness of the disease.
In 2018, after meeting through a support group, they came up with the idea of the Glitz and Glamour Ball to raise money for breast cancer research.
The first year the event raised over $40,000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
“My oncologist is Professor Aghmesheh and he mentioned Kara’s research project at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI). We are really excited to be part of it, even in such a small way by funding research happening locally. Anything that is able to assist cancers patient will make a difference,” said Chris.
IHMRI’s Dr Kara Vine-Perrow was the recipient of $55,000 raised at the 2019 fundraising event.
“This money has enabled me to employ a talented young scientist and continue research into less invasive and more targeted drug delivery methods to treat breast cancer,” said Dr Vine-Perrow.
“We’re making great advancements towards harnessing the body’s immune system to fight breast cancer by developing a novel technology to deliver immunotherapy directly to the tumour.,” she added.
If successful, the delivery of these treatments could potentially maximise the drug delivered to the tumour and reduce the toxic side effects for patients
Chris Downing says the chemo treatment took its toll on her body.
“Due to the size of the lump, I had to undergo chemotherapy first to try to shrink the lump. I had the most toxic chemo (AC) every three weeks for three months.”
“One week after the first round of chemo I had a port-a-cath inserted in my chest which made it easier to be given chemo. I suffered badly from bone marrow pain during these cycles of chemo with fatigue. I was exhausted all the time and slept a lot.”
“After day 17 of my first chemo treatment I lost my hair, I had been pretty fine up until this point but became pretty hysterical after losing my hair. It made it all real and now everyone knew I was sick.”
“After six months of chemo, I was ready for my mastectomy. My tumour had shrunk quite a bit and I started twelve months of another treatment, Herceptin.”
“After 18 months my treatment journey was over. I was so lucky where others aren’t. On bad days I’d just keep saying to myself ‘this could be worse.’”
“Now my life goal is to travel as often as possible. Last year we went to China, Bali, Florida and the Bahamas. This year we’re going on a cruise with our friends and to the USA as a final goodbye to cancer.”
The Glitz and Glamour Ball is on on 28 March, 2020 at the Novotel, Wollongong.
The event is already sold out.
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