“I never thought I would have breast cancer”: the stories of western Sydney survivors

Vassalah Wallace has worked as a Bookings Clerk at Westmead Hospital for many years and is also a breast cancer survivor.

With no symptoms of breast disease and no family history of breast cancer, 63 year old Vassalah Wallace was quite surprised when she was diagnosed in October 2020.

“I never thought I would have breast cancer,” the Glenmore Park mother of two said.

Vassalah has worked as a Bookings Clerk at Westmead Hospital for many years, interacting with patients going through their own care. Now she was the one facing treatment.

It was a sobering reality for Vassalah the moment she was recalled for further investigation following a routine mammogram late last year – and a story similar to the one in seven women in NSW who will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Survivor stories

Maxene Kroebel and her husband Tony.

Maxene Kroebel is a survivor who wears her breast cancer diagnosis as a badge of honour.

The 57 year old Mt Druitt resident diligently attended her mammograms at the Breast Cancer Institute Sunflower clinic for BreastScreen NSW every two years as required.

“In a way I feel blessed, my breast cancer was detected early and I’m not having to deal with the complications of an advanced diagnosis.

“Sure, a mammogram hurts for a few seconds but it saves your life,” said Maxene who received a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer in June 2020.

The mother of two found therapy to ease her through her journey in gardening and macramé – a form of craft using knotting to make planters and wall hangings.

She’s now looking forward to her travels with her husband Tony to greater western NSW to visit their daughter.

After a career at Auburn Hospital, Judy Almeida’s breast cancer diagnosis came as a shock.

After having worked at Auburn Hospital for 26 years as a chef in health food services, Judy Almeida from Hassall Grove also had plans for leisure and travel with her husband.

Sadly, these were cut short following her husband’s own battle with cancer in 2018 and then Judy’s diagnosis in November 2019.

However, the 65 year of mother of two had a similar prognosis to Vassalah and Maxene.

A lumpectomy to the right breast and a few sessions of radiation and chemotherapy saw Judy through her treatment on the road to recovery. 

Detecting breast cancer early

“Thankfully my breast cancer was diagnosed very early. A lumpectomy was performed on my left breast to remove the tumour and I did not need chemotherapy,” recalled Vassalah Wallace.

Associate Professor Nirmala Pathmanathan (Director Breast Cancer Institute)

For women over 50 years, a mammogram is the most effective method of finding breast cancer early. It can pick-up cancers that cannot be seen or felt.

Westmead Breast Cancer Institute director Associate Professor Nirmala Pathmanathan said a mammogram every two years takes just 20 minutes and it could save your life.

“Detecting breast cancer early increases your chance of survival while reducing the likelihood of invasive treatment, such as mastectomy or chemotherapy,” Nirmala said.

“Around 90 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. This is why breast cancer screening is so important for all eligible women.

“Life gets busy and we want women to make their health a priority,” Nirmala emphasises.

Book your mammogram

Don’t put it off, it’s simple. The sooner you get a mammogram, the sooner you’ll have peace of mind.”

That’s a sentiment unanimously echoed by Vassalah, Judy and Maxene.

Mammograms are free with BreastScreen NSW, no doctor referrals are required and they are performed by females

The BreastScreen NSW service is accessible through BCI Sunflower clinics at select hospitals and Myer stores in western Sydney.

We have a heightened range of hygiene and social-distancing measures to ensure clinics continue to be COVID-19 safe, to protect women, staff, and the wider community.

It’s free, it’s quick and it’s COVID safe.

To book your free breast screen today click here or call 13 20 50.

Help us to reach out to your community and please support our cancer screening efforts in Western Sydney by encouraging your loved ones to screen.

If you require interpreter assistance, please call 13 14 50 during business hours.

Vassalah Wallace, Maxene Kroebel and Judy Almeida encourage all women to book their mammograms as soon as possible.