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ART THERAPY, CLINICAL TRIALS & BEING DIAGNOSED AS A YOUNG WOMAN

Jessica has a strong history of breast cancer, with her cousin, uncle and sister all being diagnosed before her.

Jessica’s Story

Jessica Switzer has a strong family history of breast cancer.

Her uncle, cousin and sister have all received a breast cancer diagnosis.

However, she still did not expect to be diagnosed at 33 years old, while breastfeeding her 10-month-old child.

The first indication that anything was wrong was a dull ache under her armpit.

She said she went to her doctor and got an ultrasound, but nothing was found. However, three weeks later a lump had formed in the same area.

She went back and forth between doctors, until one finally sent her to a specialist.

“By the time I was rushed up to the specialist, my breast had become quite swollen and the skin had changed, the nipple changed colour,” said Jessica.

“The last doctor I saw said, ‘You need to see a specialist straight away’.”

She said although she wasn’t expecting her diagnosis, it was something she knew she should be aware of.

“I have a family history. So, I always had that at the back of my mind.”

“My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer eight weeks before mine.”

“Hers was picked up pretty early and so initially through the diagnosis process she was really supportive and helping me through and reassuring me, but unfortunately my cancer was more widespread.”

“So, I sort of jumped ahead in the race so to speak.”

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Clinical trial participant Jessica shares what it was like to be diagnosed just weeks before her sister, why she decided to participate in a clinical trial and how her art formed part of her treatment and recovery.

Participating In The OlympiA Clinical Trial

The BRCA-2 gene mutation is present in Jessica’s family.

With her young age at diagnosis, and this knowledge, Jessica was tested.

When it was confirmed she had the gene mutation, her oncologist suggested the Breast Cancer Trials OlympiA clinical trial.

“When I was undergoing chemotherapy, my oncologist and I were discussing finishing my chemotherapy early because I was getting quite severe nephropathy and being an artist that’s a bit of a concern.”

Jessica said she had some concerns that she was finishing chemotherapy, but her oncologist discussed her options with her and reassured her.

“She said she would really like me to consider this trial.”

“After talking to them quite extensively, reading the pamphlets and the information, it became quite obvious that it was really important for me to do it.”

“I’ve got children, so for them as well.”

The OlympiA clinical trial is investigating whether taking olaparib tablets twice a day for 12 months can reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back after all standard treatment anticancer treatments have been completed.

It has closed for recruitment to new patients, but some patients are still undergoing the treatment.

It’s hoped the study will show that olaparib improves the curability of patients with HER2 negative breast cancer and an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, which may result in a new standard treatment for these breast cancer treatments.

As Jessica has three children who have a 50/50 chance of inheriting her BRCA2 mutation, she was extra motivated to take part.

“I’ve seen my cousin go through it, I’ve seen my sister go through it and when we were all diagnosed, we had young kids.”

“You definitely think about the future of your kids and what can you do to make it easier or to try and prevent this from happening to them.”

Jessica said meeting others who participated in clinical trials research also helped to cement her decision.

“Very early on when I was diagnosed, I joined a support group.”

“I was introduced to a few people doing trials and I thought it was interesting but didn’t think much of it.”

“But you learn that these people are shaping the treatment for future generations and I am where I am at the moment because someone has participated in a trial and made my survival rate better and have helped me to get over this so much easier.”

“It’s very very important.”

Art Therapy & Returning to Life After Treatment

Jessica is a very talented artist, and said it was therapeutic for her to be able to create throughout her diagnosis.

“I think I wouldn’t be the person I am now If it wasn’t for my art.”

“It’s a very good outlet.”

She said it was difficult to continue her art while undergoing treatment, but she persevered.

“It did get pretty hard and even now I have noticed that I am suffering a little bit, because I do very detailed work.”

“So, I’m trying to persevere at the moment.”

“It is getting better, but yeah. I think It’s probably a lot of training the muscles and the brain again, because your brain kind of gets fried.”

Jessica’s Advice to Young Women With Breast Cancer

Jessica said finding new connections was a very important part of her recovery process and would encourage young women with a diagnosis to seek out people in a similar situation.

“Connect with a support group because your idea of what cancer looks like, and what you see and are exposed to in the media, is it nothing like that, until you walk that path.”

“That was something that hit me pretty hard at times.”

“I felt like it was a roller coaster. I would be faced with a challenge like ‘oh my gosh, I’m losing my breasts’ and I no sooner accomplished that and had dusted myself off and moved on, and then I was up another hill facing chemotherapy and losing my hair.”

She said having those connections has helped her through her diagnosis.

“There’s a lot of hidden things that people don’t tell you, that you don’t see.”

“People know me to be quite open with my journey, but even then, there’s a lot that I haven’t said or told people.”

“So, you definitely need to reach out to other people because they will help you through it. “

“That was really good to just bounce off how your feeling with other people who know what you’re going through.”

She also said young women need to be proactive about their health and get a second opinion if something doesn’t feel right.

“Just really push those doctors to do it because I am a prime example, that cancer does not discriminate regardless of age or breast feeding or whatever, you own that, tell the doctors to do it.”

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