‘There’s only one way to survive this, and it’s to do what’s necessary.’ – Phoebe’s Story

Newlywed Phoebe Sceresini, was diagnosed with breast cancer on her hen’s day at 27 years old. She and her husband Pete then planned their wedding in just nine days, before the bubbly emergency nurse underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery. As part of her treatment, Phoebe also underwent fertility preservation, for which her McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kate strongly advocated. Phoebe has since finished active treatment and is grateful for her strong support network of friends and family who supported her through her experience with breast cancer.

The diagnosis

I found my lump while lying in bed with my now husband Pete. From the beginning I just knew that it didn’t belong there. I’m a registered nurse, so I was pretty proactive about getting it checked and made an appointment with my GP. To be honest, being so young I was expecting a little bit of push back, but she was amazing and sent me for an ultrasound.

At the ultrasound they said that it looked benign but there was some calcification, so they wanted to do a biopsy. I knew then, even if it was nothing, that I wanted it out because if felt like there was pressure and a burning sensation there. I think it was my body’s way of saying ‘Hey, there’s something here’ which was incredible because I’ve talked to a lot of other young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and they haven’t had that same experience.

The diagnosis came back on my hen’s day – June 25. Looking back now, it was the best way to find out because I was surrounded by my closest girlfriends and family. I told my family and my seven bridesmaids but kept it from the rest of the party to just keep it as normal as possible and try and enjoy my weekend.

There was no doom feeling, like ‘This is going to kill me’. I think because I have a medical background, I just thought, ‘Ok, I’ll have a lumpectomy or mastectomy, chemo and radiation, and I can deal with that’.

That’s the way my brain just switched on. I just thought ‘There’s only one way to survive this, and it’s to do what’s necessary. This is not going to kill me’.

The treatment

I had a double mastectomy with a reconstruction. I was pretty set on getting a mastectomy, but I had to get all the doctors to agree on the bilateral mastectomy with the reconstruction and implants straight away. We agreed that the one surgery was best for me. I didn’t need radiation, but I had five months of chemotherapy.

I also had fertility preservation before my surgery. My McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kate was really advocating for that to happen quite quickly. I got married, did the egg retrieval and embryo freezing and then the surgery. Kate was the first person who put that into my head. We’re such a young couple that fertility preservation was really significant, and Kate was just amazing at making that happen.

It all happened so quickly, which was good for me. I was really ready to have my surgery, and then post-surgery I was like, ‘Ok, I’m not in a hurry to get to chemo’. The chemo was hard and I definitely didn’t take feeling good for granted anymore. The last dose was especially tough with nausea. They call it the ‘red devil’ because it’s quite potent and not kind to your body, so the nausea is quite bad.

Chemotherapy finished in March 2022 and I’ve since been having Zolodex injections and Tamoxifen, which I’ll need to be on for the next 5-10 years.

Saying ‘I do’ before surgery

Our wedding was just incredible. That was the highlight of having Kate to support us… because our wedding was just incredible, and it was really a celebration rather than sadness, which I think she really helped facilitate.

We pushed our wedding day forward so it was before I was having surgery. We had nine days to plan it. Kate was like, ‘Holy moly… are you sure?’ and then just told us to focus on the wedding and she would take care of everything else. I felt so reassured because she was advocating for all our appointments and which surgeon I was going to see; all those types of things in the background so we could just focus on the day.

The day of the wedding my McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kate texted me to say good luck and to just enjoy it for what it was. That was really special.

The strength of support

I’m one of six kids. I have a huge family and I have a huge support system, and a really really good group of girlfriends. They threw a ‘ta ta to the tatas’ party for me before I had my mastectomy. I have a dark sense of humour, and in really hard situations I find the humour in things. And I think that helps. But I do think the hardest part is looking in your parents’ eyes and your husband and seeing their sadness and their worry. That’s the hardest thing, but they have been amazing.

My husband and I grew up in Atherton and my brothers and Pete have been part of the Atherton Cricket Club since they were kids. We had a ‘President Cup’ charity day there to raise money to go towards supporting cancer patients and we raised $9,100, which was outstanding.

I had a head shaving party after my first round of chemo, and we had a barbecue and a girlfriend shaved her head with me. She donated her hair to a charity that makes wigs for children which is amazing. I thought, ‘If I’m going to lose my hair I’m doing it on my own terms, I’m not sitting at home with my hair falling out on the pillow’.

And my emergency nurse colleagues at Cairns Base Hospital made a day every Wednesday where they wore pink scrubs in honour of breast cancer patients. They raised something like $4,900. And I have another friend who was making boob earrings. The support has just been incredible.

McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kate Tracy’s role in Phoebe’s recovery

I met Kate about a week after I was diagnosed. She was my first port of call. I didn’t even know there were McGrath Breast Care Nurses. She called me and said ‘so, these are your appointments’. I didn’t have private health insurance, so I wanted to go through the public system, and I was really torn about whether to stay in Cairns or go to Brisbane for treatment, and Kate was just there to facilitate it all for me. Kate did so much advocating for me and came to every appointment. Her advice and her knowledge was just incredible.

After every appointment Kate would take my husband and I to another room and go over what was said and how I was feeling. And with the surgery she was there to explain to my husband what the surgery was like, and what the recovery would be like. He would come home and be like, ‘Phoebe, she’s amazing… how great is it that we have this support, and we didn’t know it was even available to us.’ It was just incredible.

Kate made up packages of skin care that I would need during treatment and gave me a head scarf… it was just all the little things that you don’t think of. She always just has little goodies for you. But she’s also someone that I could just say ‘hang on, is this normal?’ to. She was the middle person that made it all run so smoothly.

I think she has made this experience so much better for me.

Present Day

Late last year I had an allergic reaction to the mesh in my implants, so I had to have them removed immediately. It was tough being back in hospital for that, but thankfully I recovered really well. It’s a process growing to love my flat chest.

I am currently on Tamoxifen, which I will need to be on for about 5-10 years. However, Tamoxifen puts your body into early menopause and Pete and are I are hoping to try for a family in the future, so in about two years we’ll pause Tamoxifen to give my cycle time to regulate. It’s still really important for us to have a family and I’m fortunate to feel safe enough to go off that medication in a few years.

We’re planning to move to Weipa this year, which is a small fishing town up in Far North Queensland. The last couple of years have just been so busy we need a breather. I’ll continue to work as a nurse up there and Pete can get a transfer with his job in education.

Going through breast cancer, we’re completely different people than we were before this experience. Cancer took a lot from me, but it has given me so much too.

It’s hard to describe but it changed the way I feel and think about almost everything in my life. It’s like all my senses have been turned to really start living.

Big Three Trek

This January, Pete and I walked 150km from Newcastle to the Sydney Cricket Ground, to raise money for McGrath Breast Care Nurses. Kate had such an impact on my experience, and I couldn’t have done it without her. Kate even joined me for the last 1km, so we could arrive at the Pink Test together.

This felt like the perfect way to give back, while getting outdoors and doing something challenging. 150km is a long way, but I was so excited to get started and then walk into the SCG on Day 1 of the Pink Test, with my husband and Kate by my side. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

McGrath Breast Care Nurse Kate on Phoebe

It was such a sad scenario for Phoebe and Pete to be in, having to bring their wedding forward. I remember saying to her and Pete, ‘Ok, for the next two weeks you are not allowed to talk or think about breast cancer. I’m going to do all the worrying, and then the week after the wedding, you can call me, and we’ll start talking about it then’.

I really wanted them to enjoy their wedding and the lead up to it, because I was only recently married as well. Phoebe is a similar age to me, and I just remembered back to my wedding day. It was really important that they could just enjoy that part of their life.

“They never expected that she would be getting a breast cancer diagnosis at 27, so I wanted them to be able to go away and enjoy that before they had to embark on the next chapter of their life together.”

Phoebe’s diagnosis has changed the path that Phoebe and Pete’s life will be on for the next couple of years. It’s not just the immediate things like having treatment. Their plan was to get married and have a baby later in the year. Which is why the fertility preservation was so important for her. As a young nurse, and as a young woman, we’re very proactive when it comes to something like that. It’s like ‘Let’s start the fertility now and get the ball rolling’, so the patient has the best outcomes if there are any problems.

It’s so rewarding to be able to empower our patients with their options of treatment and then advocating for them with what they want to do and what choices they have. Education and advocacy are the two most important parts of the job for me.

Phoebe is the youngest patient that I’ve ever had referred to me. I think she probably trusts me a lot and trusts that I have her best interests front of mind, and that I’m there to advocate for the things that are most important to her. She’s just amazing and so positive all the time.

The support of a McGrath Breast Care Nurse is a free service, no matter where you live. To find your nearest McGrath Breast Care Nurse, visit mcgrathfoundation.com.au/get-support/find-a-nurse.

Related articles