Purple badge of courage

Kirby Bardsley, this year’s Purple Bra Day ambassador, has a family history of cancer. Picture: Elle Borgward d401608
Kirby Bardsley, this year’s Purple Bra Day ambassador, has a family history of cancer. Picture: Elle Borgward d401608

The Purple Bra Day ambassador was diagnosed 10 months to the day after her older sister Kylie died from cancer.

‘Self exams were something I’d never really done; I just happened to be in the shower bathing one day and there it was,’ she said.

‘Because of my family’s history with cancer I went straight to the GP; she checked it out and agreed that it was worth getting tested.’

A second lump was found in her armpit.

She was diagnosed with medium stage breast cancer and underwent surgery to remove the lumps and all her lymph nodes.

More surgery to sweep for cancerous cells will take place next month before radiotherapy.

Kirby’s chemotherapy treatment, which finished last Wednesday, was delayed seven weeks after she developed two life-threatening infections that left her in intensive care on her sister Kylie’s birthday and again on the anniversary of her death.

Kylie’s disease began as endometrial cancer in 2007. She was given the all-clear until it returned in her liver and lungs two-and-half years ago. She died on January 6, 2012, a week after her 37th birthday.

Then, three months ago Kirby’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Due to the rarity of breast cancer diagnosis at her age and the family history, Kirby is waiting on test results to see if she has the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which could mean she’s at a higher risk of contracting ovarian cancer. Kirby has a 30 per cent chance of developing further cancer.

‘Unfortunately not everyone’s eligible for free genetic testing on the public system. It comes down to your genetic history and age,’ she said.

‘Even a lot of women who have histories of breast cancer in their families aren’t eligible ” grandmothers, aunts, great grandmothers all passed and they aren’t eligible.’

Knowing treatment could render her infertile, the Bardsleys chose to freeze eggs and embryos. Heartbreakingly, the treatment failed and they have been left with ‘no back-up’.

An elective mastectomy ” which was thrust into the spotlight this month after actress Angelina Jolie had both breasts removed ” is an option, pending the results of her gene tests.

Supportive friends and family ” particularly those who appreciated her desire to have a sense of humour about her illness rather than urging her to ‘stay positive’ ” and her ‘amazing’
husband are her solace.

After joining a Facebook support group for women under 40 with cancer, Kirby met a Kwinana woman who introduced her to Breast Cancer Care WA, a provider of free breast care nurses and support
to patients and their families.

Her family raised $5000 for BCCWA in four weeks earlier this year. Kirby is an ambassador for the group’s Purple Bra Day on June 21.

‘It’s free to register and they send you out a free bra with a kit featuring posters if you need them. You can fund raise as an individual or a team.

‘Do it through your workplace, just get a collection tin together or host an event on the day,’ she said.

Her team ‘Kirby’s Booby Brigade’ hope to raise $2000.

Kirby urged women of all ages to check their breasts every month.

Before her diagnosis, a doctor told her the lump she’d found in her armpit was related to period hormones.

‘If you’re not happy with the answer they give you either demand tests or go see another doctor ” don’t sit back on it,’ she said.

‘A lot of doctors for women under 35 or under 40 will just tell you that it’s related to your period or stress.

‘My sister may still be here if she’d taken her health a bit more seriously; she either didn’t want to see a doctor or was too embarrassed or unsure if it was normal or not.’

Purple Bra Day is June 21. Visit www.breastcancer.org.au/ for information or to donate.