Breast cancer awareness: Judy Haley’s story

Brave: Judy Haley after shaving her head. photograph supplied

Alyssa Fritzlaff

WHEN Traralgon woman Judy Haley was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2021 it
was unexpected.

“It’s a matter of having a positive mind, it is a big shock – it’s your life being turned upside down,” she said.

Mrs Haley, 55, discovered she had the disease after getting her annual flu vaccination, she had a sore arm and upon checking it noticed a lump on her breast.

She was diagnosed with Stage Two invasive carcinoma.

She said it was a massive shock for her four sons and many grandchildren, whom she has always been very involved with.

When diagnosed, Mrs Haley was not due for her mammogram, which she has always done regularly since having a hysterectomy at a young age.

Suddenly, she went from working full-time at Big W, to not at all.

However, she said her colleagues have been very supportive since her diagnosis and even ran a fundraiser to help her out.

“I do have a job to go back to, they’ve been a great support as well. They are a fantastic group to work for,” she said.

This is not her first experience with cancer, Mrs Haley’s late husband was diagnosed with melanoma in 2014.

At this time she was living in Queensland, which she said was a very different experience to Victoria.

Mrs Haley said more assistance should be provided for Victorians with breast cancer and their families.

“My experience in Queensland was that these cancer awareness companies actually have funds for families … they pay your registration and any bills you may have,” she said.

“I’ve gone from working fulltime to having nothing.

“I’m just struggling through with Centrelink, and that’s all. I don’t have a wage anymore and my kids have got their own families to support and house payments and things.

“There needs to be breast cancer awareness, breast cancer is like the flu – there’s so much of it around. And Victoria doesn’t have a very large support network for breast cancer.”

Mrs Haley feels there is a significant gap in breast cancer fundraising in Victoria.

“Yes, we want to raise money for cancer research – but also raise money to help families… these families that are suffering,” she said.

Despite this, she has had a very positive experience with local healthcare.

Mrs Haley cannot praise Latrobe Regional Hospital’s Cancer Care Centre enough and said they been “absolutely fantastic” throughout her treatment.

“They’re a wonderful bunch of people,” she said.

After her surgeries Mrs Haley required home visits for a period of time and said the LRH staff were very helpful.

Mrs Haley is undergoing a potent six-month course of chemotherapy, and after her second appointment already started losing her hair.

This week, she decided it was time to shave her head.

It has been a confusing experience for her young grandchildren, who now ask their Nan where her beautiful burgundy coloured hair has gone.

“We are very open with the grandkids, and I think that’s best,” Mrs Haley said.

The pandemic has made it even harder for Mrs Haley, as she has not been able to connect with her extended family and friends.

She also has to rely on her immediate family help her with things like grocery shopping, as she has a weakened immune system from chemotherapy.

“I’m pretty much confined to home, and just doing some little craft projects,” she said.

Mrs Haley encouraged women to get tested, and test themselves regularly at home

“Any tiny little lump – just get it tested. The only setback I feel that might put women off is the cost… I really think that the government or Medicare should cover mammograms,” she said.

She very much appreciates all the support from her family, friends, and staff at LRH.