My July WOW Woman is, of course, an incredible woman that once again I’ve discovered on Twitter. Please welcome Audrey Birt the Scottish Director for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. 17 years ago Audrey was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer and again in 2011 a second malignant tumour was discovered. So once again Audrey has faced her fears and now regularly blogs on her life, her experiences with cancer and does this with openness, honesty and endless heart. I want to share Audrey’s positivity and inspire women to see that this diagnosis doesn’t stop life being lived.
So I’ll hand my blog over to Audrey to share more about her life and why I believe she is WOW.
Audrey my heartfelt thanks for joining me on my blog can you tell us what you’d like us to know about you?
Thanks so much for asking me to be your Wow woman Jayne. I don’t feel very wow, just an ordinary person trying to get through and make sense of things. I am married and the Mum of two grown up children and step mum and step grandmother too. I have recently moved back to Edinburgh, where many years ago I trained as a nurse. I have loved my professional life, from nursing, counselling to my role now as leader and campaigner as Director for Scotland of Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
With your more recent 2011 diagnosis, where you are in your treatment and how are you?
I had surgery last May, a wide local excision of my breast to remove the cancer. At the time I was advised I would go on to have a mastectomy but the pathology suggested that as the area was so small ( thankfully it was very early) that wasn’t necessary. I didn’t need chemotherapy and couldn’t have more radiotherapy, having had it before. I decided not to have hormone therapy at this stage. Earlier this year I had some reconstructive surgery as I was very imbalanced and needed to wear a prosthesis. As I was fortunate enough to be able to change that , I decided to have what I was advised was the least impactful surgery to make a difference. That required a reduction of my unaffected breast and lipofill or fat transfer in my left. I am now back to work having finished my convalescence from that and I think from all that last year threw at me. My surgeon tells me for the reconstructive surgery to be fully effective I need two more top ups. This requires taking fat and transferring it and it’s a general anaesthetic and extensive bruising for weeks. At the moment I really can’t and don’t want to face that. I feel much better about how I look and feel something of a dilemma again about what to do if I’m honest!
As a Mum what thoughts, if any, went through your mind at the first time of diagnosis and was the second time different for you?
I remember stacking up in my head all the milestones I wanted to make sure I was there for all the way into their adult lives. And of course there wasn’t a time ,I realised ,I thought it would be OK not to be there, that they wouldn’t need me. I was so fearful of letting them down and not being there for them. And second time around I think I have revisited that fear. Of course they are not 9 and 11 anymore and I couldn’t hide anything from them. The up side of course is that they have supported me and I have seen their wisdom, kindness and love which has sustained me.
How do you keep a smile on your face and maintain such a positive attitude to your life?
I hope I keep a smile on my face, I guess sometimes it slips, especially when I am tried but overall I treasure all the good parts of life. Savour every part. My blog has a section for reasons to be cheerful and there always lots!
What makes you laugh?
Humour that makes us laugh at ourselves really. The absurdities of life and the antics of our cat!
Who do you love to spend time with to keep you in a positive frame of mind?
I think my family especially but also friends are precious to me. My husband is good at encouraging me to do what I need to, usually that’s recognising when I need to rest before I do! My work colleagues and our supporters too are full of life and laughter as well as giving so much to a great cause.
How do you feel about life today?
I am so fortunate, I may have had two cancer diagnoses but I am still here and able to do what’s important to me. I have good people in my life who care about me and a working life that offers so much. My only wish is to have more hours in the day and more energy to enjoy it all.
Have you felt any differently about your body since your diagnosis the second time?
Yes when I had to wear the prosthesis I hated it! I felt less like me and encumbered by it. If I had had to keep it I would have adapted and accepted of course. But I am so grateful to be free of it. My next challenge is to get fitter again. But perhaps the biggest impact has been on my stamina, I do so want to get more stamina back.
What do you love about your years?
I am in my 50s now and in many ways I think it’s a great decade. There is the wisdom collected over all of life’s experience , a stage where my children are independent but still in my life , my career allows me to focus on what I am best at and I am more content with myself with all my flaws.
Who’s your inspiration or inspirations in life?
My children inspire me because I admire their talents and abilities and especially how they are there for each other and their friends. I have lovely friends who,in their personal and professional lives go the extra mile for others. And my husband inspires me in how he ensures he is there for his children and they know that. There are many others like the big figures like Mandela or Gandhi who saw a need for change a were not afraid to create it, I do find them inspiring but it’s the day to day kindnesses and examples of courage that really keep me inspired in my work.
Like me Audrey you lost your Dad to cancer, how has that affected your life?
Well I still miss him of course and it took him too early. He died when I was at my lowest ebb, just when I felt the need of his warmth and the ready twinkle in his eye. Because he died of cancer when i was being treated for it, I did worry that no matter how early my cancer was that would be my fate too. I guess it fed my fears. He also died worrying about how I would be, I wish I could have taken that away from him.
Working with cancer you might feel surrounded by the subject, how do you change your focus, if you do?
It’s hard of course but I work with great people and see the impact of our research and how it’s changing the future for cancer. Our supporters too are so inspiring that it feels an honour to work with them and represent them when I can. My blog is , in part, my way to creat a boundary between work and life. But I think mostly I try to invest in my time with friends and family and appreciate the wonderful part of the world I live in too.
Tell us one thing that you appreciate about yourself?
I am really interested in people and love enjoying the natural world around us.
What advice do you give to a woman who finds a lump in her breast? Don’t be scared and get it checked straight away. Also learn our TLC message as breast cancer can have signs other than a lump.
Finally what are you personally most proud of achieving in your life?
Trying to make a difference in all I do. And most recently in this job with Breakthrough Breast Cancer if I have helped others affected by breast cancer through supporting our research, through campaigning for change and helping them know how to reduce their risk and to spot a cancer early then my experience will have been put to good use.
There’s no ‘try’ about you Audrey, you are doing it and thank you for your tremendous efforts and for allowing us to come into your life and share in your story. You are very much a woman of worth, what WOW stands for! Thank you so much and we wish you well, that’s all of us.