Tackling challenges of breast cancer head on

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Launceston breast cancer survivor Susie Gatto will participate in the Pink Guard of honour at Aurora Stadium for the match between Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs on Sunday. Picture: MARK JESSERLAUNCESTON’S Susie Gatto has not only fought off breast cancer once, but twice.

Her first diagnosis came in 2002 when living in the Queensland mining town of Mount Isa, where there were limited services and support networks.

Ms Gatto, 55, defeated the disease with radiation treatment and lumpectomy. She returned to Launceston in 2005.

However, almost 10 years on from her first diagnosis, she was told three years ago that it had returned in a more aggressive form.

Ms Gatto’s family has no history of breast cancer, nor had she been around someone going through the gruelling treatment.

“It was a different type of cancer, but still breast cancer, and I had chemotherapy and adjuvant treatment,” she said.

“Initially in 2002 it was difficult to cope with being something totally new to me; and you always think that it’s never going to happen to you – it’s always somebody else.

“I was healthy, fit and it happened to me.

“It is a very big challenge mentally because initially you are thrown into the state of disbelief and you’re numb.

“From when you are told it is like you are walking around numb for a couple of weeks.

“I was playing the same cassette in the car and I suddenly realised I had been playing it for a week and a half.

“It is like you’re stuck in a time warp.”

Ms Gatto found, like many others diagnosed with cancer, that it was very confronting for close family members.

She said it was easier to keep her distance throughout her treatment.

“My sister Lindy was a massive help coming to most treatments with me,” she said.

“There were challenges of getting through it, there were lots of issues to do with support and also trying to get through it in the best way that you could without trying to involve so many other people.

“Other people’s reactions were sometimes negative, which then made it more difficult for me.

“I wanted my privacy and didn’t want other people knowing about it while I was going through it.

“There is the physical things too like losing your hair, you put on weight from the treatment, you feel very tired and you find the ones who are close to you can’t cope.

“They (family) find it really challenging so for them it is easier to probably retreat.

“It is surprising and then you get strangers, because they are not quite as close, they are able to be more helpful.”

Ms Gatto is in remission and has regular medical check ups.

She said Sandra Mackrell from the Launceston Cancer Support Centre was extremely helpful throughout her battle.

Ms Gatto will take part in the Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs Pink Ribbon Match guard of honour on Sunday for the third consecutive year, with close friends Rhonda and John Velis.

“I do it out of respect for the ladies that have been through cancer, the men, anybody that has been given a cancer diagnosis in the past and even those for the future,” she said.

“I know firsthand how your life can be affected.

“Also to raise awareness to the spectators that cancer is a problem that isn’t going to be going away – it is always going to be in everyone’s faces.

“Hopefully one day we are going to find a cure for all cancer and I encourage people to give at least once a year, no matter the amount.”

Money raised will go to Cancer Council Tasmania to continued cancer research, education and support programs for Tasmanians.

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