A silver lining: how friendship formed from cancer

In August 2019, Chloë Lamont arrived in Adelaide with husband Kyle. 

Kyle had an excellent work opportunity and the couple decided to leave their home in New Zealand and embark on a new adventure in Australia.

Just six weeks later, shortly after her 30th birthday, Chloë was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It’s really uncommon for women to be diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30,” says Chloë.

“If you asked a woman in their 30s, or younger, ‘what do you know about breast cancer?’ They’ll say, ‘well the awareness month is in October and the colour is pink’. There is really not much more to it, so it was quite shocking.”

Around the same time, 34-year-old Jude McArthur was dealing with a similar diagnosis.

“I had just moved from Melbourne back to Adelaide, got out of a long-term relationship and started a new job. I was just getting my life back on track and then I get diagnosed with cancer,” says Jude.

“I was devastated.”

Both young women were referred to Flinders for a whirlwind of appointments, tests and treatments. They were forced to confront issues they had never thought about, like fertility and mastectomy.

Some breast cancer treatments can affect a woman’s fertility. Jude was grateful to be given the option of IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment, but found the experience as a young, single woman dealing with a cancer diagnosis traumatic.

“I remember going to the IVF clinic … everyone was partnered up and I was sitting there by myself knowing I was there for a completely different reason. It was really upsetting,” says Jude.

Jude and Chloë began treatment at Flinders within weeks of one another.

They had different types of breast cancer and different courses of treatment. Jude required multiple surgeries, including a mastectomy and 16 cycles of chemotherapy.

Jude will undergo more surgery in the future to reconstruct her breast.

“My self-worth plummeted a little bit (following the mastectomy),” says Jude.

“It’s really hard … how you see yourself as a woman and sexually and that’s why, for me, the reconstruction process is so important. I’m very grateful that I can have reconstruction and I’m not out of pocket for it either.”

After a full round of IVF treatment, Chloë had chemotherapy, a partial mastectomy and six weeks of radiotherapy. 

Both Chloë and Jude experienced hair loss as a result of chemotherapy. This was the point Chloë struggled to maintain her upbeat approach to cancer. Despite struggling with “looking sick”, Chloë never contemplated wearing a wig to cover her bald head until a chance encounter with ‘Marilyn’.

“I remember being in the city with Kyle and we were just wandering, passing a bit of time. We walked past a wig shop and I’ll never forget seeing this wig on the counter … it was like something out of a movie, the lighting was just right and it was just this perfect beam,” says Chloë.

“I said to Kyle, ‘that’s my wig’. Somebody said that she (the wig) reminded her of Marilyn Monroe, so I named her Marilyn. Having Marilyn meant that I could just feel a bit normal. I could still go down to the mall and just be incognito. I didn’t want people to stare, and think why doesn’t she have any hair? I actually don’t think I could’ve got through it without her (Marilyn), to be honest.”

One day when Chloë was sitting in the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC), she saw a young woman impeccably dressed and wearing a head scarf.

“When you’re in an oncology suite, you’re the youngest person by 50 years which is scary. To see this beautiful young woman walk in was bit of relief like, she can do it, so I can do it too,” says Chloë.

Despite this, Chloë and Jude didn’t meet until they attended an event through a Facebook support group for young women with breast cancer in Adelaide.

“We were all talking and then it just clicked! I said, ‘Jude, you’re the one sitting two chairs down from me in FIS (Flinders Infusion Suite)’,” says Chloë.

“The only silver lining to having cancer was meeting Jude and our support team.”

Out of the worst experience in their lives, Jude and Chloë have developed a beautiful friendship and helped their Facebook support group grow from fewer than 10 members to more than 100.

Jude and Chloë are both in remission and grateful for the care they received at Flinders.

“From the surgeon to the Breast and Endocrine Unit, the IVF Clinic, and seeing the oncologist and starting chemo, it was seamless,” says Chloë.

“It was easy, and there was a level of trust. I knew that they were doing the best for me.”

Both women formed a special connection with Amanda Jones, who is the Advanced Nurse Consultant in the Breast and Endocrine Unit at Flinders Medical Centre. Each year, around 7,500 women and men attend the Breast and Endocrine Unit at Flinders for appointments, tests and support for breast cancer. Chloe says Amanda became her “directory”.

“Honestly, I have so much love and affection for that woman (Amanda),” she says.

“If I didn’t know how to deal with a side effect, or if something odd was happening … I just called Amanda immediately. There was no second thought about who I was going to talk to, or how I was going to find the answer. If anyone was going to know, Amanda would.”

Jude also bonded with staff in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Department at Flinders.

“When I’ve been riddled with anxiety before an operation, or not mentally okay getting chemotherapy the nurses and staff have been very supportive, gentle kind and empathetic. They make the world of difference,” says Jude.

“Andrea Smallman was one of my plastics nurses, who I’ve had throughout the whole experience. Like Amanda, Andrea has been incredibly supportive and always a joy to see.”

Chloe and Jude still live with daily reminders of breast cancer. They experience symptoms from fatigue, chronic pain and lymphoedema to the side-effects of chemically induced menopause. Jude also requires more surgery.

Then there is the knowledge that their cancer could return at any time.

“We all have this fear of reoccurrence – the ‘scanxiety’ when we have to get scans,” says Jude.

“Research into breast cancer and all types of cancer is so important. Even in the short time that Chloë and I went through treatment, there were advances.

“I was one of the first patients at Flinders to use the ‘cold cap’, which helps prevents hair loss during chemotherapy. Chloë was able to use stickers to guide her radiotherapy, rather than having tattoos on her body as a permanent reminder of her treatment.

“With more research, I’m hoping that – if I am re-diagnosed with cancer – by then it won’t be a death sentence.”

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