ALL initial diagnoses had Streatham mother-of-four Kerrie Mulcahy looking at a death sentence. She was 42 years old.
Kerrie’s youngest, Sebastian, was 10 months old when she found a persistent raised vein in her breast that did not go away.
And the nightmare began for her whole family.
At first, Kerrie had thought she had fallen pregnant again but the vein persisted and the breast felt significantly heavier and larger than the other.
Doctors found a 12-centimetre tumour and with an MRI came an advanced cancer diagnosis.
At this point, Kerrie wants to stress women need to be vigilant about all breast changes as she has found too often women assume there must be a lump like a pea. Rather, any change could indicate breast cancer.
Kerrie immediately underwent a double mastectomy and received what she said was the best cancer diagnosis one could get.
Pathology results showed more than 90 per cent of the tumour was pre-cancerous and the remaining invasive cancer was grade one. There was also no cancer in her lymph nodes and the tumour proved slow-growing rather than aggressive.
But the trauma for her young family already ran deep.
“The silver lining was taken off every cloud after then,” Kerrie said. “For two years it was like I had the big word CANCER looming over me. It was a horror story I couldn’t get rid of.
“It was horrific for my children too – and sometime I feel children get left behind in the journey, what they are feeling...My husband Brendan was left picking up all the pieces. Brendan was looking after four young children and a farm and looking at the prospect of doing all that on his own.”
Kerrie is the face of a new television campaign to promote the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute’s Ballarat Cycle Classic.
The silver lining was taken off every cloud after then... It was a horror story I couldn’t get rid of.Streatham cancer survivor Kerrie Mulcahy
She tells her story in a bid to get as many people as possible to ride or walk the event in February because until there is a cure for cancer, Kerrie will never really feel any certainty.
She wants no family to have to experience what her family has felt, including all the lingering repercussions.
Emily was about four years old when she started asking if she could pray to save her mum’s life. Her mind was whirring through the practicalities of what she could do that might make a difference.
By six, Emily asked her mum whether she would need to have her breasts removed too when she grew up. Kerrie said such conversations were heartbreaking.
Before her diagnosis, Kerrie was the happiest she had ever been: married to a great guy; four active children; living on a farm; relishing work as a research officer at the Ararat hospital.
Cancer was a complete shock.
Despite her “best cancer diagnosis”, Kerrie still required chemotherapy, removal of her ovaries and is looking at ongoing treatment medication for the next decade because she was pre-menopausal when the cancer was found.
Cancer Council remains her go-to for support. The not-for-profit found the Mulchays qualified for a nanny – the 19-year-old who arrived at the farm took on all the children and helped Kerrie through her darkest times.
“I couldn’t really do anything. I was traumatised,” Kerrie said.
“Not only was I grappling with disfiguring surgery, I was losing my hair – my beautiful hair. I had terribly altered body image and that was really scary or the children as well.”
Cycling on family holidays helped gradually to turn the Mulcahy’s life around. The active young family enjoyed getting out and exploring together and this is how they will likely approach the Cycle Classic in February, riding as one.
Kerrie says it is only really now she is starting to feel a little like her self again. Mentally, the family was improving too and joy was shining into their lives once more.
Every three months Kerrie visits her specialist George Kannourakis, FECRI’s honourary director, for a check and every three months his response gives Kerrie more confidence.
When they last met, Professor Kannourakis told Kerrie the words she had been longing to hear for three months. She was out of the high-risk category for cancer to return.
“It’s really good to finally be in a safe place,” Kerrie said.
Cycle Classic details you need to know
FECRI’s new television campaign, featuring stories of Ballarat people affected by cancer, will air from Monday.
Ballarat Cycle Classic offers two family rides: a six-kilometre lap of Lake Wendouree or a 28km family adventure taking in the Yarrowee Trail.
There is also a 6km family and pet walk or run.
Mountain bikers have the option of a 30km or 50km extreme adventure course. The traditional road ride in 50, 60, 85 or 100km options each takes in the notorious Mount Buninyong road nationals climb.
Ballarat Cycle Classic is the primary fundraiser for FECRI, which is the only regional cancer research institute in Australia. FECRI does not receive government funding.
The Institute employs nine PhD students from Federation University and 10 senior scientific staff working primarily in research into chronic lymphoid leukemia, ovarian cancer, histiocytic diseases and immunology.
FECRI work has been recognised internationally in helping to solve the riddles of cancer.
Registrations for Ballarat Cycle Classic on February 17 are open online: ballaratcycleclassic.com.au.