Emma O'Neill was a fit and healthy new mum when she discovered a lump in her right breast.
The 35-year-old had just weaned her son Max from breastfeeding and assumed it may have been a blocked duct.
"About a month after I stopped breastfeeding Max I found a lump," Mrs O'Neill said. "I was feeling good and I self diagnosed myself as having a blocked duct."
However, when the lump began to grow, her husband Tom told her she needed to have it checked out by a doctor.
"I said 'you're probably right'."
The appointment was at the beginning of the first lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and was a telehealth consult.
The doctor organised an in-person appointment for her a few weeks later.
Mrs O'Neill said she never once considered that she had breast cancer.
"It wasn't painful - I thought I would be really sick if I had cancer," she said.
That's why it was such a shock when Mrs O'Neill received a call two days after an ultrasound and biopsy from her doctor.
"I thought 'that's not a good sign'."
Mrs O'Neill said the reality of the diagnosis didn't hit her until she walked into the home of her in-laws Barry and Lee O'Neill after receiving the news.
They were caring for her son Max - who was then one - while she visited her doctor.
"I looked at his face and I looked at their faces and that's when it hit me," Mrs O'Neill said.
Her doctor told her she needed chemotherapy and surgery and warned her it might result in her entering early menopause.
She was told to consider her options with regard to having more children and decided to go through a round of IVF to freeze her eggs.
"I went through a crash course of IVF with about two weeks of hormone injections and we were able to freeze about three embryos," Mrs O'Neill said.
"After that I went straight into chemo."
Mrs O'Neill went through eight cycles of chemotherapy.
She continued working at Northeast, Stockdale and Leggo and said her boss Matthew Northeast was incredibly supportive.
"He was so supportive," she said.
Mrs O'Neill said she considered herself lucky because she didn't experience major impacts from the chemotherapy.
"Of course I had the usual symptoms - fatigue and hair loss but I wasn't sick," she said.
In the last four rounds of chemotherapy, Mrs O'Neill experienced aching bones, but she knows it could have been a lot worst.
Mrs O'Neill said there were some difficult times during the journey.
Her husband bursting into tears when shaving her hair and looking at Max, now two, wondering if she would miss milestones such as his first day of school were particularly difficult.
But the support of family, including her mother Sue Ryan, and her young son's zest for life helped her get through even the toughest days.
At the conclusion of her chemotherapy, her doctor told her the tumour had shrunk.
She then underwent surgery and a mastectomy.
Mrs O'Neill was in hospital for a week and her son was only allowed to wave through the window due to strict COVID restrictions.
In October last year, her doctor told her that the surgery was a success - they were able to remove the entire tumour and the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes.
She was told to undergo radiation to reduce the chances of the cancer returning.
Mrs O'Neill said the cancer had changed her outlook on life and she had learnt to not sweat the small things.
"You think back on some of the superficial concerns you had and while they're valid, you don't linger on them," she said.
"You see the world a little brighter."
Mrs O'Neill said her health scare had also taught her that she had a great support system of family and friends.
"It's been overwhelming," she said.
Mrs O'Neill said she would be forever grateful to Vicki Jellie and her supporters, who helped Peter's Project get off the ground to allow cancer patients to receive treatment in Warrnambool.
Undergoing treatment in Warrnambool meant Mrs O'Neill could stay in her own home and her husband could continue working as apprentice electrician.
Mrs O'Neill urged anyone who found a lump in their breast to get it checked immediately.
"Don't put it off," she said.
"Don't think 'it won't happen to me'."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
- Bookmark https://www.standard.net.au/
- Make sure you are signed up for our breaking and regular headlines and newsletters.
- Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
- Tap here to open our Google News page.
- Join our Courts and Crime Facebook group and our dedicated Sport Facebook group