October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. As part of its offering for the campaign, The Australian Filipina is featuring the story of Edna Dado Wacher. A resident of Woongarah in the Central Coast, which is about an hour and a half's drive north of Sydney, Edna is a passionate community servant in her local area and was named Citizen of the Year in 2014 by the Wyong Shire Local Council.
Edna is a breast cancer survivor. Now a healthy six one year old grandmother of one, she was only forty five years old when she diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankful for her remission, she had involved herself in Cancer Council ‘s fundraising campaigns. From 2006 each year she participated in Australia ‘s Biggest Morning Tea, Daffodils Day, Pink Ribbon and Relay for Life.
We are glad to share her responses to a few questions about herself and her battle and victory over breast cancer. She aims to give hope to breast cancer sufferers and their loved ones.
When and how you found out you had breast cancer and your reaction to being told you had cancer?
I actually found a lump accidentally. I was at a meeting with the girls when at one point, I stretched my arms upward and when I scratched my chest, I felt a lump. I told my girlfriends about it, so they asked me to have it checked right away. I had a routine mammogram but the pea shape lump did not show. My doctor urged for me to have an ultrasound, right then and there, and have a fine needle biopsy. That was done on a Friday in December 2004, and I was about to fly to Manila on the Sunday that week. So doctor said, it should be fine.
After a week, my GP contacted me as she said she was not happy with the result of the fine needle biopsy and they wanted to do a further tests; thus urged me to go back to Australia asap. Without hesitation, I caught the first flight back I could get. My GP immediately sent me to the first available specialist. I tell you, it was not good to be sick during December because most doctors were on holiday too. I was lucky to have an Oncologist Surgeon who too ordered immediately another test.
I remember I was sitting calmly in his clinic when he broke the news that the result showed that it was carcinoma. I felt a rush of coldness in my blood as if someone threw a bucket of ice cold water on me. I was frozen. unable to talk but just had tears in my eyes. The doctor noticed it, and said, "O c'mon Edna you know God don't you? You're from Philippines right, so you are a Christian; start praying now". This may sound too religious, but throughout my treatment regime, I encountered a lot of Christian medical professionals and I must say God is so faithful in His words, "He will never leave us nor forsake us".
The changes in my life after cancer journey, I became more mindful of my self care. I recognised that I am not a super woman that I am allowed to rest and have holiday, enjoy my life, my family. I identified my priorities in life and just have a life worth living.
What treatment did you receive and for how long was the treatment?
I first had lumpectomy - that is removal of lump within the breast; had nodal dissection, took few of my lymph nodes to check if there is any involvement in the tissue in the armpit.
I had six course of chemotherapy and seven weeks (everyday) of radiation therapy. Thereafter, I was put on Adjuvant therapy for another 5 years. I am now being checked every year by the Breast Screen NSW.
The gruesome effects of chemo and radiation that I experienced intermittently were fatigue, skin irritation, nausea, metallic taste, hair loss , neutropenia which lowers the white blood cells that can be fatal; two times my organs nearly shut down as infection get into my body; thankfully medical intervention with strong dose of antibiotics I overcame this life threatening condition
What impact did the sickness have in your personal and family life, work and other activities?
A diagnosis of breast cancer in any family, came with emotional challenges, changes in everyday routine, financial hurdles and relationship difficulties. My children were very young then. I had to take them to school, go to work and attend to household needs. But those workload became too much to carry on that I had to take a leave from work and get a family member to assist me with the children and the household chores.
When I was able to, I participated in fundraising activities of the Cancer Council. It is the least I can do as I have been given another chance to live and be healthy again.
What advice would you give to those who may have just been told they have breast and those who are having treatment and may be feeling down because of the difficulties of the treatment they are having?
We all have different ways in our responses to life crisis. I would like to say to them: you are allowed to feel every emotional difficulties you are going through, especially the roller coaster effect of the gruelling chemotherapy and other treatments. Just make yourself a priority, the family can carry through the tasks that were yours before.
Stay positive, be with encouraging friends. For me, prayer is the most important weapon at all times, especially when things go wrong.
What would you consider fondly to be your achievements?
I think my greatest achievement is winning my battle against breast cancer and being given the chance to further serve the community.
I also consider having my baby grandson as a great achievement in life as I am very fond of him and he gives me so much joy.
What challenges have you faced and overcome?
The first challenge in life that I faced and had to overcome was the death of my baby daughter in February 1993. She was a stillborn and the great devastation shook me to the core of my body. I coped just accepting that there would have been a good reason for it. Maybe she was being saved from suffering an illness later in her life. I also now have an angel looking after us.
The second challenge that I faced and survived was breast cancer. I have had a roller coaster ride from the diagnosis, the treatment phase and still here sixteen years on.
What else do you wish to accomplish in life?
Before I retire, I would like to see EQUIP Realtor Pty Ltd, to be a successful company, that I could pass through my next generation. This is only a vehicle towards my dream to establish a supported accommodation for elderly, because I can see a lot in my age group do not have a family in Australia.
When you ask our seniors where they want to retire, some want to go back to Philippines; others, would rather stay in Australia but scared to enter the nursing home. Also for us when we reach our twilight years, it is nice that we have a place to go and not become a burden to our children.
What is your definition of "success"?
Success for me is the climax of any endeavour we have in life. It is the reward for all the hard work and sacrifices we do, not necessarily for our personal benefit but for a greater aim.
ABOUT EDNA DADO WACHER
Edna Dado Wacher was born in Quezon City, Philippines. Her late father was from Bicol and her surviving 91 year old mother is from Bohol, in the Visayan province of the Philippines. She has three sisters and three brothers, and with her coming third to the eldest.
She finished her Bachelor of Psychology in the Philippines before migrating to Australia in 1988. She and her two children, aged 3 and 1 came on an independent category visa which is now equivalent to Skilled Visa. She is now with her partner, retired doctor Richard Reid and have four adult children and her first grandchild, a new addition to her family.
In the Philippines, she worked in many firms such as : Dynamic Speech Philippines, Dynamic Human Resource Developers then worked with a prestigious socio civic organisation Pugad Lawin Philippines Inc - helping out the disadvantaged members of our community through projects like Gamutan Sa Baranggay; Pamaskong Handog food drive and providing services during calamities.
When she settled in Australia, she still had the desire to be of service to the community, in particular, our kababayans. So she studied Diploma in Community Services (Welfare) to enhance her skills in the Australian standard and services. She was then employed as the first Community Settlement Services Scheme (CSSS), a Multicultural project funded by the then Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). This role was vital in supporting the newly arrived migrants in their first five years in Australia who were settling in Central Coast area.
After ten years of serving the culturally and linguistically diverse communities, she was employed by the Central Coast Northern Sydney Central Coast Health as Multicultural Health Development Officer for eleven years. Her selfless service to the community was duly recognised with the award Citizen of the Year in 2014 by the Wyong Shire Local Council.
At the same time she studied Immigration Law at Victoria University. After achieving a Registered Migration Agent and her love of learning, she also studied Diploma in Real Estate and earned a Class 1 licence.
The Australian Filipina congratulates and thanks Edna for sharing her inspirational story. We also wish those battling breast cancer complete healing and joy for the years to come.