Just a few months ago, 33-year-old local doctor Ilaria Selguera was on top of the world. Married to Cuban-born Pilo – her soulmate, mum to a beautiful baby girl and co-owner of a thriving Latin American dance school on the Sunshine Coast, life couldn’t have been better.
Then, in March 2023, Ilaria’s world came crashing down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She had no family history of the disease, and was young, fit and healthy.
This was the last thing the vibrant health professional thought she would have to face.
“I was questioning myself for a couple of months because I wasn’t sure what I was feeling,” Ilaria says.
“It wasn’t even lumpy. It felt a little bit like scar tissue. In the beginning, I thought it was normal post-breastfeeding lumpiness in the breast. My daughter Chiara was turning one, I had just stopped feeding a few months prior, and I know your anatomy changes.
“I don’t have a family history. I’m young, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink much, so I thought from a medical point of view, it was very unlikely it was anything serious.
“That’s why it took me a while to book in with my GP.”
Ilaria says her GP and medical colleagues initially reassured her that the lump was very unlikely to be anything sinister. Fortunately, her GP acted on Ilaria’s concerns and sent her for an ultrasound immediately.
“I must admit I was second guessing myself. I felt I was probably exaggerating, clogging up the health system,” she says.
“My GP was amazing. He took me seriously, even though what he felt was not your textbook lump.”
Following her ultrasound, Ilaria was required to have a biopsy of the lump, and received the life-changing news from her doctor just a couple of days later. It’s a moment she recalls with vivid clarity.
“I remember I had my daughter with me at the appointment. I was about to go to work for an evening shift. It was a busy day and then everything just stopped. It was a horrible shock and realisation that things were going to be very different,” she says.
Since her initial diagnosis, the past six months have been a harrowing experience for English-born Ilaria and her family.
Having endured a bilateral mastectomy and a gruelling treatment regime, including chemotherapy and radiation, which is still ongoing, the brave young mum is passionate about sharing her story to highlight the importance of checking your breasts regularly – particularly younger women – and following your gut when it comes to your own body.
“It’s vitally important to check your breasts every month,” she says. “If you are concerned, you need to go to a GP you can trust and if they don’t take you seriously the first time, find someone else.”
Fortunately, Ilaria is on the final stretch of her treatment, with a few weeks of radiation to go. She is positive about the future and says the support of her medical team, the staff at Bloomhill charity, family, friends and her students and dance community has made the world of difference to her recovery, getting her through some of the darkest days of her life.
“If anyone has a friend or family member who is struggling with cancer treatment, the biggest help is practical help,” Ilaria says. “Students from our dance school set up a roster where they were cooking for us for months, delivering yummy meals we could freeze.
“Pilo was working a lot. I was off my food, but I also didn’t have the energy to cook and look after Chiara and financially we have been struggling so that was a huge help.”
And, like most people who have come through a traumatic, life-changing experience, Ilaria says her cancer journey has taught her not to sweat the small stuff, but to enjoy every day.
“I’m not letting the little things bother me as much because we have had so many more difficult things happen to us.
“Whether you are going through this or someone close to you is, I would advise you to do something nice every single day because it’s easy to get stressed by work and home life. It’s important to just appreciate the little things every day.”
Ilaria’s love of dancing, teaching and performing also helped her through some of the toughest times and her students are delighted to see her shining her light back on the dance floor.
A message from Professor Peter Baade, senior manager, Descriptive Epidemiology at Cancer Council Queensland
Cancer Council Queensland encourages women of all ages to become familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts at different times of the month.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women.
Between 2017 and 2021, there were an average of 3735 breast cancer diagnoses per year among Queensland women.
Of these, about 180 breast cancers, or about five per cent, were diagnosed among women aged under 40 years.
Five-year relative survival for women’s breast cancer is about 93 per cent, and almost 100 per cent for early (stage 1) breast cancer.
3 steps to being breast aware
- Become familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts.
- See a doctor if you notice any unusual changes in your breasts.
- If you’re aged 50 to 74, have a mammogram at BreastScreen every two years.
Previous studies have found that eligible women who did not have regular mammograms had a
78 per cent greater risk of being diagnosed with high-severity cancer than those who had mammograms biennially.
All eligible women over 40 are encouraged to start talking to their doctor about what screening is right for them.
Did you know?
After a mastectomy, many women may choose to have a breast reconstruction, which is surgery to rebuild the breast shape.
Revolutionary techniques such as areola tattooing are helping to give further confidence to enhance the end results.
Samantha Holmes, owner of Signature Cosmetic & Beauty at Maroochydore, says 3D areola and nipple tattooing is an art which uses multiple colours and techniques to recreate realistic-looking areolas. It is an accurate representation that looks three dimensional but is flat to touch.
“This semi-permanent procedure helps clients to finish their journey and gain back confidence. The treatment can be performed on flat breasts, natural breasts or reconstructed breasts as well as reconstructed nipples,” Ms Holmes says.
“We aim to recreate your existing areolas/nipples or we can design a new set to complement your new reconstructed breasts.”
The initial process takes about two hours and includes a consultation, measurements and placement, design, tattooing and photos.
Ngaire Roberts Breast Care Nurse Bursary launched
This National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Buderim Private Hospital has announced the inaugural recipients of the Ngaire Roberts Breast Care Nurse Bursary: Amy Nielsen and Karen Perren.
This bursary will provide specialised training and full fee support for Ms Nielsen and Ms Perren to complete a postgraduate certificate in breast care nursing through the Australian College of Nursing. In the future, they will provide Buderim Private Hospital breast cancer patients and Cindy Mackenzie Breast Cancer Program clients and their families with psychosocial and specialised, supportive care as they navigate their way through the challenges of their diagnosis and treatment.
Buderim Private Hospital general manager Shane Mitchell says the introduction of the bursaries is a major step forward for local patients struggling with a breast cancer diagnosis.
“The value of having your questions answered, expert advice given and important education provided from a compassionate and trusted professional cannot be underestimated,” he says.
The two bursaries are supported by the Buderim Private Hospital Auxiliary and the Cindy Mackenzie Breast Cancer Program. Ngaire Roberts was one of the founding members of Buderim Private Hospital. She was actively involved in the hospital community for 43 years and gave generously of her time, mind, heart and spirit.
As part of UnitingCare, the Buderim Private Hospital is owned by the Uniting Church and is the only not-for-profit provider of private hospital services on the Sunshine Coast.