Single mum with stage 3 breast cancer lost all feeling in her legs
I’m a single mum and was diagnosed with cancer at 48 – these are the three warning signs I had over six weeks that meant something was terribly wrong
- Emma Gierschick, from Victoria, shared her breast cancer journey
- She noticed a lump on her breast in the shower and developed an itchy armpit
A single mum who was was handed a shock stage three breast cancer diagnosis at 48 has revealed the symptom she ignored for six weeks that could have been fatal.
Emma Gierschick, from Victoria, was showering in August, 2015, when she felt a ‘strange’ lump in her left breast.
However, as a busy mum of an active three-year-old little girl, she brushed off the symptom and soon forgot about it.
It wasn’t until six weeks later when Emma had dramatically lost 18kg and developed a ‘random’ itch under her armpit did she decide to visit a doctor.
‘I was so scrawny, all my clothes were falling off,’ she told FEMAIL. ‘I had no idea my life was about to get so much worse.’
A single mum who was was handed a shock stage three breast cancer diagnosis at 48 has revealed the symptom she ignored for six weeks that could have been fatal
The symptoms I missed
- Itchy armpit
- Weight loss
- ‘Strange’ lump
‘The weight loss didn’t bother me at the time – I thought it was because I wasn’t eating as much. But the itchy armpit really stumped me.’
Emma originally believed she was allergic to scented soap or deodorant, so she stopped using them but the itch persisted.
‘My doctor recommended that we do whole heap of tests while I was there – blood tests, pap smear, breast check – and that’s when she found the lump,’ she said.
‘I suddenly remembered my shower six weeks prior.’
Emma’s GP scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound later that morning and got results back the same day. It was at a time when she was juggling her unwell little girl’s health appointments and a house move.
‘When I realised it was Stage 3 breast cancer, I wasn’t worried for my life at first. I just thought, how am I going to deal with this on top of everything?’ She said.
It wasn’t until six weeks later when Emma had dramatically lost 18kg and developed a ‘random’ itch under her armpit did she decide to visit a doctor
Emma bought several colourful wigs when she started chemotherapy because she was worried about her daughter’s reaction to her suddenly being bald.
‘I couldn’t tell her what was going on. I wanted to make her life easier, so the colourful wigs became a game.’
Emma started to feel extremely unwell after her second chemotherapy appointment and she struggled to keep up with her daughter’s everyday routine.
‘A couple of days after treatment, I took Amelia to her swimming lesson and got in the water – which was a terrible idea due to my lowered immunity.
‘I woke up with a really sore throat the next day and I found myself unable to stand. I suddenly couldn’t walk, I’d lost all feeling in my legs.’
Emma went to the hospital and ended up being admitted for almost three weeks because she had developed proximal myopathy and peripheral neuropathy. This meant she had nerve damage to her lower legs and muscle damage to her thighs.
‘I was crawling everywhere at the time, and my daughter didn’t understand why. She thought I was playing ‘horse’ and kept trying to climb on my back so that I’d take her around,’ she said
‘I kept asking them when I’d get feeling in my legs back, and no one could give me a conclusive answer. They didn’t even know if I’d ever be able to walk again.’
Eight years later, Emma still has trouble walking and sometimes needs to use a frame.
‘I was crawling everywhere at the time, and my daughter didn’t understand why. She thought I was playing ‘horse’ and kept trying to climb on my back so that I’d take her around,’ she said.
‘She was constantly poking and prodding at me, but I didn’t know how to explain it to her.’
Emma started gaining feeling in her legs again five months after the original shock, but it was years before she could walk a kilometre without falling down.
Being a single mum to her child, who was suffering health issues related to her down syndrome, was her main priority despite the side effects.
Being a single mum to her child, who was suffering health issues related to her down syndrome, was her main priority despite the side effects
‘I always had to put her first,’ Emma said. ‘I was extremely ill one night and kept vomiting. Amelia heard me and became extremely concerned, and I had to reassure her that I was fine.’
‘But I’ve never smiled as much in my life as I did during my cancer. I was fighting for my life, and there wasn’t an option to lose.
‘I couldn’t die, I had to be alive for my daughter.’
The cancer treatment took 12 months to complete and thankfully, it was successful despite lasting side effects.
Emma was cleared by her oncologist in March 2023, but urges all women to stay diligent with their health and to see their GP if they feel the slightest change in their body.
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