Breast cancer survivor tells her story to help fellow firefighters

November 6th, 2023Breast cancer survivor tells her story to help fellow firefighters

A CFA volunteer firefighter and breast cancer survivor has shared her story and the support she received with the hope she can help others in a similar situation.

A CFA volunteer firefighter and breast cancer survivor has shared her story and the support she received with the hope she can help others in a similar situation.

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, last month, Dandenong volunteer Rachel Rendall wanted her fellow CFA firefighters to be aware of the financial support available to them through the State Government’s presumptive rights compensation scheme, which assisted her during the fight for her life.

Rachel Rendall has been a CFA volunteer firefighter since 2004. She discovered her devastating cancer diagnosis in June 2022 which turned her world upside down.

“It was a shock to hear the news. There is no family history of cancer. I was worried about how I would cope during treatment and what my prognosis would be,” Rachel said.

“My treatment began in July 2022 and I completed active treatment last month. I’m now considered ‘cancer free’ and I’m currently celebrating this milestone in Scotland with family.”

Prior to Rachel’s diagnosis, she was aware of the presumptive rights available for a list of cancers, but she assumed it was mostly applicable to men. It was her 1st Lieutenant who encouraged her to investigate, and they found that breast cancer was one of the listed cancers.

She promptly applied for compensation by submitting her medical records and her case was successful.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how simple and quick the process was,” Rachel said.

“I believe I’m one of the first female CFA volunteers to receive compensation through the presumptive rights scheme and I began to wonder if, like me, other women weren’t aware they could qualify.

“I really want to encourage other women to apply, as it has made a huge difference to the financial and personal stresses that go with treatment.

“I really hope my story helps other women with their cancer journey and I hope the process is as smooth as it was for me.”

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said the presumptive rights scheme is important legislation for our members who are suffering a firefighting-related cancer or may be impacted by cancer in the future.

“I’m really pleased to hear how successful this process was for Rachel and other firefighters who have also benefited from the scheme,” CO Heffernan said.

“The State Government recently announced the addition of three more cancers which means 15 types of cancer are now on the list, further supporting the lives of our firefighters.”

Presumptive compensation means an eligible firefighter doesn’t have to prove that firefighting is the cause of their cancer when they make a claim.

Beck’s simple message: #Checkyourboob

April 27th, 2023Beck’s simple message: #Checkyourboob

BECK Lewis has breast cancer, but she doesn’t want your sympathy. She wants you to check your boobs. And that’s you blokes as well.

BECK Lewis has breast cancer, but she doesn’t want your sympathy. She wants you to check your boobs. And that’s you blokes as well.
In October last year, the 41-year-old was happily looking forward to a few
weeks of long service leave, after working as a casual for seven years, mostly at That
Bargain Place, and also Brick Lane Bazaar, both in Daylesford.
But finding “a weird lump” in her underarm eventually put paid to some much-earned time off. Beck knew something was not quite right but friends and family told her she was too young to worry about breast cancer.

“Many people told me it was just a cyst and I was overreacting,” she said.
Beck put the doctor’s visit off for six weeks but after feeling it again, and knowing
in the back of her mind she had to take action, made the call. It was just as well she
“I had an ultrasound and the woman doing it was all chatty and there seemed to
be no worry about that lump but then she went a bit quiet after finding another one
in the upper part of my breast. A week later I got a call to go to Ballarat Base Hospital
for more scans and they booked me in for an ultrasound which led to multiple
mammograms and more ultrasounds. And in the afternoon, a half hour core biopsy
followed by another mammogram after inserting a tiny marker, called a magseed. You
know then something is really wrong.”
One week later, on January 19, Beck returned to see a doctor. She and her very
supportive partner Aaron Reading waited 40 minutes, and just as he left for a quick
toilet break, the doctor walked in with a McGrath Foundation breast nurse to share
the bad news. She asked them to wait for Aaron’s return.
“That is when the shock set it and I didn’t really know what shock was before
that. I remember looking at the wall, trying to process everything, this was happening
to me, looking at the wall again, trying to process again. I was shaking and then the
tears came. I didn’t want them to, they just came. They told me 10 women received
the same news as me, in that building, that day.”
Beck was fast-tracked for surgery just four days later with no time to think about
the future. “I just knew I had cancer and it was coming out. During the ultrasound it
was measured at 16mm but when it was removed it was 20mm. I was told it had been
growing for 10 years, since the age of 31, and had just started to spread over the past
two or three years.
“There are three grades – one, two and three, and I had grade two, not good or
bad but because I got it relatively early they said it was 99.9 per cent curable. If it had
been grade 3 things would be very different. Because I got in early, I avoided chemo.
And the radiation is really, just to quote the medical people, to ‘mop up’ anything left
after surgery.”
Beck had a week off work, thanks to that hard-earned long service leave, and
then went back to work on light duties for six weeks, waiting and getting ready for
radiation treatment. “I had to have 19 treatments in total. Fifteen plus four, they call
it. The last four are a different technology, stronger. And the radiation takes place
every day except weekends and public holidays. Having Easter and Anzac Day public
holidays have extended my treatment.”
Beck is now down to her last few treatments this week and while her breast is red
and raw, and likely to start blistering, she does not have pain which she thinks might
be because she takes daily antihistamine tablets for a skin issue.
Having daily radiation treatment has “thrown a spanner in the works” to say the
least for the woman used to getting up, getting things sorted and getting to work.
Daily trips to Ballarat from Hepburn Springs and back, and waiting for treatment
while talking to other patients or reading a book, are not much fun. Less so when
one of the two radiation machines breaks down, as happened recently. Despite any
malfunctions, Beck is quick to add she has huge admiration for those working at the
Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Care unit.
It is probably not as much admiration as those around have for her and the way
she has taken on her diagnosis and treatment – also taking time for daily updates on
social media under #checkyourboobs – with the eye-catching eight-ball emojis. They
have already led to many people leaving messages of not just support but “just got my
boobs checked – thanks Beck!”.
“I really just want people to check their boobs. Men as well. And if anything feels
wrong then go to the doctor, check it out. Follow your intuition, you know your
body. And if people say you are too young, or too old, or too healthy, just ignore that
and get checked. Don’t put it off. It could save your life.”
Oddly, given all she is still doing to give back with her message while going
through treatment, Beck said she had been surprised by the support from her
community, friends and family. It’s coming in spades.
“I really want to thank the community, no need to name anyone, they know
who they are. And my workplaces, That Bargain Place – I love that place, and Brick
Lane Bazaar, have been wonderful. My thinking through all of this is, I am going
to get better, it is just a little hurdle, and then I get back to my new normal. And to
everyone, please check your boobs!”
Words: Donna Kelly | Image: Luka Spoljaric

Back to top