‘I can continue to fight and be there for my children’: A mother’s metastatic breast cancer story
By Emily Usher | Originally published 14 October 2021
Updated 26 September 2023 by Sylvia Lee
At just 34, mother-of-two Katrina Lau Hammond received a devastating diagnosis. Now, almost 7 years on, she is living with metastatic breast cancer. She shares why she’s decided to use her experiences to support other young families affected by cancer.
Having a child is sometimes said to be easier the second time around, but when Katrina began experiencing difficulty breastfeeding her new baby, a cancer diagnosis was the last thing on her mind. "I was having difficulty during feeding, thinking that a tiny gravel-sized lump in my breast (a common breast cancer symptom) was a blocked duct," she explains. "It rapidly got worse and nothing I tried helped or provided relief, so I visited a breast specialist. From there, it all happened very fast. I was sitting in the doctor’s office feeling normal yet being told that I had breast cancer. It was a whirlwind of scans and specialist appointments, and before I knew it, I was in line for chemotherapy."
At just 34 years of age, Katrina was diagnosed with Stage 3 early breast cancer on her left side, which had spread to her lymph nodes. Several months later, another tumour was discovered on her right breast. As a mother, Katrina’s immediate concern was her children.
Katrina with her therapy dog. Source: Supplied
"I felt a lot of sadness and uncertainty for them. But with the promise of very effective treatment, there was a glimmer of hope. We had a lot of support after my diagnosis, many around us wanting to pitch in. With the expectation of very heavy treatment ahead, and a 3-year-old and a baby in the mix, the help was crucial."
"Thanks to new cancer therapies, I have had multiple second chances at life."
Since that first diagnosis 7 years ago, Katrina has undergone countless sessions of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy, multiple surgeries, including a double mastectomy, and gruelling side effects that have taken a toll on her body.
Though she has been living with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer for the past 4 years, she knows the importance that cancer research has had in ensuring that she is still here to tell her story.
"I am fortunate that I had a very well researched, well-funded type of cancer. Reliable treatment options were available to me. Lots of support options too. Not everybody is so lucky," she says.
"Each time my cancer has progressed and spread to other parts of my body, I have been fortunate that cancer research has provided me with another line of treatment, so that I can continue to fight and be there for my children."
Katrina hopes that her experiences will help other families going through similar experiences.
"When I was first diagnosed, my little ones could sense that something was going on, and we didn’t want to leave them in the dark. We wanted to explain cancer to our kids from the start and be available to answer any questions they had. We searched around for resources to support us, but nothing quite fit the bill, so I decided to write my own."
'The Village': A children's book for families facing cancer
Source: The Village written by Katrina Lau Hammond & illustrated by Krista Brennan
Written in between ongoing cancer treatment and taking care of her family, Katrina created The Village, a special book designed to help young children understand the complexities of cancer. "The Village has been written for children from 3 to 8+ years old, told from the perspective of a child whose mum is going through cancer," she says. It was important to me that correct medical terminology was used throughout the book, as we want to foster children’s understanding, not shield them from the truth. Kids overhear this language, so I made sure that we didn’t gloss over it."
“I hope that other young kids see a similarity to what they are going through, the thoughts they are having, and the emotions they are feeling, and that it will help with those tough conversations that families have to face when trying to tell their kids that their mum or dad has cancer."
"After reading The Village, the first thing my children said was,'That’s like us, Mummy!'" Katrina says it was important to her that The Village represented real-life families like hers so that children would be able to see themselves in the story through its realistic watercolour illustrations. The story revolves around a multicultural family, and she has intentionally represented a range of diverse characters, from medical staff through to patients.
"My children have been very proud of The Village as well as the cookbook Makan at Mums that I created with my mother, which also raises money for cancer research. They cheer me on each time I sell another book. My daughter gets a kick out of being in the books."
Katrina with her parents. She has co-created a cookbook, Makan at Mums, with her mother, Jeanie (left), to capture their Malaysian-Chinese family recipes. Source: Supplied
The Village is not only a children's book; it is a beautiful resource that supports families who are affected by cancer, with 10% of book sales going to Cure Cancer. By purchasing a copy, you are adding a beautiful story to your bookshelf (or a loved one's) whilst giving back to cancer research.
"Other families have shared with me that their children have borrowed the book from the library, despite already having their own copy at home, just because they really wanted to read it. Parents, teachers, librarians, psychologists, nurses and doctors, have shared that it was such an important book. Others have told me the story was touching and that it made them tear up a little as they remembered their own cancer journey, and wished they’d had the book back then."
"We’ve continued to remain open with them about my diagnosis and ongoing treatment. I’ve talked to them about what it means to have a terminal illness; or a life-limiting illness, as I prefer to call it. That there is currently no cure, but that it is treatable.
"My kids talk to me about it being hard to have cancer. They try to be quiet when I need rest, to carry washing baskets up our spiral staircase for me, to understand if I’m too tired to read or play, or not push it if I’m too unwell to attend an event. I try to be there for them when it matters, to turn up, to watch, to listen, to cheer. And for when I can’t, their dad and grandparents are there to support. My kids know that a cuddle is always a good idea."
"My hope is that I will be able to meet my grandchildren one day."
Katrina with her family at a ski trip in August 2022. Source: Supplied
Despite the reality of living with metastatic breast cancer, Katrina Lau Hammond is determined to make the most of life with her young family.
In 2022, she found herself volunteering at her children's school, fundraising and raising cancer awareness in the community, and doing talks in primary and high schools about her books, her cancer journey and her career. Though she had a setback with her cancer spreading down her spinal cord and having to start a new treatment, her scans and cancer are now relatively stable.
"In 2023, we moved into our new place, I took a short trip with my daughter to Singapore packed with experiences, I re-started sourdough baking after a 10-year hiatus, I attempted skiing again with my extended family, and I’ve given talks to a couple of new groups. We also adopted a rescue cat into our household, to add to our beautiful therapy dog.
"For the first time in 6-7 years, I’ve been able to start looking a little bit further forward. Our hope is that there will one day be a cure. My hope is that I will be able to meet my grandchildren one day."
How to support life-saving cancer research for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Thank you to Katrina for generously donating 10% of book sales towards life-saving, novel cancer research.
Katrina giving a book talk at a school. Source: Supplied
"I connected with the idea that Cure Cancer supports early-career research scientists, the ones that have difficulty finding funding, but have the pioneering approach that can really make a difference in someone’s life. These young scientists represent our future and the hope that there is a cure for cancer."
Each year, over 20,000 Australians face a life-altering diagnosis of breast cancer, which is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer on the continent.
Metastatic breast cancer, also known as advanced breast cancer, is an invasive breast cancer that has spread from the breast to other parts of the body. In Australia, over 10,000 people, like Katrina, are estimated to be living with metastatic breast cancer.
While no known cure exists yet for metastatic breast cancer, new treatment advancements have significantly improved survival rates. Your contribution will help fuel further research for even more effective therapies.
You can learn more about breast cancer, including breast cancer symptoms and breast cancer screening, here.