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Real Life

REAL LIFE: Former reality TV star Bree Amer-Wilkes had no idea she had cancer... until it was spotted by a doctor watching from home

Without the eagle eye of one viewer, I can't help but wonder 'what if?'

By Laura Masia

Bree Amer-Wilkes, 37, from Sydney, NSW, shares her story;

Bright stage lights warmed my face as I sat on set, ready to begin filming that night's show, Friday Night Live.
It was a games night featured on Channel 10's reality show, Big Brother, where the contestants completed challenges for rewards in the house.
Sitting next to my co-hosts, Fitzy and Mike Goldman, I couldn't believe my luck.
I'd first got the gig after being a contestant on the show a year earlier. At the time I was 21, carefree and hungry for adventure.
I auditioned for the show and a few months later, I was in the famous Big Brother house. With no access to TV, phones or internet, the other contestants and I were left to our own devices, hanging out and doing challenges at Big Brother's every whim.
We were there for 13 weeks and spending all our time together made us grow incredibly close.
After the show, exciting opportunities presented themselves, like being a guest presenter on Friday Night Live.
At first, I was only meant to feature on the panel for a week, but I came back twice more before I was asked to return permanently.
This is a dream come true, I thought, sitting alongside my mates.
Two years later, my friend Cat, who was on my season of Big Brother, called me.
"You won't believe this," she said, "my doctor has a message for you."
She told me that her new GP had recognised her from TV and asked whether we were still in touch.
"He said he's worried that there's something wrong with your thyroid gland and you should get it checked out," Cat told me.
"My what?" I frowned, wondering what on earth a thyroid was.
Cat said that for the past year, the doc had spent over $500 ringing the Up Late Show hotline and sending countless emails to urge me to seek medical attention.
"That's a bit weird," I said, nervously. I was 24, and healthy.
What did I have to be worried about?
I forgot about it until I went for a check-up with my GP a month later, and casually mentioned what Cat's doc had said.
I loved my time on Big Brother. (Image: Supplied)
His eyes went straight to my neck as he asked me to turn my head from side to side.
"Wow," he said, "I can see it sticking out."
Holding up a mirror with my head to the side, I gasped.
The lump was clear as day but looking straight on, it was invisible.
I couldn't believe Cat's doctor was right.
My GP sent me for an ultrasound and then a biopsy but the results were inconclusive.
Six weeks later, I had another one.
It can't be that serious if they're not rushing to get conclusive results, I thought.
But after my third biopsy another six weeks later, the results were conclusive.
"I'm sorry, Bree, you have thyroid cancer," the doc said.
"The good news is you have the Rolls-Royce of cancers!"
I let his words sink in for a moment.
"I'm glad I've got a good one" I replied slightly sarcastically.
After all, I still had cancer.
The doc spotted the lump in these shots. It was invisible from the front, but when I turned my head to the side, it was clear as day. (Image: Channel 10)
Once I recovered, I had to undergo a specific form of treatment for thyroid cancer, radioactive iodine therapy, where you ingest a tablet.
Because the thyroid absorbs nearly all of the iodine in your body, the radiation infused into it kills the remaining cancer cells while it's absorbed.
During treatment, my body would become radioactive so I was put into isolation in hospital.
On the day of my first session, I walked in carrying my laptop.
"You may not want to bring that," a nurse said. "If it's radioactive by the end of the week, we have to throw it out."
But with a week alone in a single room, I decided it was worth the risk.
Afterwards, I was free to go and thankfully, my laptop came out with me.
He explained the survival rate of thyroid cancer was incredibly high and the treatment was much easier on the body than traditional chemo and radiation.
But first, I needed surgery to remove it.
A few weeks later when they opened up my neck, they found a 1.5-inch tumour.
When they sent it back for pathology, they realised that there were more tumours on the other side of my neck, and I needed a second surgery to get it all.
I had thyroid checks every three months following that, then every few years until I was finally out of the woods.
I got on with my life.
Me and my beautiful family. (Image: Supplied)
I decided to step out of the spotlight and began working as a producer on reality TV shows.
Working on My Kitchen Rules, I met another producer, Evan, and we fell in love.
We married and had our first child, Archie, who was tragically stillborn.
It broke our hearts, but we vowed to keep our special boy in our thoughts every day.
Now we have Hunter, three, and Harlow, one, and they know all about their big brother.
I'm still on maternity leave and just finished studying to be a marriage celebrant.
I love my work producing but with both Evan and I working long hours, it'll be lovely to spend more time with my kids, all the while being able to play a part in someone's special day.
I'll always be grateful to that doctor who was so vigilant about contacting me after spotting the tumour.
My life is one big adventure, and I can't wait to see where it takes me next.

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