Grace Under Pressure

How would you describe your initial reactions and feelings when you first received your breast cancer diagnosis?

I wanted to go back to work as I had a meeting and my partner had to stop me. I almost punched the nurse on the way out of the consulting room as she gave me this sad sympathetic look and I wasn’t ready for anyone to look at me like I was a victim or ill. As far as I was concerned I had a battle to fight and I just wanted to get on with it. Having grown up with my mum going through cancer and sort of knowing it was a likely outcome for me too, I was kind of mentally prepared for it and had a fair idea what to expect. If mum could beat it 3 times then I could too. 

Are there specific moments or experiences in your cancer journey that stand out to you, which you would like depicted in the sculpture?

Certainly waking up after the lymph node surgery to discover a very blue boob was memorable! That took almost a year to fade! My friend brought me a blue t-shirt with the phrase ‘free the nuked, blue mutant boob’ printed on it after my radiotherapy. 

How has your perspective on life and your own identity evolved since your diagnosis?

I always knew I wanted a family but it changed the timing of things for us slightly, and we were told by doctors to get a move on. However the stress of my job during the pandemic meant that we didn’t conceive until last year. The cancer diagnosis and the BRCA mutation has meant that we are only planning on one baby as having a second will increase my risk of having another cancer before the preventative surgeries. 

How do you want the world to see you through this sculpture? What part of your reality, character, or experience would you like it to emphasise?

Knowing my cancer risk meant I caught my teeny tiny cancer lump super early so I feel incredibly fortunate that my brush with cancer was minimal compared to many others I’ve met along the way. I was never able to feel my lump as it was so small but I don’t honestly know when I’d have found it if I wasn’t being screened and my story could be very different. The preventative screening is so important and life saving and doing other things to lower cancer risk is also important which is why I’ll be opting for a double mastectomy in the future. It wasn’t right for me at 32 as I wanted the chance to have a family and breastfeed my baby. My daughter was born last year and I’ve exclusively fed her myself which I’m very proud about. It wasn’t without its challenges as unfortunately the side I’d had the cancer and radiotherapy on never really produced a lot but the other side has more than compensated. It kept a very hungry little being alive exclusively for 6 months and still going strong now! It’s pretty incredible what boobs can do so I want to celebrate that with this sculpture. 

What has been your source of strength and resilience throughout your journey with breast cancer?

Undoubtedly my mum. She beat breast cancer 3 times, found all her own lumps and is an absolute fighter. The treatments were also much more crude and brutal back when she had her first cancers. 

My partner was also amazingly supportive throughout. 

What does being a part of this exhibition mean to you? How do you hope it might impact others who see your sculpture?

I hope anyone with cancer in their family considers getting genetically screened as being forewarned about your risk means you can make sensible choices, get regular screening and nip anything sinister in the bud so cancer treatment is a minor inconvenience rather than anything worse. 

Is there a specific message or emotion you want to convey to the audience of this exhibition, particularly to those who might be going through a similar experience?

I guess to anyone trying to breastfeed after a cancer diagnosis, it’s possible and our bodies are amazing at doing what they’re designed for. 

Maybe also hope; the way that medical technology has progressed in thirty years between my mum’s cancers and mine is pretty incredible and things will only get better as knowledge about mutations and personalised treatments continues. 

How has the ABC community helped you with your journey? 

Like many others, the post surgery bra was invaluable and I also attended the fitness sessions with their specially trained PT which gave me the confidence to get back to exercising.

Touch, Look, Check (TLC)

Give your boobs some TLC to look for early signs of breast cancer.