I was 34, single and living alone when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Or as the doctors terrifyingly called it, aggressive Grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma.
I was emceeing a friend's wedding early last year when first found a lump in my left breast. I wasn't looking for it, I wasn't doing a check - I was just hitching my boobs up in my bra because I'd noticed the saxophone player in the wedding band was cute and I wanted to look my best. And there it was; like a frozen pea.
Two days later, I was at my GP. Two days after that I underwent a mammogram and biopsy and the following Friday the diagnosis came through; I had breast cancer. And just a couple of weeks after that, I was admitted to Chris O'Brien Lifehouse for a mastectomy, which for me, someone in their early 30s with no family history of the disease, was mind-blowing.
When I awoke from surgery, I moved my hand down across my chest and... it was like a deflated balloon. I'd just had something I'd always thought of as intrinsic to my sense of femininity and sexuality, amputated. And that was just the beginning... My results showed the tumour was bigger and more aggressive than first suspected, so that meant six months of chemo and possibly radiation.
I was told that if I ever wanted to have children, I'd have to go through a round of IVF before any treatment - because chemo scrambles your eggs. So within a month of being diagnosed I found myself sitting in the IVF Australia waiting room, surrounded by couples in love. I, on the other hand, was freezing a handful of eggs before starting treatment for breast cancer - I was also alone and scared about what was to come.
Oh, and as if that wasn't bad enough, the man I'd been dating for several months broke up with me that same week... just days before my chemo was due to begin, which as it happened, ended up being two years to the day my own father died from cancer. You honestly couldn't make this up if you tried!
Then, as if the icing on a thoroughly unpleasant cake, all my hair fell out on my 35th birthday.
"It was hands-down the worst week of my life"
How did I handle all of this? At first, I didn't. Weekly chemo meant I couldn't work and without a partner to help with the bills, it was a particularly stressful time. I was single and living alone - and when every survivor story I snowballed into greeted me with words like, 'I'm just so grateful for my partner standing by me or my children being so supportive", all I could think was - so what do you do when you have to do this by yourself? Without a husband or a partner to lean on? There aren't any pamphlets for that.
"That's where the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation came in"
I've never met people who were more suited to their job in my life. My SBCF-funded breast nurse was a lifeline. She was there with me through all my initial appointments and was always "only a text away". She introduced me to other patients, helped me understand what I was about to go through and even gave me advice on everything from bras to exercise to makeup. No matter how busy she was, she always had time for me.
Before then, I could be standing in a room full of people yet still feel utterly alone. When she reached out, it was the rst time since my diagnosis that I didn't feel alone - the first time I felt some hope and humanity flow through me again, and for that I will be forever grateful.
My story however doesn't end there... just as I was about to nish chemo, I found out I had the BRCA2 gene and made the decision to undergo a second mastectomy. That was a difficult time - chemotherapy leaves you exhausted, nauseous and disoriented, and making big medical decisions by yourself while swimming through all of that is overwhelming. Adding surgery on top of that took most of what was left in my tank. Now - almost a year since diagnosis - I still have reconstructive surgery to go as well as years of hormone-based therapy. But I'm still here, because I was lucky enough to get it early and because I've had impeccable care from day one. For me, the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation is a big part of that.
Before I was diagnosed, I was like anyone else who hadn't had their life touched by breast cancer. Sure, I bought my fair share of pink ribbons, candles and water bottles and I even remember thinking "they must really have this breast cancer thing licked, right? I mean there are pink products up the wazoo." It's true, breast cancer receives its fair share of attention and support and it may seem like we’ve really got it covered - but we don't. The reality is there is such a long way to go.
A breast cancer charity isn't just about research money - ultimately it's about making sure that people, like me, have somewhere to turn, that we feel like we're not alone.
"And that's how the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation made me feel... that I wasn't alone and that they really did care"
From the simplest gesture of providing me with my chemo care pack, to funding my breast nurse - "my lifeline" - to assisting with the purchase of specialist equipment, the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation does so much for breast cancer patients at Lifehouse.
For me, cancer has been something of a life coach combined with a spiritual guide combined with a really bad hairdresser. But no matter how you look at it, it's life-changing.
I'm now working with the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation to help more women like me. I want to get to a point where no young woman has to ask "what if" because of breast cancer again. No "what if I don't live to get married" or "what if this means I can't ever have children" or even just "what if I can't pay my rent". Because I know what that feels like and it's decidedly not okay.
Most of all, I want to make sure no one feels alone when they hear the words, "It's cancer," ever again. That, I know, we can do.
Going through breast cancer is terrifying to say the least. Going through it alone is unimaginable. That’s why, like Emma, we want to make sure that when someone hears the words “You’ve got breast cancer” – they never feel alone. Like you, we want to ensure that everyone has the support they need, or as Emma describes, "a lifeline".
But we can't do this without you. The Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation needs you today, so please make a gift right now.
Your generous donation will help us fund a breast care nurse and as a direct result, ensure that no woman facing breast cancer will have to do so alone.
The hard facts are that 43 women in Australia are diagnosed with breast cancer every single day – that’s one almost every 30 minutes.
Just imagine... diagnosed with breast cancer, single and alone.
Please make your end of finnancial year gift of togetherness today. Show women like Emma that they are not alone, and that you really do care.