I remember the day I found a lump in my breast because it was Australia Day in 2015. Initially I thought it may just be a lump. Little did I know, at the time, a lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer.
The scans from the first tests were inconclusive, however an alarm bell rang in my head the very moment the doctors said they wanted to do more tests on bigger and better equipment.
After the biopsy was completed I spent an anxious few days waiting for results. The biopsy was on a Thursday so I had to wait the weekend. As I headed back to see the doctors I tried my best to fight off the fear running through my mind and remain positive.
On the way to the doctors I tried to reassure Myself, by telling myself not all lumps are cancerous and it may just be a benign breast condition like a cyst. The moment I looked into the Doctors eyes my earlier confidence began to wane like a retreating wave. The results from the biopsy revealed my worse fears. The lump in my breast was a slow growing, treatable cancer.
That very day, when I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, is etched into my mind. You see, although I wanted to stay strong I can still clearly remember the fear.
I held on to the word, 'treatable' and the next step was to book into a specialist. After visiting the specialist I was advised a lumpectomy was the best approach to treat this uncontrolled, rogue cell growing in my breast.
The moment the doctor advised me what the procedure entailed I realised the magnitude of the situation. We were informed a lumpectomy is where the surgeon removes the tumor along with some surrounding tissue. Whilst there, she also removes the primary and secondary lymph node under the armpit to check for spread.
The good news after the operation was there was no lymph node spread. The bad news was there was no clear margin which meant the surgeon would have to go back in. And if that wasn't bad enough then came the news that rocked us to our core... the original biopsy was wrong. The Breast Cancer type I had was now diagnosed with what is known as a triple negative. It is where all receptors respond negatively and there is no medication that can control it. It is the most aggressive type of breast cancer!
It was now time to go under the knife again for another attempt at removing the cancer. After the second surgery I was advised there was still no clear margin. Over the last two weeks (between surgeries) the cancer grew from 2cm to 5cm and we were beginning to lose hope. Another approach was urgently needed... a full bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction along with chemotherapy was needed to save my life.
During times like this you hang onto anything that is positive. I clung onto the fact there was no lymph node spread, which considering the rapid growth rate was unusual for this type of breast cancer.
For the next six months while planning for the operation I had chemotherapy every three weeks in the hope the drugs would destroy the cancer cells... it was time to throw the book at it.
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With my husband and myself owning and operating our hair salon, 'Hair Outaquin' in North Perth, it was important that during these turbulent times we not only kept our staff motivated and customers happy but we also kept the salon operating... We had to keep the show on the road for all concerned.
As the chemo started we decided on a fundraiser event. But with Chemo already started we needed to move as I was going to shave my head, before the chemo took my hair.
So within 8 weeks it was on. Cupcake sales, games, photo booth, the works. Via our fund page and that day we raised over $14,000 for NBCF. It was also the day i met Dr Pamela Hendry of the Ladybird Foundation. A charity that we still support today via EX• Hair Care sales.
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Next was a way to inspire our staff during this time, amazingly I mustered up the strength to take the team to Sydney to attend the annual three day Hair Expo. With my immune system compromised, because of the chemotherapy treatment, I was forced to wear a mask during the situations of large crowds, or closed in environments. Like a plane. But Dr gave the ok.
Throughout this ordeal I have surprised myself and found some deep inner strength, and am amazed how in spite of the effects of chemotherapy I worked in our salon throughout the entire time. The only time, I may add, that I did not work was when i physically could not work after having operations or when I was lying in a hospital bed.
Another trait I have discovered through my journey has been my ability to make time for others. Like the many times I volunteered for Breast Cancer Care WA. Those days were called pamper days and i would look after the hair of ladies who had Breast Cancer. Part of the service entailed advising and demonstrating what the ladies could do with their hair and consoling them on their journey. Most was as I was under going chemotherapy treatment myself. My husband often tried to encourage me to attend a pamper day myself but I preferred to offer my services to others in need while I was able.
Eventually the chemotherapy treatment finished and the full bilateral mastectomy operation was performed. At last clear margins, the chemotherapy had held it back. Just a micro pin left in the skin lining at the front of the breast remained, but this was nothing another five weeks of radiation could not fix.
So the routine of having radiation treatment each morning from Monday to Friday commenced. Five weeks later it was Christmas 2015... it had been a long year.
After a short break over Christmas it was time to undergo the reconstruction surgery. Several operations later and the treatment process was complete. It was 14 months after we had received the news that I had breast cancer that treatment had finished.
While I was going through chemotherapy treatments I knew I needed to keep physically active, so we would go for walks most evenings. One particular night as we were walking and having a chat re another fundraising event. But it was a mammoth effort and we tried to come up with other fund raising ideas.
We had an epiphany... let's turn this problem into a project. It literally was like a light went off.
We know hair so why not a hair care range.
A professional hair care range with a percentage of the sales going to breast cancer research so that each and every bottle of shampoo, conditioner, treatment and styling product sold contributes to discovering effective treatments for this terrible disease.
We remembered each doctor's appointment where the surgeon would mark my skin with an X to mark the spot. EX. (marks the spot) became the name of our new product range. The next step was to source and team up with a reputable biochemist and product formulator. We involved our team, friends, family and our customers to create a think-tank and then we fused the ideas together.
We decided to use the finest Australian made organic ingredients. Native Australian and anti-ageing extracts would be added to compliment each product. We would avoid parabens, petrochemicals and of course sulphates. EX. HairCare would also be vegan friendly and animal cruelty free...and before long the EX Product Range was created and ready to launch.
I attended regular three monthly follow ups and now, two years since diagnosis, I attend six monthly checkups. The great news is I have been given the all clear each time and I'm grateful I still have my life.
Although the all clear has been given, I must confess anxiety still hits us both before each and every check up. We are very vigilant so a simple head ache, back ache or a lump on the leg and it is off for an another MRI scan or X-ray or ultrasound. Having had Breast Cancer never really goes away. The specialists, the check ups are something you learn to live with.
From Jason (husband)
My wife really is an amazing, strong woman and an inspiration to me. Our new project, EX• HairCare, was birthed out of the ashes. It gives us both a much needed new purpose and it comforts us to know we can use this vehicle to make a difference... EX• HairCare is really more than a product, we have a cause!