I am a 54-year-old Māori woman. I’m married with three children, a daughter aged 36 and two boys aged 20 and 17. I live in Pukekohe and I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year in July 2016.
I found a lump in my right breast and when I went for a mammogram, cancer was found in both breasts and had spread to my lymph nodes. I had a bilateral mastectomy in September 2016 and have undergone reconstruction – an implant on my left and an expander in my right, waiting for work to be done later. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy was completed at the end of May.
I have seven sisters. One of them had breast cancer when she was 39, and she is a survivor of 17 years. As far as we can determine, we are the first in our family to have breast cancer.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer leaves you with an overwhelming feeling of the unknown. I am very lucky to come from a supportive family. My husband was able to take time off work when I underwent chemotherapy and my daughter came to care for me on days when I was feeling unwell, bringing with her our latest addition to the family, a beautiful granddaughter, who was always a great tonic, along with our #1 granddaughter who is now 12. Our boys helped in their own quiet way and although I have lost my parents, this journey has been made easier with the support of my sisters, their families, my aunties, uncles, cousins and friends. I was also very fortunate to have an empathetic boss, she enabled me to take as much time off as was required, without any pressure.
If I have any words of advice, it is to check your breasts regularly and have mammograms when they’re due. Stay positive and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. But most importantly, surround yourself with positive people, who make you laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine. I know that living now in 2017 means that I am a survivor. Treatment can sometimes be harsh, but it saves lives and gives you hope. It means I can see my boys grow into men, I can see the wonderful job my daughter is doing as a mum and of course enjoy the grandchildren we have and the ones still to come.
I feel as though I have been given a second chance. It opens your eyes to what and who is important in life, it makes you want to take the time to “smell the roses” and enjoy each and every moment.
I am proud to show my scars and share my story if it will make more women aware.
What follows is a poem written by Shona about her experience with breast cancer:
My cliché. ( by SB Kelway)
I gaze at the reflection in the mirror and I don’t recognise the person staring back.
My head is bald, with no eye brows or lashes and my skin is sullen and grey. I am ugly.
The wig sits abandoned in the corner, the result of being told it looks weird. I feel self-conscious.
People tell me “you are so strong”, “you’ve got this”, “you’re so positive”.
My body is battered and bruised and I am tired, weak, and sometimes lonely. I feel like an imposter.
So I pull up my big girl undies,
I put on my face, paint on my eye brows, place a hat on my head and look at the person in the mirror.
I turn that frown upside down, and lift my chin a little higher. My spirits are lifted and I feel good.
My body may be battered and bruised, but tiredness will dissipate, the bruises will vanish and I will look back on this knowing I had the best support crew around.
This is because you're right, I am strong, I have got this and I am positive.