I have always been an active, extroverted person and quite healthy for most of my life. I am a nurse and a midwife who eventually accessed an academic pathway to become a research professor for the last 15 years of my career. Many of my activities with governments, the United Nations and other world agencies meant that I had opportunities to travel and meet fantastic people working hard for the benefit of others. I was honored as a Member of the Order of Australia for my work on the rights of older people and social policy around ageing. At age 72, I have two sons and three grandchildren and have been widowed since 2012. I live in a lovely area on the outskirts of Sydney with my two little dogs and am enjoying my life.
For 15 years I had been having routine breast screening with nothing ever showing up. Last October I was due for another and almost didn’t bother having it but decided not to be so lazy and got myself off to the appointment. I knew something was not right that day when I was kept there for hours awaiting results and to speak with the surgeon.
When I was told there were two lumps in my right breast, my life flipped. As a nurse, I knew what it meant and what lay ahead. The only dilemma for me was whether I should let nature take its course or if I should fight the disease. It was a time for me to evaluate my life’s effort, and whether I thought I could contribute further if I decided to live on. I wanted to continue to work in my field and mentor and work with others wanting to build their careers. So I decided to live.
My Breast Care Nurse signed me up to attend a Look Good Feel Better workshop, about which friends had told me great things. Unfortunately, that workshop was canceled due to the social restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was disappointed. I knew that I was not looking all that good with drying skin, a droopy face and without hair, and was feeling a bit ‘dish raggy’ about it all. My nurse encouraged me to request a Home-Delivered Confidence Kit instead and she was right in recommending it.
The box of goodies and advice arrived just at the moment I was despairing about what was to come and worrying about the treatment side-effects.
The ‘Work it’ booklet took me through all of the make-up tips. I hadn’t really taken a lot of notice about newer ways to apply make-up so it was good learning. I had bought a wig but wasn’t wearing it as it was very hot weather. Turbans were much more comfortable – but they did need some work to get them looking attractive. The tips and instructions in the booklet for tying and twisting scarves around turbans made all the difference to the headwear I had.
The positive approach displayed across the whole package was the best thing about the Kit for me. The products were high end in quality and the booklet was also encouraging and the diagrams easy to follow. It was clear it all came from people who knew what I was going through and were there to help me to overcome the awful situation I was in. I felt like I had new friends who were smoothing the journey for me.
Since receiving my Home-Delivered Confidence Kit I have been making the effort to look good each morning – and I DO feel better! My girlfriends all noticed that I was looking great in my makeup, turbans and occasional kaftans. My family is not close by and by the time they could come to see me, the COVID-19 restrictions prevented it. I was able to keep contact with everyone using Skype though, and the makeup was always a must for these times. All of them said I didn’t look sick and in fact, looked glamorous – exactly the reaction I was seeking!
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, my life has been dominated by the surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment necessary for me to live on. While all of this meant less engagement with the world, my timing was strangely good with the rest of the world experiencing similar limitations with the COVID-19 pandemic. I was not alone in my solitude.
I have been given a great opportunity to think about what I have done over the past 70 years and to make a conscious decision to treat the cancer and not let it define me. I am now more determined than ever to live on and continue being me, contributing to my professional fields, the betterment of others, and to enjoy the extra years of life that I have been given. I am optimistic about my prognosis and even if that turns out not to be so, I am grateful for any bonus time on this wonderful planet.
Towards the end of this year when my active treatment will end, I will be able to get back to my hobbies of visiting the galleries, gardening, lunches with friends, Tai Chi and other group exercise, writing and generally living a life that has been extended by the wonderful people who have treated my cancer and cared for me as a person. I include the ‘Look Good Feel Better’ team in that group.
Thinking back over the past 7 months since my life flipped, the Look Good Feel Better program is a highlight of support and rehabilitation for me. It confirmed my decision to fight the cancer and it continues to support me in living the life I want, not just what I am left with.