Karen's Breast Cancer Journey
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, delivering an annual message of knowledge, health, resilience, and healing. This year we had the privilege of connecting with Karen, a fellow Saya community member, mother of three and breast cancer survivor. Karen shares her powerful and inspiring journey with us, which includes her commitment to empowering others about the importance of living a full and healthy lifestyle through clean living and wellness. Check out our Q&A with Karen below to learn more about her incredible journey.
SAYA: Firstly, thank you for joining us, Karen. Would you mind sharing your diagnosis? When and how did you first find out?
Karen: It was May 2010 and I was having my yearly mammogram (because my mother was diagnosed at age 34). I was 44 with 3 young children. I knew immediately when they phoned to say come in for a discussion about your results that this was the moment I had been dreading.
SAYA: May we ask what was your initial reaction when you received the diagnosis?
Karen: I was in shock, even though I knew there was probably a good chance that this would happen one day. From that moment on I was constantly riddled with anxiety and fear of what might happen. That feeling did not leave me for many years.
SAYA: Were there any moments or experiences that particularly stood out to you during your recovery?
Karen: The standout memories for me were unfortunately mostly negative. Not really knowing if I was going to survive, absolute fear every time I had chemo, knowing how it would affect me and the absolute debilitating state it would leave me in. At one point I must have contracted a virus, I coughed so much I did not sleep for 10 nights straight and I thought I was going to die I was so sick. Laying on a mattress on my deck for hours while the kids were at school and hubby was at work, soaking in the winter sun, because I could barely move I was so weak. My husband had even made my lunch before he left and placed it near me so I wouldn't have to get up. The absolute sadness I felt for my kids as I was really an absent parent for 6 months, mostly in bed unwell, and knowing they were probably suffering anxiety not knowing what would happen to their mother.
SAYA: Did you have a support system in place, such as friends, family, or support groups? How did they help you during your journey?
Karen: My lovely Aunt came all the way from southern NSW for 2 weeks to look after me and the household after my surgery. She had done the same for her sister, my mother, and I was extremely touched and grateful. My husband was incredible. He was working full time, but kept the house and the kid’s routines running as smoothly as possible. It was an extremely tough gig for him and I am forever grateful for his commitment at that time.
We didn't have much support for the most part but the kid’s Grandad, my father, did what he could and was the school taxi service which was so appreciated. My mother had passed away years earlier. My only sibling lived far away with little ones of her own so of course could not be here physically to help but was constantly in touch on the phone. I did not want to participate in any support group. I did not want to talk about "it" at all. Everyone is different in how they respond during difficult times.
SAYA: Can you share any tips for self-care and maintaining a healthy lifestyle post-treatment?
Karen: I learned a lot about health and health care as a result of this experience but simply I believe that keeping your immune system healthy is extremely important. I don't think we are educated enough about the importance of that as well as taking responsibility for that. I believe Nature is so beneficial to our physical and mental state. Fresh air, sunshine, exercise and visiting those wonderful places nature has created, eating healthy (mostly), avoiding processed foods, it's all pretty common sense when you think about it....back to basics as they say. I also believe that adopting a chemical free lifestyle as much as possible is important to your health and well being. I prefer natural products for personal care and around the house. We now know how toxic some products can be to humans. SAYA is a beautiful example of what great products are available for us to use.
SAYA: And what would you like people to know about breast cancer that they might not be aware of?
Karen: That as well as the physical scars you may be left with inside and outside your body, it can have an extensive impact on one's mental state, (mental scars), for even a lifetime. The treatment you may receive can also create ongoing health issues that you have to manage . I hope with the introduction of Breast Care nurses that women will be more informed and nurtured along the way.
How to check your breasts?
Breast Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia. In Australia, 1 in 7 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85. That is why it is so important to regularly check your breast health. Follow this simple process and remember to repeat each month.
Step 1: Look
Look at the shape and appearance of your breasts and nipples in the mirror with your hands by your sides. Raise your arms above your head and have another look.
Step 2: Feel
Feel all of your breasts and nipples, looking for anything that isn’t normal for you. Feel from your collarbone to below the bra-line, and under your armpit too.
Step 3: Learn
Learn what’s normal for you! Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes, so get to know your normal. See your doctor if you notice any changes.
This year Saya is proudly supporting the McGrath Foundation by donating $2 from every sale throughout the entire month of October. If you’d like to extend your impact by making an additional donation, visit the Saya McGrath Foundation website dedicated to supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month.Donate Here.