In 2007 I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. Back then, I was a hard drinkin’, hard livin’ lawyer, who had met the love of her life (at the pub, naturally) and was planning a wedding in October that year.
Andy, my English angel, had only been back in the country for about two months when I was diagnosed and we’d been together for less than a year at that stage. He cried before I did.
It was never going to be the world’s biggest wedding, but even in the best-case scenario I was going to be crook come October. So Andy (who I quite seriously regard as a modern day hero) went on bended knee again and asked me to marry him before my first operation. We organised the wedding in the space of one week and it was beautiful and heartfelt. The bit about “in sickness and in health” really meant something – I cried so hard there was snot.
Three days later I had a partial mastectomy and on the Saturday following our wedding, Andy was shaving my armpit, because I couldn’t do it myself. There’s love for you.
Skip forward to 2013. I was still a lawyer and living on caffeine, nervous energy and cigarettes. I was also permanently knackered and the job that I’d dreamed about since I was five no longer gave me a kick.
I’d been working in industrial relations and occupational health and safety by that time for 15 years. In fact, serious incident response work was my niche area of practice, so, if an employee was killed or lost an arm, I got the call. I was good at it, but to say it was draining would be an understatement.
I’m not sure I would have given myself license to leave the law, but I didn’t have to – the universe nudged me. In 2013 I was diagnosed with breast cancer again (DCIS, which is non-invasive cancer, but cancer nonetheless).
This time around I had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, but, oddly, it’s been a blessing.
After a series of operations I started writing – mostly about rockabilly and vintage dresses. On a whim, I sent an article that I’d written about Johnny Cash to Beat Magazine’s then new editor and thankfully, she didn’t think it sucked (well, not entirely). She lined me up to review a band and off the back of that more reviews followed, then interviews, then sub-editing.
I had purpose again and I was mentored and encouraged. It also marked the advent of me speaking to people nearly every day who loved what they did – mostly musos, but sometimes artists and comedians. It gave me a buzz and I could do it in my pj’s post-op.
It seems like a million years ago already since wearing a suit to the office and measuring my day in six-minute billable units. I love my job so much (I’m now the Lifestyle Editor at Time Out Melbourne) that it feels like I’m on a perpetual jolly.
I don’t even look like the same person: I’m sporting two dirty great tattoos, of which I’m super proud, and I generally look like I’ve been dressed by my six year old niece – put it this way, it’s colourful.
The next challenge is to address a couple of lingering body issues – undoubtedly, and understandably, breast cancer changes your relationship with your body and sex. That’s yet to be explored, but you can’t deal with everything at once.