Q1) Tell us a little about yourself!
Hi there! My name is Elle, I'm 28 and I live just out of Wollongong in NSW. My younger sister, Grace (25), my mum and my dad are my biggest supports and all mean the world to me. Who could forget my cheeky 6 month old Spoodle puppy named Sunny who likes to keep me on my toes and fill my days with lots of love. I love good food, being creative, spending time with my family and I'm always planning my next quest to do something special for people around me, whether they be those who mean the most to me or perfect strangers. I was previously an Early Childhood Teacher before I became sick with a rare brain disease in 2015 and had to resign.
In late 2019 I was diagnosed with breast cancer (High Grade DCIS). It was October 15th and my sister was with me in the doctors office when I was diagnosed. I feel like I'm still sitting in that chair, stuck in that room and in that moment. After being told I would need a double mastectomy (and refusing) I had some very long and serious conversations with my family, genetic counsellors and a cancer psychologist. On a drive home one day my mum said to me "it's your breasts or your life" and if my losing my life meant losing my family, and consequently them losing me, it was never going to be an option.
I had my double mastectomy three weeks after a lumpectomy with no clear margins. At this point I had already decided I would be having the double mastectomy but still opted to have the lumpectomy to get the cancer out as fast as possible and it's lucky I did. With no clear margins and after the lumpectomy and double mastectomy, a total of 10cm of cancer was removed.
I never had a lump. I had pain, discharge from my nipple, a feeling of pressure and fullness in my breast going down into my underarm, pain in my nipple and an inverted nipple but not once did I or any of my doctors feel a lump.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly as a young woman, and losing my breasts as a consequence has been traumatic to say the very least. I have met an army of young women with breast cancer going through the same thing as me and like me, wishing they weren't. I have a strong family history of breast cancer but I never, EVER thought this would happen to me, and that is why I now do what I do...
Q2) Tell us about what you do, and why you do it
Earlier this year I started to write an article about the experiences of young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Women who were angry and hurting, deeply and wholly, both physically and emotionally. I wrote about their pain and frustration, their wish for more support, their need to be cared for and not be the carer. I listened and had deep and honest discussions with these women and then I submitted my article and said to myself "now what?".
I was still in a world of physical and emotional pain but I also knew I couldn't sit and do nothing, I couldn't be quiet about my pain or the pain of other women, so when I saw The National Breast Cancer Foundation was about to start another year of their GO PINK campaign I thought it was the perfect time to use my voice in a different way and raise money for research into early detection and treatment of breast cancer.
I started with an initial goal of $1,000 and a pledge to colour my hair pink. The pink hair gave me an extra kick up the butt to get people talking and remind myself every day why I was doing this fundraiser and who I was doing it for. It's pretty hard to ignore bright pink hair every time you look in the mirror! With A LOT of hard work, support and involvement from generous family, friends and small Australian businesses my goal is now at $15,000 with just over $13,000 already raised - it blows my mind every time I think about it.
I do this for one very plain and simple reason. I don't want women to continue to have to feel what I feel every single day, what the women I've met who have also been diagnosed feel every day. The emotional and physical pain that encompasses your life is something I want people to understand, in it's full and painful truth, because breast cancer is painful, what it does to women and their families is painful and ugly and traumatic. That is not to say the women who go through breast cancer aren't strong, of course they are, they are warriors, but this is a battle that has to end and in order for that to happen we need more research and research needs funding.
Q3) What makes you feel courageous?
Honestly, this is a tricky one because most of the time, I don't feel courageous. I feel scared, of so many things. In saying this, in most cases, I don't let my fear stop me because I don't make the fear about me, I remind myself of the many women feeling how I feel and those who are yet to be diagnosed and THAT is what makes me feel courageous, the women around me. I feel courageous instead of laying in bed all day and crying I get up and I post a story on instagram about my fundraiser, encouraging people to donate, encouraging women to check their breasts, trying my best to educate people about breast cancer. So I guess, in one way, facing what I'm afraid of when it's telling me to curl up and let it defeat me, that makes me feel courageous.
Q4) What is one thing you wish you could tell your 16-year-old self?
You are going to face some seriously shitty things but you are going to get through all of them because you have everything you need to get through challenging times. You will fall down, many times, and most of the time it won't be by choice, but you will pick yourself up every single time and your family will pick you up when it feels like too much. You'll find reasons to fight, and you'll do it for yourself and other people. You'll do this because the world isn't solely based on how you can help or benefit yourself, that is an empty world, it's about how you can help, inspire, lift and support others just like they will do for you.
Q5) What is one piece of advice you can give a fellow lady who might be lacking courage?
It's okay to feel whatever you need to feel. It's okay to acknowledge and experience your anger, sadness, grief, despair and loss. Sometimes being courageous isn't always sunshine and lollipops. Sometimes it's having the strength to feel everything, to move through the many emotions life brings and to feel things we would rather run away from.
In saying this, I want women who aren't feeling courageous to know, particularly those going through breast cancer, is that if you don't feel you have the courage you need right now you have a whole community of women around you who will help you to find your courage until you can be courageous on your own or until you feel ready to hold another persons hand through the discovery of their courage.
You may not feel it right now but please know, you have it in you and those around you see it in you, because you fight every single day and that is bloody courageous.