Q1) Tell us a little about yourself!
My name is Linda Garland, and I am a Melbourne based illustrator.
At the age of 31, whilst showering, I unexpectedly noticed a small lump in my breast. I wasn’t too concerned. I had no family history of breast cancer, I didn’t smoke or drink alcohol, I had none of the usual high risk or contributing factors - but I vowed to have it checked after a male acquaintance had recently passed away from cancer.
The GP told me it most likely wasn’t cancer, but sent me for Mammograms, ultrasounds and a biopsy. The mammogram showed nothing unusual at all, but the ultrasound identified the lump, and the biopsy confirmed it. Two weeks after first discovering a lump I was told that I had Breast Cancer. I was so scared. My sister - who was with me in the consulting room - and myself both burst into tears. My parents were living interstate and flew back to be with me for my surgeries.
Two weeks after diagnosis, I had a lumpectomy, sentinel node dissection and six weeks of radiotherapy. I then participated in a drug trial for five years - which involved monthly hormone inhibitors and a daily tablet to remove all the oestrogen from my body. Going back to the oncology wards monthly, for five years- as one of the youngest patients was very difficult. It was easy to feel very lonely.
Once you are diagnosed with cancer, everything changes. Every aspect of your life is affected in some way. The uncertainty of the future is prominent in your mind. You constantly seek silver linings. I have used my cancer diagnosis as a catalyst for change. I quit my job at a supermarket, and started working in a bakery, where the early morning shifts allowed me freedom to create in the afternoons. I am now following my real dreams with hopes of becoming a full time artist.
Q2) Tell us about what you do, and why you do it
The early detection of my Breast tumour, means that I can proudly declare that I am a 14 years survivor of Breast Cancer. I wanted to share that message everywhere. Early detection means early treatment and an increased chance of survival. I also wanted to reach out and share my experiences so that others may not feel as lonely and isolated as I did.
I created the character Pinkoala- a koala bear breast cancer survivor, as a way to tell my story. Chemotherapy has made Pinkoala’s fluffy ears fall out, so she wears a gum leaf cap with eucalyptus blossoms instead. Pinkoala is a tough gumnut, and represents the courage required to be constantly seeking the silver linings.
I create artworks, pins, bookmarks and more featuring Pinkoala to raise awareness and funds for various Breast Cancer charities.
In October, I participate in a drawing challenge I call Surviving Pinktober. Every day throughout the month I create a breast cancer awareness illustration and post it to my social media. Pinkoala is joined by Adalinda the dragon girl, and Pickles the cat and the three characters relate the ups and downs and reality of a life lived with breast cancer.
It is an important message told in a relatable way. Many women share my images as a way of explaining what they can not put into words.
I feel so privileged to be able to make a difference in this way.
Q3) What makes you feel courageous?
Trying new things makes me feel courageous.
Before my diagnosis I was a very shy and cautious person. Whilst undergoing radiotherapy, I found a pamphlet for Dragons Abreast Australia - Dragon Boating for Breast Cancer survivors. It looked so crazy and outrageous. I would never have tried out for something like this before- twenty women all paddling in a Chinese dragon boat whilst a drummer drums and a steers person steers. Last year I even learnt to stand up and qualify to steer the boat myself!
Dragon boating has also led me travel internationally, be on television and perform public speaking. Being scared, but pushing yourself to give it a go anyway is courageous.
Q4) What is one thing you wish you could tell your 16-year-old self?
I was bullied at school..I wish I could tell my 16 year old self not to worry about those people, or their opinions, and to just stay true to yourself. To keep doing what makes you happy, to love who you are and that you are on the right track. I mostly wish I could tell my teenage self to have children before the age of 31.
Q5) What is one piece of advice you can give a fellow lady who might be lacking courage?
My advice to anyone who believes that they may be lacking in courage, is to look deeper. Think of a goal- something that you truly want, and work out the steps to get there. Baby steps when you’re scared, and big leaps and bounds on good days. Having a goal and a mind set determined to make changes will take you there one way or another. Achievements no matter how small will give you the courage to keep going