It takes a brave person to decide to share personal stories of adversity with members of the public, and that is exactly what Canowindra born woman Holly Hays (nee Russell) has done, participating in the SoBrave project to raise awareness of breast cancer in women under 40.
Now living in Bendigo, Victoria, Holly was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2014 after finding a lump in her left breast. Holly was 32 at the time of diagnosis and now wants to encourage young women to be vigilant by familiarising themselves and regularly self checking their breasts for abnormal lumps and bumps.
Amidst all of the anxiety and heartache a positive cancer diagnosis may bring, Holly shares her feelings of confusion.
“I didn’t know that every person’s tumour had its own individual characteristics and that these will determine your treatment”, she said.
“For me everything seemed to happen very fast and there were so many things I didn’t know.
In August 2014 I found a lump in my left breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
You start to hear words like invasive ductal carcinoma, grade 3, hormone positive (oestrogen and progesterone), HER2, negative, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and menopause...but what exactly does it all mean to me?” Holly said.
It was recommended that Holly undergo a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Following this, she would then be on a combination of injections to suppress her ovarian function as injections to lower oestrogen levels for 10 years,
Holly underwent a lumpectomy on August 8 2014, two weeks before her soccer grand final, which she was able to participate in.
She started chemotherapy in October and requested to undergo genetic testing as her mother Michele Berry also suffered from breast cancer and was diagnosed at an early age, unfortunately passing away in 2005.
Holly says she was unsure whether she would start radiotherapy or choose to have a bilateral mastectomy to complete her treatment.
Holly received news that she did not carry the mutated BRCA gene, following the genetic testing.
BRCA genes are genes that produce tumour suppressor proteins, and harmful mutated BRCA genes can be inherited from family members.
Despite getting the all-clear Holly still wanted to get a double mastectomy, and so with the support of family underwent a double mastectomy in January 2015.
The SoBrave project serves to empower young Australian breast cancer survivors.
Breast cancer survivor Rachelle Panitz brought together twelve young women who have been affected by the disease to create SoBrave, a creative fundraising calendar for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
The project also aims to raise awareness that breast cancer is not only an older woman’s issue but that #youngwomengetbreastcancertoo.
Each month of the fundraising calendar features each woman in full body paint, completed by internationally recognised body artist, Wendy Fantasia being photographed in beautiful locations across Australia.
The strength and resilience of the women is showcased in the magnificent photographs,a colourful visual representation of the metamorphosis each woman has undergone.
“The project for me was also about body image,” Holly said.
“I was one of the only ladies who haven’t had a breast reconstruction and I feel like there is pressure to do so” she said.
‘The project made me more confident in myself, my body and my decision not have reconstruction”.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed for women in Australia.
It is estimated that 15,600 females and 145 males were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.
Nearly 800 of those women will be under the age of 40 at the time of diagnosis - this equates to more than two young women every day.
Breast cancer statistics tell us that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
In Australia, seven women die every day as a result of breast cancer.
These statistics are harrowing as it means that many people are likely to have been affected or know someone who has been affected by breast cancer in some way.
It is because of this that Holly’s involvement in the SoBrave project is so important.
Because breast cancer in younger women is relatively uncommon, symptoms of the cancer can often be ignored and the health system can be difficult to manage.
“The health system really isn’t set up for young women with breast cancer”, Holly said.
“We don’t currently have access to routine mammographic screening and there has been a perception that it is an older lady's disease” she said
However young women are typically diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancers and are at higher risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
Because of the more aggressive cancer diagnosis, the treatment is typically more aggressive also, resulting in physical and psychological changes which may impact their future and quality of life.
Holly, who is the mother of two children says that a breast cancer diagnosis for young women can be heartbreaking as you they are often forced to make hard decisions.
“I was fortunate enough to have already had my children, but cancer treatment can take away that opportunity and that can be devastating”.
The 2017 SoBrave fundraising calendar include key information on breast care and health as well as information about each young woman’s journey.
The net proceeds from the sale of the calendars will go towards breast cancer research with the National Breast Cancer Foundation and The Centre for Personalised Nanotechnology at University of Queensland.
The calendars can be purchased online for only $30 at http://sobrave.com.au/.
If you would like to know more information about breast cancer and breast cancer research or would like to support and donate towards breast cancer research, go to: http://nbcf.org.au/.