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Cancer: Life's Best Teacher

My name is Anny Au, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in each breast at the age of 34. I live in Melbourne, Australia and work in the field of marketing. It’s been a year since I was declared cancer free and now I am determined to live my best life. Life is short, "Don’t sweat the small stuff" is now my daily mantra. 

June 6, 2017, I remember it clearly. The day I was changed, forever. That morning I walked into the specialist clinic confident that the doctor would look at my results and tell me that it was nothing to worry about. But when I stepped into the consulting room my heart sunk. Something didn’t feel right. She told me to take a seat and proceeded to tell me the dreaded news, "you have breast cancer" and just like in the movies, everything that happened after hearing those words became a blur. I was in shock. I had no idea of the roller coaster ride that was waiting for me. 

I was 34 years young with no family history of breast cancer but as luck would have it, I somehow had cancer in not one but in both of my breasts. My first response was "Why me, what have I done to deserve this?" Coming to terms with the fact that I have cancer may just be the hardest thing I have done to date, and I honestly don’t think there is anything else that would be harder but as they say -- without rain we would not have rainbows.  So, I have cancer. What does this mean? How do I tell everyone? Am I going to lose my hair? How will I survive surgery? Am I going to die? For weeks, endless questions and possibilities filled my head while I waited for a surgery date. I spent a lot of time crying in bed, a lot of time trying to ignore the situation, a lot of time on Google trying to find answers, trying to make sense of everything. The journey was long and hard, and nothing could have prepared me for the mental battle ahead. Don’t get me wrong, times were hard, but because I had such a fantastic support group I got through it. I knew I had people who I could call if I need to vent, to cry or simply just to forget. People that would put up with my bad cancer jokes, people who would not only listen but laugh and cry with me. 

Looking back, I think I was one of the lucky ones, I caught the cancer early and dodged the chemo bullet. My treatment was simple and straight forward. I had two lumpectomies, went to the fertility clinic to have eggs frozen, and the biggest decision of my life -- to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. Let me tell you, not only is making the decision hard, the lead up to the surgery is no joke.

The amount of mental stress you go through is unimaginable. I’ve learned that even when you think you’re all cried out, there are always tears left to cry. Because you are human, because you have feelings, because this is life changing, because -- this is a big deal.

After my bilateral mastectomy, it was so surprising to see how quickly I have adapted to this new body. It was only a few months in and already it was my new normal, I couldn’t even remember what my old boobs looked or felt like anymore.

I remember there was this one cold day I was walking to the gym and suddenly felt embarrassed. I had caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought I could see my cold nipples through my gym bra so I set my eyes to the ground and power walked into the gym just to realize -- I don’t even have nipples anymore!!! HA! To this day I still laugh about how silly the whole situation is.

Over the past two years, if I had learned anything, it would be that you don’t really know how strong you are until you are put to the test. Many of the lessons I’ve learned I probably wouldn’t have learned if not for cancer. I can’t exactly say that I am grateful that I had cancer but I am truly grateful for all the life lessons.

To learn:

  • I am more resilient and I believe I can get through anything,

  • The people who are truly deserving of my energy will stick around through thick and thin,

  • Life is too short to waste,

  • Even the darkest moments will pass so cry, feel, hurt then smile and laugh and carry on. 

  • "life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about dancing in the rain."

A cancer diagnosis cannot be reverted, nothing can make it go away and it will follow you for life but that doesn’t mean we can’t live our best lives. I found that being able to laugh and joke about my treatments have really helped. I can’t change the situation, but I can change the way I look at it.

I’ll share a secret with you.

After my bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, I’ve developed a new party trick mainly thanks to having my chest muscles on top of my implants. After a little practice I’ve perfected the female version of the peck dance. Not everyone appreciates it but I do enjoy watching people squirm when I show them what cancer has taught me! No only does laughing about it make light of the situation, I think it also puts the people around you at ease. Laughter is definitely the best medicine. 

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