health

A Sydney mum got rid of her long blonde hair the night before her first chemo treatment.

Kirstin Pretorious has felt the shock of being diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s gone through the pain of chemotherapy. She’s also experienced through the strange sensation of looking at herself in the mirror and seeing someone unfamiliar looking back.

The Sydney mum-of-two tells Mamamia she got rid of her long blonde hair the night before she started her first chemo treatment.

“I decided to shave my hair before it fell out, so that I felt like I had some control,” she says.

“After I shaved my hair, I didn’t look like myself. None of my clothes looked the same. It’s amazing how your hair affects your whole appearance. Everything I put on, I looked so ridiculous. My wardrobe before was monochromatic simple lines, tight fitted clothes, and I didn’t look right.”

In this picture, I was living with cancer. I just didn’t know it yet. Ironically, this year marked the peak of my ‘health’ and my fitness. I’ve never felt better, stronger, or more comfortable with myself than I did turning 34. My marriage had never been better and my children were thriving. Everything was beautifully bright. But, despite feeling perfectly well, I went for my routine yearly health check. And that’s when they discovered ‘the limp’. The lump. I look at this picture from a simply blissful family holiday celebrating my 10 year wedding anniversary and all I can think is… ‘KIRSTIN how can you not know that there are 3 tumours thriving away in your breast? How can you not FEEL the cancer slipping into your lymph nodes? Why don’t you FEEL sick? How can you be so stupid?!’ But I didn’t know and I didn’t feel. If my doctor hadn’t examined me, I’d still be blissfully unaware, reaching new fitness goals with my body, eating my futile little anti-oxidant high virtually-vegan wonder food diet… I’d be packing my little plastic-free super food school lunches for my girls, lecturing them on healthy lifestyles. I’d be chemically-free cleaning my home wondering why the whole world doesn’t use essential oils. All the while growing and feeding my precious cancer. So check your boobs. Know your body. Cancer happens. To anyone. #breastcancer #breastexam #cancersucks #knowyourbody

A post shared by Kirstin Pretorius (@kicking_the_big_c) on

Pretorious decided she couldn’t spend months “hibernating” while she was going through treatment.

“I just thought, ‘I have to reinvent myself and make this work. I have to come up with a way that I can actually step outside with a degree of confidence.’”

She began wrapping herself in “bright sunshine pashminas” and putting on bright lipstick. Because wigs gave her a headache, she started experimenting with turbans and scarves. And, although she’d never been an earring person, she took to wearing them.

“I realised that if I didn’t have dangly earrings, there’s no balance,” she adds.

“Every day I would just experiment and see if it looked OK.”

Pretorious says reinventing her look has been a welcome distraction from her cancer treatment.

“It’s something else to think about. I think it’s been important for me to get up every day, put on some makeup, do something. It is a very depressing situation. It’s easy to slip into a dark place. And the medication, especially the chemo, makes you feel very dark.”

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Before Pretorious was diagnosed with breast cancer in June this year, she was fit and healthy. Her diet was high in antioxidants and virtually vegan, and she was avoiding any foods known to be cancer-causing.

She was exercising five or six times a week, not using chemicals in her home, trying to reduce plastics – and even using crystal deodorant instead of the regular kind.

“I never really actually thought I was at risk,” she admits.

However, at her yearly health check-up, her doctor picked up a lump in her breast. It turned out she had three tumours in her breast, and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.

“I said to my surgeon, ‘I feel so well. I’m so healthy. I don’t understand how this has happened.’ She said, ‘The bottom line is they don’t really know what causes breast cancer. That’s why all these tests that we go on are so important. By the time you feel sick from cancer, it’s already progressed a lot further.’”

Pretorious decided to share her cancer journey on Instagram as a way of making other women more aware of their bodies. She says although she’s “quite a private person”, she’s glad she’s done it.

“I can’t believe how many people have said to me, ‘I’m booking an appointment straightaway to have my boobs checked,’ and things like that. What I set out to do is working.”

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