When one of my best friends, Lauren, rang me in the middle of the day, my reaction wasn’t how I usually felt when I saw her name appear on my phone. I knew there must have been some news she had to tell me; something just felt ‘not quite right’. My first thought was that she was pregnant. Although her youngest was only seven months, I thought perhaps that she wanted to try again quickly. (She had issues previously and, at 38, was ‘getting on’ in the fertility game.) But as soon as I heard her voice, I knew that her news wasn’t happy.
“They think I have breast cancer,” she told me. Her tone wasn’t emotional in any way; it was just like she was delivering any other sort of information. And sure enough, after a few anxious days of waiting, what had earlier been dismissed as a blocked milk duct from breastfeeding, was diagnosed as breast cancer.
I still remember the sense of relief after Lauren had that initial ultrasound. I sat with her while she had it done, watching her youngest daughter sleep in her pram, when the supervising radiologist came into the room to tell us his assessment. I now wonder if the outcome would have changed if he hadn’t have made that incorrect evaluation.
Between that first cancer dismissal three months earlier, it was now in two separate areas in her breast and lymph node and, after the routine scans to check other parts of her body, it was shown to have spread into her sacrum and sternum (her spine). So not only did my 38-year-old, perfectly healthy friend without any family history of breast cancer have this horrendous disease, it was confirmed that it was terminal. It will ultimately be what takes her life, much too soon.
My dear friend Lauren has kindly let me share a part of her story.
Lauren has recently completed her chemotherapy treatment; the first of what she hopes will be the last for a long while. Over eight sessions, various members of Lauren’s friends and family sat with her while the strong dosage was given. While doing this, Lauren would multi-task - as usual - providing regular updates to her Facebook group, where she shares her side effects, including hair loss and at times excruciating pain. In each photo and each update, Lauren always offers some glimmer of hope through her smiling face or positive outlook. She has taken this disease by its metaphorical balls.
The remarkable women behind breast cancer awareness advocate Connie Johnson. (Post continues below.)
Lauren preempted losing her hair and had a pesky mole removed on her hairline that would get in the way of her rocking her bald head to its fullest. She then shaved her hair off and got a blonde bombshell wig, just in case she had a day where she felt like hair (not that she needs it).
Instead of wallowing over the cruelness of cancer and its ramifications as I most likely would, days after finding out her diagnosis she delayed treatment to fly to Bali to attend her brother’s wedding; not because she didn’t see any hope, but because she chose her memories and experiences over an evil disease invading her body.
Lauren is in the process of accessing her life insurance and her superannuation, which she will use part of to go on a family holiday to Africa, somewhere she had always planned on taking her two young girls in the future. She has ordered two golden retrievers and has recently bought her dream family home where she will spend her time making memories. It's the place in which her girls will grow up, their mum’s memory alive within its walls. The remainder of her money will be set-aside for her two young daughters and their future.
Lauren’s attitude is undoubtedly brave. But for me it's more than that - it's awe-inspiring. To take on a circumstance that is so incredibly unfair and make the most out of the amazing gifts she does have, including her loving network of family and friends, is a lesson I think many of us can apply to our own lives. “I’ve learnt not to worry about the things you can’t change,” Lauren said. This advice stuck with me because, in the end, it is the people around us, our family and friends that matter the most, will bring us our happiness, our greatest memories and leave our most significant legacy. I have no doubt Lauren’s legacy will be incredible and lasting.
As I spoke to Lauren at her youngest daughter’s first birthday over Easter, apart from the absence of hair, you’d never know what the past few months had challenged her with. Her chosen topics of discussion were instead of the house she and her partner have just purchased, their wedding in the near future and ideal hairstyle for the occasion. “I definitely want my own hair," she said.
As I was about to leave I posed for a photo with Lauren. When I looked at it later that night, I noticed a light shining from above, straight onto my friend. I knew then that although there is no miraculous cure, that there definitely is someone or something shining down on her as she boldly takes on this disease, but more importantly, as she lives her life.