'I'm 35 and dying of breast cancer. I'm not devastated.'

For mother-of-one Shar Christoff Harris, her five-year-old son Phoenix is her “everything”. 

“He is so sweet and kind, he makes sure no one is ever made to feel left out, even when he has trouble communicating with them, and he doesn’t let his autism hold him back,” the Perth mum told Mamamia. “He adores his daddy and me and how we make him laugh and we spend a lot of time learning about new robots and Lego.”

But time is one thing Shar doesn’t have. Because at just 35 years old she’s been diagnosed with a cancer so “insidious” that it will eventually tear her from the ones she loves.

Watch: In her shoes, Lea's cancer story. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia. 

“Phoenix is my greatest accomplishment and the love of my life,” she said. “I'm his favourite person in the whole world so it's just very devastating. My husband's devastated, my mum’s devastated, everybody's devastated but me.

“We are all going to die one day and most of us don’t know how or when. But I’ve just been told how, what’s going to kill me and when it might do it, so I’ve just got to get everything in order and make the most of the time I’ve got left.” 


A family’s heartbreak

The young family’s nightmare began on Christmas Day last year when Shar got glandular fever and her lymph nodes swelled up in her neck and under her arms. By February, she still wasn’t getting any better. 

“I was checking myself because my underarms were hurting because the lymph nodes were swollen and I found a little lump in my breast,” she explained. “It kind of felt really squishy in my left breast and I thought maybe it was a swollen lymph node. I just wasn't sure if it was connected. That's what made me go get it checked out.”

The very next day she booked in to see her GP who sent her off for a referral and ultrasound. 

“The whole time you're there, they've got signs up saying ‘three to four days for results’ so you’re told there's going to be a waiting period,” Shar said. “When I was in there, they’d take other people in, do their tests and be like, ‘okay, thank you, bye, see you in three to four days’. But they started going in and out of the room and I kept getting asked to stay back. That's when I knew something was up.”

Image: Supplied.


The 35-year-old was sent for a mammogram “right then and there” before undergoing a biopsy. Two weeks later she received the results. It was stage two breast cancer. 

“They discovered what I have is called invasive lobular carcinoma,” she said. “The most common breast cancer is in the milk ducts, not the lobes. The one I have is in the lobes so it’s a bit insidious. It doesn’t form like an actual lump. It spreads out like a web so it’s very hard to detect and it's hard to see on mammograms as well.”

But by the time the full results of an MRI, CAT and PET scan came back, doctors were forced to deliver the worst news imaginable. 

“It's actually metastasized in my spine, in my hip and in my neck,” Shar explained. “So I'm now categorised as stage four and it’s been stated that they want to try to contain it, not cure it.”

While doctors were once considering chemo and a double mastectomy, the mother-of-one has been told there’s now “not a lot of point in doing that”. 


“Because it’s in my lymph nodes, it’s got a highway to wherever it wants to go really,” she said. A mastectomy would also put her at grave risk of infection. 

“So they're just trying to give me more time now than anything,” Shar told Mamamia. “Because this is going to eventually kill me.” 

She's now 'at peace' with her diagnosis 

Shar’s now on a type of chemotherapy drug, a tablet she’ll take in three-week cycles for four months, in a desperate bid to keep her alive.

“She [the doctor] did say on this drug that she’s had women that have lived for five years,” the 35-year-old explained. “So 25 per cent don't make it to five years, is how she explained it to me, while 50 per cent make it to five years and then 25 per cent make it further than five years. So it's quite a limited timeline.”

But despite the heartbreaking prognosis, Shar says she’s “kind of at peace with it”. Because, devastatingly, she’s all too familiar with the gruelling battle against cancer. 

“I watched my uncle pass away from prostate cancer last year,” she said of the man that was like a father to her and who she adored. “He’d been fighting it for 17 years so I’ve been through a cancer journey, I know how it ends.”

Shar insists that she won’t allow herself to be devastated by her own diagnosis. 

“I don’t have the energy or the time anymore to worry about it,” she said. “I’ve been told that my time with my son is so limited, I don’t want to spend it curled up in a ball in bed crying my eyes out.


“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve cried my eyes out to the point that the skin under my eyes started peeling, like it’s horrendous, but I’ve decided that I want to make happy memories with my little boy. I want him to see me happy.” 

Shar with her uncle on her wedding day. Image: Supplied.

Explaining death to her five-year-old

For five-year-old Phoenix, he knows “mummy is sick”. 

“My breast is quite red and inflamed because it’s quite inflammatory this cancer so he’ll see me when I’m getting changed and be like, ‘mummy’s got ouchies’,” Shar said. “And I’ve told him, ‘yeah, mummy’s not well, mummy doesn’t feel good’. And because there are so many doctors appointments he just automatically asks when I leave the house, ‘you go see doctor?’   


And while he’s young, Shar is trying to prepare him for a world without her. His favourite person. 

“Because he’s autistic, he’s all about routine and planning,” the Perth mum explained. “His teacher has just left, she’s got a new job, and I’m still reminding him of that so when he goes in he’s not going to be overwhelmed and that’s the same approach I’ll take with him. Like, ‘mummy might not always be there but she’ll always be around you'. 

“His favourite character is Buzz Lightyear so I always tell him, ‘I love you to infinity and beyond’. I'm just making sure he understands how much I love him, that I'll never leave him even if I'm not with him, [even] if I'm not physically here, I will never leave his side.”

Shar’s bucket list wish

Since her sudden diagnosis in February, life has been a “whirlwind” for the family of three. 

“I've had to give up my job as a childcare director,” Shar explained of the career she adores. “Because of germs and everything they've just said, ‘no, you're not allowed to work in that industry anymore, it's just not safe’.” 

Without her income as the main breadwinner, the family is now reliant on Shar’s husband Russell, whose wage is just about covering the bills and rent. Battling to cope with medical costs on top of day-to-day expenses, the family has set up a GoFundMe page


“Those who know me know how strong and stubborn I am when asking for help, but at this point in time my family and I really need your help in facing the uncertain times ahead,” Shar wrote online. 

While funds raised will go towards easing their “financial burden”, the mother-of-one’s also got one bucket on her list that she describes as a long shot.  

“We would love to go to England and Ireland because that's where my husband's family is from and I've never been,” she told Mamamia. “We've set up the GoFundMe, and it's not doing great. You know, everybody's struggling at the moment with interest rates and inflation, so that's something I’d love to do but it probably won't happen and that's okay.” 

Image: Supplied.


Breast cancer can happen to anyone

For Shar Christoff Harris, who has no family history of breast cancer and says her diagnosis “came out of left field,” she’s determined to spread awareness and encourage others to regularly check their breasts.

“This is something you always hear, and it’s so cliche, you never think it’s going to happen,” she said. “It’ll happen to a friend of a friend but it turns out I’m that friend of a friend.”

She’s urging women to be more alert that breast cancer can happen at any age at any time.

“I just don't want any other young women, and I know there will be, but I don't want them to have to go through this, especially any young mothers as well,” she said. “That's the devastating part. 

“I'm not scared of death but I'm so sad for the grief that my child is going to have to go through. What makes me more upset than the thought of dying is knowing that there's going to be times when my child wants his mother and I won't be there.”

But in death, Shar’s love will live on ‘to infinity and beyond’.

Image: Supplied.

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