'I got cancer at 30. No one tells you the mental battle is the hardest part.'

In 2021, as if a global pandemic wasn’t enough, I became one of the 1000 young Australian women under 39 diagnosed with aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. I was 30.

I tended to believe I was invincible. That was until one fateful April day when I did my first real examination of my breasts and found a lump. There is an emotional uniqueness to realising your body has failed you by getting cancer. A sense of hopelessness.

I was a 30-year-old woman who, in my wildest dreams, would never think I’d have the big C, yet here I was facing my mortality. I was forced to navigate a strange new world of self and social isolation from COVID and intensive treatment: 40 weeks of chemotherapy, three weeks of radiation, and life-changing surgery. However, the real battle for me was fought psychologically. I faced crippling sadness and loneliness. If you see photos from my time battling cancer, you can see a smile, but it never reaches my eyes.

Watch: How to check your breasts. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Cancer weaseled its way into every aspect of my life, sowing doubt and taking up all the oxygen. I feared never being able to have children (still do, by the way). I was stuck in the mud, and I would scroll through social media, feeling deeply resentful and jealous of people and the wonderful lives they led. Marriage, kids, milestones – these were all things I couldn’t experience because I was fighting for my life. I felt like a mere spectator. The relentless isolation and self-preservation caused me to disconnect emotionally, which resulted in strained relationships.


Fast forward to August 2022, and I was told I was in remission. In a nutshell, with the remission chat, part of you expects confetti canons and fireworks to say, “Well done, you’ve made it, and good on you, you’re a survivor.” Yet in my experience, all I was left with was silence. You are left in silence with a person you don’t know – yourself.

The treatment and appointments cease, the concern dissipates, expectations shift, and it is anticipated that you will retake your place in the world. Nonetheless, in the silence, the realisation dawns on you that, as a survivor, you no longer fit. The concept of surviving cancer is like coming home from war. I had been in the washing machine on the highest spin cycle, and I was dazed and confused. You’re at the beginning of this new chapter of your life with no idea who you are now or what you’re meant to do next. 

The ironic thing about cancer is that there is a treatment plan for the illness – a plan on dealing with this blasted disease. Yet there’s no regime or rehabilitation for the trauma you have to work through as a survivor. I’m in remission, but my mind and body seem to have other ideas. I’m a 32-year-old woman living in a body and mind I’m at war with and can’t control. Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, is my skin – coarse and scaly due to the many chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on skincare to no avail, with no cure in sight. Not to mention the rear end being uncontrollable and deeply misunderstood. Anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea medications are great friends of mine. I have fallen flat on my face more times than I can count since remission, but I try to get back up, sometimes unsuccessfully.


Image: Supplied.

I have times of intense grief, overwhelming loss, and guilt for having survived. Not to mention the constant health anxiety and fear of reoccurrence with every little lump, bump, or pain and strain putting a seed of doubt in your mind about its return. Nonetheless, there are times in life when you have to put your big girl pants on and get on with it. And that’s what I do every day.

Despite everything, cancer was the slap in the face I needed. I thought I was living before, but I was just a pebble skimming the surface of my life. In retrospect, cancer was a blessing and an unexpected epiphany. There aren’t always bad days either. I have some magnificent days where I see life for how profound it is, and I am fortunate enough to be given another chance at life. 


However, this isn’t just a miserable story about being a survivor. It is a story about advocating and bringing awareness to the urgent need for an integrated approach and additional resources to help deal with the well-being of cancer survivors. Survivorship sometimes makes you feel as though you were wandering around in the dark by yourself. I was not offered psychological assistance when I reached remission.

Listen to No Filter where Sally Obermeder shares her breast cancer journey. Story continues after podcast.

It was more like I was sent off into the world as a mismatched jigsaw puzzle. You are then tasked single-handedly with blindly trying to pick up those pieces and try to force them into this old jigsaw of your life. Yet they won’t fit no matter how hard you try, and neither will you get your old self back. It's a pipedream; like trying to put a circle peg in a square hole. It just won’t happen.

There was the realisation that I couldn’t pick up these pieces by myself. I needed help to process the loss, the trauma, and the grief. I had to source my own cancer-specific psychologist, which has helped me immensely. I accepted that I can live with the light and dark of the human experience. I know there are so many people out there feeling lost, lonely, and abandoned. Who don't even know where to start looking or how to get help. Just know that you are not on your own in your feelings. 

All I can say is to reach out and ask for support. You are not alone. If I can live through this day by day, you can too. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I know what comes next will be wonderful, right?

Feature Image: Supplied.

As one of our readers we want to hear from you! Complete this survey now to go in the running to win one of five $100 gift vouchers.