lifestyle

This is what it's like to have cancer when you're 24.

All photos courtesy of Joffre Street Productions

When Allison Snare found a marble-sized lump in her breast early last year, she knew exactly what it was. Her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer in her thirties, followed by ovarian cancer that claimed her life in her forties. This had made Allison diligent about checking for changes.

However, if it weren’t for her family history there’s a good chance Allison’s stage 3 breast cancer — the most aggressive form — wouldn’t have been diagnosed until much later.

“I had the ultrasound and all of [the doctors] said, ‘You’re so young — it can’t be cancer, we only get people in who are 40 and over, not 23,” Allison, now 24, recalls. “But I pushed to have a biopsy, because the same thing happened with my mum; doctors told her it was nothing and she pushed to have a lumpectomy and that’s when they came back to her with an apology.”

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Although she was somewhat prepared to hear the words ‘breast cancer’ when her results came in, Allison, who was studying at uni and working at Coles in Launceston at the time, was still hit hard by her diagnosis.

“It just feels like the floor falls away from you and you can’t really see more than a day ahead of you,” she says. “I went home and my partner and a couple of my best friends came around and we just watched some Chris Rock comedy and sort of made light of the situation.”

Allison

Allison's endured several treatments since then: five months of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and only a few weeks ago, reconstructive surgery. As a young cancer patient, one of the most confronting parts of her experience was undergoing IVF and having to think about having children earlier than she'd expected.

"I think I was about eight days off my one year anniversary [with my boyfriend] when I was diagnosed," Allison explains. "I’m 24 now and they told me that I need to have all the kids I want before I’m 30. So my partner and I will be starting on that this year; it’s a big call so I've had to rearrange all my life plans."

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Allison and her partner Dwayne, who is five years her junior, are ultimately hoping to have three or four children. Then, when Allison is 30, she'll likely have a full hysterectomy to remove her risk of ovarian cancer.

"My partner has been unbelievably amazing throughout this whole thing," she says. "He didn’t even hesitate about IVG and freezing the embryos or anything like that. But obviously he’s nervous and a little bit scared at the prospect of being a dad quite young, anyone would be."

Allison's course of treatment is finished for now, although it'll be five years before she can officially call herself a cancer survivor. Still, she wanted to find a way to bookmark the end of this scary, trying period of her life. That's where photographer Bruce Moyle came in.

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Three days before her breast reconstruction last month, Allison arranged a photoshoot with Bruce, who she knew through a mutual friend. Despite the harrowing story behind the images, one look at them suggests the photoshoot was far from sombre.

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"We put on soundtracks like Rocky and The Karate Kid ... and just laughed and did Pantene poses and just had a really good time with it. It was just a really positive experience, which is a credit to the way Bruce handled it," Allison says.

"Some of the photos are beautiful and some of them show so much heartache, which is really difficult to see because obviously you always have your down days."

Allison's positive attitude shines through, but she hasn't been immune to the emotional impacts of her various treatments. Before she shared these photos on Facebook, Allison posted a status update reminding her followers to be kind about her appearance, which had changed dramatically as a result of chemotherapy.

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"Throughout those five months I put on about 12 kilos, and when you’re bald and you have no eyelashes and eyebrows and you don’t really feel like yourself ... even though I am a positive person, my self esteem is at its lowest."

Allison's also still grappling with some of the lingering physical and mental side-effects.

"Chemo was particularly hard. They don’t lie about that one. Even a couple of months out I'm still so tired; I've asked women on my support group when the fatigue goes away, and some women who are about seven years out say it never does," she says.

"There’s also a thing called 'chemo brain' — you’ll be in the middle of a sentence and forget what you’re saying. Your memory’s sort of shot to hell. I guess that’s the sort of day-to-day reality, and I’m just trying to rest up still until I can go back to work and feel more like a normal person."

RELATED: The beautiful moment a 5-year-old cancer patient met bald Cinderella.

For the time being, Allison is determined to make young women aware of the importance of getting regular checks and knowing their bodies.

"If you know that there’s something wrong, if you know that there’s a lump there that’s never been there before, you need to know 100% through a biopsy. Don’t let the doctor say, ‘You’re too young it’s probably nothing’ or, ‘Oh it’s just fluid’. They can’t just assume, they need to test to know if it is or it isn’t," she says.

"Young women can be affected by cancer and we need to start checking just as you would a pap smear. If I can help someone else get checked and catch it early and save a life, then pass that information onto someone else, that would be so rewarding for me."

You can see more of Bruce's work at his website Joffre Street Productions