Nothing about Bianca Innes’ situation is normal, not for someone her age. Over the past six months she’s undergone 12 rounds of chemotherapy, had 10 hospital admissions, two surgeries, and currently battles near-constant fatigue and bone pain. All because of a disease that typically affects women four decades older: breast cancer.
Diagnosed in April 2017 at the age of 20, the aspiring journalist is likely to be one of the youngest Australians (if not the youngest) fighting the disease.
HAVING A MASSIVE WTF MOMENT THIS SATURDAY MORNING! These photos were taken 12 months apart almost to the day. On the left, a healthy, happy and normal 20 year old girl. On the right, a 21 year old girl fighting a battle she thought she’d never be faced with. Breast Cancer. This is a stark reminder that cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t give a fuck about your age nor your financial status. This week I was told that I needed to start immediate radiation therapy as my heart and immune system can no longer handle chemotherapy. This consists of 6 weeks of daily intensive radiation. Unfortunately, this is another battle I will need to push through. However, who would think that something you don’t CHOOSE to get could be so expensive?! My friends and family have kindly set up a ‘GoFundMe’ page and the link is in my bio. Any donation large or small I am beyond grateful for. I am overwhelmed by people’s support thus far and truly don’t have the words to describe what it’s like knowing that people genuinely want to see you healthier, stronger and happier than before. My entire journey I’ve tried to stay positive and show the raw realities of cancer at this age through my blog by spreading awareness to young women far and wide. Hopefully I’ll be able to show you all that I kicked cancers ass! ???????????? #breastcancer #breastcancerawareness #bcna #checkyourboobies #pinkhope #pinkribbon #knowyourrisk #loveyoursister #bodyawareness #boobs #beforeandafter #cancer
Like many, Bianca’s story began with a lump. She spotted on her right breast while towelling herself after a shower. She ignored it at first, but within weeks it had tripled in size.
“After many tests I was diagnosed with Grade 3 Stage 2b Triple Positive breast cancer,” she told Mamamia.
There was no known family history, and testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 ‘breast cancer gene’ came back negative.
“My diagnosis came as a huge shock to not only me, but my family and friends too,” she said.
“The first question I asked was, ‘Will I lose my hair?’ At that time, it was the most important thought in my mind.”
This week, Bianca shared an emotional Instagram post. Above a heartfelt comment were two photos. In one, is what appears to be a healthy, happy 20-year-old, dressed to the nines. In the second image, the ravages of cancer and chemo have taken a toll on her body.
But Bianca wants to make it clear that she feels more beautiful and accepting of herself as she is now, because her battle has proved she is brave, and strong. And she has a purpose – spreading awareness that young women can be affected by this disease, too.
“HAVING A MASSIVE WTF MOMENT THIS SATURDAY MORNING! These photos were taken 12 months apart almost to the day. On the left, a healthy, happy and normal 20 year old girl. On the right, a 21 year old girl fighting a battle she thought she’d never be faced with. Breast Cancer,” she captioned the Instagram image.
“This is a stark reminder that cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t give a f**k about your age nor your financial status… My entire journey I’ve tried to stay positive and show the raw realities of cancer at this age through my blog by spreading awareness to young women far and wide.”
Of the 17,586 women likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, just 4.7 per cent will be under the age of 39.
It’s little wonder then that when Bianca went in search of other young women like her, of stories that might bring solace and support, she found nothing. No one who could put words around what it’s like to have to abandon your studies, to spend your 21st birthday in hospital, to struggle watching your friends do everyday things you once took for granted – go to the gym, to work, sit exams, tie up their hair.
A little thing, sure; unless you’re facing chemotherapy.
“When my hair started falling out into clumps, I felt like I was losing all control. As women, our hair is a large part of our confidence, femininity and identity, and I was about to lose it all,” Bianca said.
“So as soon as I almost let it break me, I took back that control, shaved my hair off right down to the skin, put on a full face of makeup and reminded myself that I still am beautiful with or without hair.”
It was a decision that inspired her to put her part-completed journalism studies to work, and create a blog for other young breast cancer sufferers, to share the truth of the disease through words and images like the one above.
"I feel it’s important to share these raw and honest photographs with my audience as it is a reminder that life isn’t completely perfect. That as women, it is okay to show our vulnerability and struggles. Simply put, because we all have them," Bianca told Mamamia.
"In my comparison photos, I genuinely feel more beautiful in the photo to the right because I’m no longer just the girl with the green eyes, fair skin and dark hair. I’m a strong young woman who has a passion to change the game for young Australian women."
Mia Freedman speaks to Samuel Johnson about breast cancer, and life after Connie. (Post continues below.)
Bianca is due to start her next phase of treatment in December. Until then, she is working on rebuilding her emotional and physical strength.
"I take the good and bad days for what they are. I am proud to say that although I have breast cancer, I am happy, living life to the fullest and positive about the future," she said.
"I can thankfully say that I am looking forward to being another step closer to being cancer free."
If you would like to help Bianca with her treatment costs, please donate whatever you can via GoFundMe.
You can follow her experience through her blog, Going Topless.