Earlier this year, Yarn Raise released Boobie Sista, featuring artwork from Kombumerri and Butchulla artist Zowie Baumgart. The Boobie Sista artwork was inspired by Zowie’s best friend Kelly who was diagnosed 4 years ago. Zowie and Kelly came up with the artwork together to capture their experience, the strength of sisterly bonds that help us through dark times. The symbols and colours of this artwork tell the story of how a community rallies to support their sisters. And they knew that their story was one shared by millions of women around Australia and the world.
This October, for breast cancer awareness month, Kelly has bravely chosen to share her story, in her own words.
I woke up on my 38th birthday and started what felt like any other day. I had a birthday movie and lunch date booked with my little sister, so I jumped in the shower to get ready. While doing the normal body wash routine I brushed past what I can only describe as a hard, marble-sized lump on the top of my left breast. Panic set in immediately as I KNEW this hard lump wasn’t supposed to be there. But also in the back of my mind I was like… “This is nothing. It can’t be cancer. Definitely not cancer I’m too young and healthy… I’m ONLY 38!!!”
After celebrating the rest of the day my mind went straight to what-if mode, so I rang my GP and booked his next available appointment. I almost didn’t go as we were so “busy” at work that day and mumlife had me run off my feet. But something in my gut told me to go to that appointment so I did. After the doctor examined me, he agreed the lump was suspicious and over the coming weeks I had testing done. On the 5th of January 2019 my worst fears were confirmed when I received a call from my doctor to confirm the lump was in fact stage 1 Grade 3 Oestrogen-positive breast cancer. My world turned upside down. My first thought was how terrified I was to break the news to my husband, my beautiful daughter who was only, and the rest of my immediate family.
Over the next month I had a meeting with my surgeon. She informed me, with my husband by my side, that to give me the best chance of survival was to consider undergoing a Mastectomy of my left breast followed by chemotherapy. I had an out-of-body experience hearing this but went into survival mode. That day I decided it was a no-brainer: I would do anything and everything possible to beat this and watch my daughter grow up. It dawned on me that I had joined a club no woman wants to be a part: the 1 in 7 Australian women who get diagnosed with breast cancer. I was facing what thousands of women are told every year: “You have breast cancer”. I was shattered for what this meant for not only me but my husband and daughter.
After surgery we set up my chemotherapy plan. I would lose my hair and put my body through gruelling chemo. My body as I knew it was changed forever. As women we identify our femininity with our breasts and our hair, and cruelly breast cancer had taken part of this identity away. And not to mention the fear in my daughter’s face at seeing this.
Being a very private person before this, only my immediate family knew about my health. I’d created a private Facebook page called “Kellz boobie brigade” to keep my family back home in NZ and other overseas family in the loop. This gave me and my little family the energy, focus and support we needed to survive the unknown and upcoming months of treatment. I’ve always been a person that doesn’t like people worrying about me, so this group kept my anxiety at bay.
Shortly after that first surgery I was doing school pick up and I met a young woman named Zowie, whose daughter was in the same class as mine. We struck up an instant connection that day on the school bench waiting for our girls. In that moment a friendship was formed that would totally change my life and how I would navigate this shitshow of a journey. Chemo was due to start at the end of March and only a few short weeks after meeting Zowie she sent me a text: “I know this is random but will you let me shave my head with you so you’re not alone?”
I knew that I was going to lose my hair and I would lie awake at night thinking of the impact this would have on my family, seeing me like this. So I was mind blown reading this text from someone I’d literally just met and what she’d had offered to do. But I knew she had 2 beautiful girls of her own and didn’t want them scared at seeing their mum with no hair, so the answer was no. A few weeks later I had my first cycle of chemo under my belt and I was feeling pretty crappy from the side effects. I got another text from Zowie: “Hey can I ask a favour? Can I shave my head with you, but in doing so try to raise some $$ for you so when this is all over you can go on a lil holiday with your husband and daughter to celebrate?” I turned to my husband standing in the kitchen and said “I think this chick’s crazy!” But anyone that knows Zowie knows how stubborn she is - she would not take no for an answer. So I agreed.
Little did I know how fast that day would come. Only days after my 2nd cycle of chemo I started losing chunks of hair and the decision was made to shave it: I wanted to lose the rest of it on my terms. So we set a date, got some cake, and got our kids involved. My younger sister did the honours of shaving my head and shortly after Zowie and I were bald! The impact of what this selfless human had done really hit home after that first day back at school. All the little kids were startled, saying “she has no hair!” My heart sank looking at my daughter’s little scared, embarrassed face. But standing right next to me, with the biggest smile and no hair, was Zowie. And so began a friendship and bond I will cherish until my last breath.
The rest of chemo took its toll on my mind and body but it was successful. Follow up surgeries were booked and my hair eventually grew back. During this time my Boobie Brigade would check in on me, and so did Zowie. After every cycle it was a check in text or words of encouragement seeing me at school pick up reminding me “you got this chick!”. This support made me feel like I could beat this. It gave me superhuman strength on the days I felt so low.
4 years on and looking back at my journey I can only thank God that, for whatever reason, that morning I called my doctor and made that appointment. Early detection saved my life. Knowing something didn’t feel right and not brushing it aside saved my life. I know that so many more women before me and after me will get this hideous disease and some won't be as fortunate as getting such an early diagnosis as I did. Some women don't survive it. So I consider myself extremely fortunate and extremely blessed to have been through what I went through and come out as healthy as I am now.
This isn't going anywhere. It's an unfortunate disease that our women have to go through. So if we can prioritise our health instead of being moms and busy workers and busy sisters and busy friends, and not put it on the back burner like so many of us do because we put so many other people before us then we've got the best chance of surviving it and recovering and thriving.
We as women need to put ourselves first, which we naturally just can't do because we're very selfless in giving. But early detection is the key. There is no other way around it. Early detection saves lives and it might just make that difference of where your breast cancer journey might start, I guess. We need to not be scared. We need to be breast aware put our health first because the statistics are way too high and the conversation needs to be had. I was a healthy 38-year-old woman. The healthiest I'd been in a very long time. It doesn't discriminate. It doesn't fit in a box. It doesn't care how busy you are. It doesn't care if you've got to take the kids to sport or go to work or help your husband run your business at home.
Having the opportunity to tell my story with the help of Yarn and the amazing Boobie Sistas collection designed by Zowie provided me with some closure of this chapter of my life. And on the day of the shoot it felt like a celebration of sorts for me, my beautiful now 11-year-old daughter, my family and my closest boobie sistas who walked the journey with me. It was a celebration of the people around me, my little village that helped me get through the darkest days of my life. And now today with this collection we celebrate each other, celebrate women, celebrate family, celebrate everything that makes us who we are. While showcasing the amazing clothing and pieces that we were able to wear proudly. I could see the pride in my family and friends’ faces representing that painting, which represents not only us, but every woman around the world that may be starting, during or completing their fight with breast cancer.
So we come together not only for awareness, but we come together for love and support and that unconditional bond of just being there. I get to share my story and hopefully it means even just one person does a check, makes more women breast aware of even starts that conversation with those important queens in your life then it was all worth it I feel It’s my responsibility to try to get that clear message across and never stop raising awareness because unfortunately this terrible disease isn’t going anywhere
Kelly at the Boobie Sista shoot, surrounded by her friends and family, including Zowie.
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