As the new year dawned, I made myself a promise.
This year’s going to be my year, I decided.
Aged 44, I was a single mum to three wonderful kids. My sons, Stuart, 21, and Thomas, 20, had both recently flown the coop. And my daughter, Gabie, 18, had just got her driver’s licence.
Still, I did lots of volunteer work.
For a decade, I’d coordinated the Look Good, Feel Better program – a service that teaches beauty techniques to help people with cancer manage the tough, appearance-related effects of treatment like chemotherapy.
I’d even set up a wig library for our local oncology unit.
That March, I visited my friend Vonnie and her husband, Bill, in Sydney.
Bill worked as the executive chairman for Myer and was telling me that BreastScreen – a service that provides free mammograms for women over 40 – had been set up in some of their stores.
‘What are the services like in Dubbo?’ he asked me.
While I could go for a free mammogram, I knew it was recommended mostly for women aged over 50.
Being only 44, I hadn’t had one yet.
Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family, I thought.
Plus, I’d breastfed all three of my kids, which also reduced my risk.
But I knew how deadly breast cancer could be and I also knew early detection saved lives.
So I called BreastScreen to make an appointment.
Driving home from a girls’ weekend in Terrigal, NSW, BreastScreen called.
‘We’ve found a suspicious lump in your left breast,’ the doctor said.
I’ll be fine, I told myself as the initial shock lifted.
Going back into BreastScreen, I was pricked and prodded.
Hoping that the medical staff were wrong, I waited for the results.
‘You have grade 2, stage 3 breast cancer in your left breast,’ the doctor confirmed.
My whole world came crashing down.
Who will look after the kids? I thought, petrified.
Telling my children was heartbreaking, but I knew we’d get through it together.
I’d said it was going to be my year. I was right, but not in the way I expected.
The next 12 months were a blur of treatments – I had the lump removed, as well as the affected lymph nodes, plus six rounds of chemo and seven weeks of radiation.
All my hair fell out, even my eyebrows and lashes.
‘I feel like Uncle Fester from The Addams Family!’ I joked to Gabie.
So I borrowed some wigs from the library I’d set up.
‘I want to test them all out to see if blondes really do have more fun,’ I laughed with the kids.
‘You saved my life.’
Sharing my story in the local newspaper, where I worked as a sales manager, I got a call from a woman my age.
After reading my story, she’d gone for a check and had been diagnosed with breast cancer, too.
‘You saved my life,’ she said, gratefully.
‘You’ve caused a bigger spike in appointments than Kylie Minogue’s diagnosis!’ the receptionist at BreastScreen told me.
I need to do more, I thought, determined.
So I started my own charity, Pink Angels Inc, to help breast cancer patients throughout the Dubbo region with
childcare, support packs, cleaning and more.
We even mow lawns!
Six years on, at 50, and cancer free, I decided it was my time, again.
Quitting my job, I sold my house, and moved back in with my parents, Margaret and Graham, both then 72, to save.
Then I bought a van and named it the Groovy Booby Bus!
‘I didn’t know men could get breast cancer!’
The kids thought I was crazy but knew how important it was to me.
‘Go for it, Mum!’ they said.
The most important thing is starting the conversation about breast cancer.
I even have a giant pair of boobs in a bright pink bra painted on the bonnet!
As pink is the international colour for breast cancer, everything inside my RV is pink, including the steering wheel, teacups and pillows.
A sticker on the bus’ right side reads, 1 in 7 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by age 85.
Setting off in 2016, the plan was to go out for a few weeks, inviting people onto the bus and telling them my story over a cuppa.
‘I didn’t know men could get breast cancer!’ I’ve had people gasp when they’re aboard the Booby Bus.
‘I was inspired to get checked after seeing your bus drive through town last time,’ another woman told me.
Pulling up at roadworks is always funny.
‘There’s a big bra coming your way!’ I hear the men say over the two-way radio.
Six years on, I’m still on the road, and the bus makes a stir wherever it goes.
Last year, I drove 22,000 kilometres in six months!
Now, I’m a grandma – or ‘Glammy’ – to six grandkids, with another on the way.
The kids love camping with Glammy on the Groovy Booby Bus when I roll back into Dubbo.
I miss them so much when I’m away.
But one conversation saved my life. And now I’m paying it forward. To every woman out there, be breast aware!