Brave and Beautiful

Posted in News

A picture is worth a thousand words…..that’s how the saying goes.

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Sometimes the picture isn’t exactly what we imagine, or how we hoped.  My super sister Elle has had a big year and her journey hasn’t played out as she imagined, nor how she deserved.  You might remember from my earlier blog, Elle had her own prophylactic bilateral mastectomy earlier this year and she did it tough!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this picture says it all……

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OUCH!  Elle had trouble with one of her flaps, which despite all efforts, all prayers, all hopes, wishes and desires, didn’t recover and eventually the infection took over.  With multiple surgeries and skin grafts, Elle eventually lost half of her reconstructed breast.

Elle is brave and beautiful and when I asked her to share a photo of her breast today, she sent me this image….

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Elle shared this picture and I think it was actually the very first time she has taken a photo since it healed.  It made her teary, it evoked emotion and I am incredibly proud that Elle has allowed me to share it here today.  Elle has been recovering well, taking care of her body, getting back into the swing of life and showing incredible bravery along the way.

For the strangers who follow the page, the blog or stumble across it accidentally, I remind you that we share very openly and honestly here.  If the images are offensive or disturbing in any way, we don’t apologise, we don’t pretty them up, we don’t beautify reality and we share to support other women and men travelling along a similar path.  This is what Elle looks like today…..

Elle is brave and beautiful!  Most importantly, Elle has gone from being 85% likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, to probably never EVER needing to consider that diagnosis.  I remember my doctor sharing with me that I’m around 1% likely to be diagnosed since my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, which are stats that our family absolutely LOVE.

Tomorrow Elle goes back in hospital and is undergoing surgery to reconstruct her missing breast.  The medical team will insert an implant to round out Elle’s previously reconstructed breast, which was originally made using the fat and muscle from her abdomen.  I am writing this blog to remind Elle how truly awesome, brave and beautiful she is!!!

I borrowed this awesome quote from our gorgeous cousin Jodie who recently shared it.

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It’s another major surgery tomorrow for Elle and we are all sending love and hugs her way. Coincidentally, another friend of mine is undergoing her own reconstruction tomorrow too, having had both breasts removed earlier this year due to a cancer diagnosis.

Regardless of what their reconstructions look like, they are both brave and beautiful inside and out and I wish them a speedy recovery and can’t wait to hug them both again.

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My Smiling for Smiddy Challenge Ride Reflection – 12 months later, better late than never!!!

Posted in News

Time really does fly! It was exactly 12 months ago today that I was packing and preparing to take on a seemingly impossible challenge, joining 49 other cyclists to embark on a journey from Brisbane to Townsville to raise money for cancer research in the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge Ride.

Here’s some essentials I packed…..

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Townsville is 1600km’s from Brisbane! 1600km’s over 8 days on our bikes!! Sounds crazy right? Here’s where we travelled…..

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The team at Smiling for Smiddy is seasoned and polished when it comes to coordinating such an event. There’s nothing the support crew can’t do. Whether it’s a gentle smile to send you on your way, or an embracing hug when you don’t even realise you need it most, they are wholly committed to the team with an unconditional bond of friendship and love. Even 12 months on from my own participation in the Challenge ride, I still feel blessed to know such incredible people.

Support Crew

In just 8 days of cycling, it is impossible to describe the wave of emotions experienced during that time. For me personally, I have not even been able to (or taken the time to really) sit for a moment and reflect on what I experienced until now, the eve of the next wave of cyclists taking this incredible journey. As a previous Challenge rider, I’m wondering how to describe it, how to explain it, how to send my wishes to my friends going this year and to complete strangers who are about to leave themselves.

My kids described it best for me….

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In a single week of my life, I can honestly say that I never felt anything else like it.

  • Happiness and sadness
  • Connection and isolation
  • Accomplishment and self-doubt
  • Love and emotional pain
  • Body strength and severe indescribable pain (who can forget the mind-over-matter blog?)

The emotional and physical scars I have from the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride will be with me forever. This quote sums it up best for me…..

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Would I take it all back? Never!

Would I do it again? Who knows?

Would I recommend others to do it? Hell YES!!!!

The Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride changed my life. I still can’t perfectly pin point what that really even means, but it changed my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A special memory for me is that I got to spend 8 days solid with this amazing friend, Hannah Hogan, whose unconditional support helped me through some of my darkest moments. For those taking the journey this year, friendship will be your secret weapon through the tough times.

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I also spent hours upon hours looking at the photo in honour of Adam Smiddy stuck onto my bike. When it hurt, I looked at Adam and knew that my pain was nothing in comparison to him losing his life to cancer.   The memory of Adam and the presence of his parents David and Maria leading the support crew, ensured a level of mental strength you don’t even realise is possible. At the end of each of the 8 days, I thought about my emotions throughout the day, then I stuck a little emoticon sticker on my bike to help me through the next day. The photo of Adam and those stickers are all still on my bike 12 months later!!

Adam Smiddy

This year is made even more challenging with the absence of the beautiful Maria Smiddy. Maria is one of those people in life you just can’t find words worthy of describing her. Maria sadly lost her own battle with cancer earlier this year and it still breaks my heart to fathom what the incredible Smiddy family has endured. I simply have no words and can only honour Maria by smiling each time I think of her.  Every time I see this beautiful and treasured photo of us together with her husband David the night we finished riding in 2014, it warms my heart – it remains my Facebook profile picture to this very day.

Maria & David

I wasn’t really looking my best, as I had literally just shaved my long head of hair to raise just that little bit more money for cancer research.   I can thank this guy for that….

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Zane is another one of those special people you meet along this journey. Zane is riding in the Challenge again this year and I have no doubt he will be one of the nucleus members of the group. He’s fit, he’s fast and he’s actually trained for the ride this year too, having come in as a late participant last year not long after losing his own father to cancer.

It just breaks my heart that so many of us have stories of cancer taking loved ones away from us prematurely. It’s one of the reasons it drives our little family to continue raising money for cancer research beyond events like the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride.  Our kids love wearing their own Smiddy gear around to show their support!

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In the past 2 months we have two beautiful friends each be diagnosed with breast cancer. One friend has just had her bilateral mastectomy and our other friend is scheduled to have her bilateral mastectomy in 2 weeks time – exactly 12 months after I had my own breast reconstruction.  Both women will then fight a battle with this disease and I know they’ll both win. Their stories make me even more motivated to continue volunteering my time and energy to raise money for cancer research via our World’s Biggest Garage Sale.  With support from our invaluable and incredible volunteers, we are proud to have raised a combined total of $75,000 in our 2013 and 2014 events and we are looking forward to a record breaking 2015 event.

I can’t help but think that the timing of our exciting news today about the 5000 sqm warehouse space being donated to host our 2015 World’s Biggest Garage Sale in 6 weeks time was absolutely perfect. It has happened exactly 12 months after I took my own Challenge journey and on the eve of the next wave of riders leaving for theirs. Stay tuned for more exciting news about this space!!

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As the 2015 riders leave tomorrow, I know in my heart that they will each travel a unique journey in their lives, which will forever remain with them as one of the most significant and memorable eternally.  Every day spent on the road with new friends, strangely feels like a whole regular year of time.  8 days quickly feels like 8 years of a very unique bond.

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Hair grows back, sore butts subside and even the scars will eventually heal, but the look on the face of your family when you return from something magical like the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride, is truly priceless.

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Smiddy, Smiddy, Smiddy

My Super Sister

Posted in News

It’s been a while since I have written a new blog post and if I’m to be completely honest, I’ve been a little scared.  Scared and scarred both in about equal amounts. I’ll elaborate more on that at another time.

Most importantly, I’m writing again because tomorrow is the day one of my younger sisters is undergoing her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.  Elle (a truly Super Sister) is 18 months younger than me, she’s a brilliant mother, a wife to Ben (they are childhood sweethearts) and she’s been a loyal follower of this blog since it started in January last year.  I owe it to Elle to start writing again, especially given she is one of the BIG reasons behind me starting it all in the first place. Elle is the super cute blonde one on the right in this photo…..

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As her older sister, I always wanted to ‘be there’ for Elle, so I’m hoping that in some small way, sharing my blog has helped Elle reach this day – the eve of her own surgery.  I know she loves this photo of us all dressed the same, they were our most favourite dresses.  Elle (the middle sister) is in the middle below….

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Elle has always going out of her way for anyone and everyone!  She is the sort of person who would give away her last dollar or her last meal, Elle is the first to put up her hand if you need something and she is forever helping other busy parents when they need a helping hand.  Tomorrow is a BIG day for Elle and I’m excited for her to finally be here.

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Elle doesn’t know I’m writing this blog tonight about her, so I won’t share anything too personal without her permission.  One thing I will share is how proud I am of Elle.  You see, Elle bravely stripped off for me a year ago to reveal her breasts in a family portrait style photo I posted in an earlier blog.  I had this crazy idea to help me when I was nervous about posting my own breasts on the blog and I somehow managed to convince all of the girls in the family to share a photo of their breasts with me for the family portrait.  Check the photo out below…..

Family collage

Statistically, 5 or 6 of the 7 women pictured here are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.  With my breasts gone and Elle’s about to go, we are both beating the odds and cheating an almost certain future breast cancer diagnosis.

Tomorrow as Elle undergoes her 8+ hour surgery, we will all be thinking about her and hoping for a smooth and trouble free process.  Elle’s surgery is more complicated than mine, with her having the TRAM Flap procedure.  The TRAM Flap, or Transverse Rectus Abdominous Myocutaneous flap: is a type of reconstructive surgery where fat and muscle from the abdomen are used to recreate breast tissue.

The main advantages of a TRAM flap include:

  • One-stage reconstruction to re-create the breast to its full volume
  • Utilises your own natural tissues
  • Permanent and long lasting reconstruction – does not require change or replacement compared to implants
  • Looks and feels natural
  • Moves and age with your body
  • Provides best symmetry with a natural breast on the other side

Although the operating time and recovery period is longer than my original surgery, it is a one-stage reconstruction that gives an instant permanent result with your own natural tissue.

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I’ll be thinking of Elle tonight and all day tomorrow and sending her all the pain-free vibes I can muster.

She’s an amazing woman and deserves a trouble free, pain free speedy recovery.  We all love you to the moon and back Elle, can’t wait to support you through your journey.  xxxx

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The Breast Reconstruction Process Explained

Posted in News

It’s done!

After almost 10 years of talking about it, pondering it, reading, researching and investigation, I’ve officially finished all surgeries related to preventing an almost certain future breast cancer diagnosis.  This blog explains the breast reconstruction process I’ve just undertaken.

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The process for me has been incredibly smooth, trouble free and in all honesty and at risk of making it sound like a breeze, it’s been ‘easy’ for me.  I don’t share this to annoy people, to brag or to dismiss the seriousness of what I’ve been through, but the reality is that I’ve had a trouble free journey and I’m proud to share my experience.

My PBM (Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy) surgery first involved the full removal of all breast tissue, with tissue expanders being inserted under the muscle during this procedure.  You might remember me sharing the blog called ‘The Tissue Expansion Process Explained’, where I detailed the process involved in the first stage of my surgery.

I went from having relatively ‘normal’ looking breasts (pictured below), to having absolutely nothing, no tissue, no nipples, no feeling or sensation when touched.  I was left with just two Tissue Expanders implanted under my muscle and ready for expansion.

What a visual transformation, but one that hasn’t impacted me negatively in any way at all.

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There’s a short video in that Tissue Expansion Process blog showing my foobs after the first expansion in March this year.  It was so interesting to watch that movie just now, I’m so glad that I’ve kept a record of the key milestones during this journey.  I watched the video and see a happy, confident and comfortable women and it’s wonderful to be able to look back on the process.  I’m really pleased I took a couple of minutes on the morning of my breast reconstruction surgery to shoot this short video, click the image to watch it.

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So where am I at now?  Stage 2 is officially complete!!  Stage 2, the breast reconstruction involved removing the Tissue Expanders which in my case were filled with 230ml of saline. The Tissue Expanders are designed to slowly stretch the skin to form a ‘breast’ like shape and you can pretty much expand to whatever size you like.  I chose to stick with a small size, something that doesn’t ‘stand out’ or look obviously like a ‘boob job’.

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The first step of my breast reconstruction surgery was to have the Dr draw all over my foobs, outlining the proposed shape of my new breasts.  Then before I knew it, I was being wheeled into theatre and chatting to the medical team about the crazy Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride I just finished, which was topped off with me shaving my head at the finale.

We all laughed, joked and I was out for the count.

Less than 2 hours later I was awake and in recovery, ready to head to the ward for my short hospital stay.

During the breast reconstruction surgery, the Dr removed the Tissue Expanders which I understand are discarded and then a range of ‘implants’ are used to determine the best overall shape and size.  The Dr and I had met and agreed months prior on the desired size, my preference to remain small and I learnt at this time that three (3) implants are ordered in each recommended size for the surgical procedure. Why 3 implants?  Well we’re all human, and if one is dropped or damaged, then there’s still 2 implants to insert, which makes perfect sense.

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I did query also why multiple sizes are ordered, and it’s apparently due to the different way each body adapts to the shapes and sizes.  Not every implant looks the same when inserted, so a couple of different options are on hand to ensure the best outcome is achieved during the process.  This all makes perfect sense and put me at ease knowing that I was in great hands.  So it pretty much means that if the implant doesn’t look good inside, then another option is used before everything is sewn up!

So, back to the breast reconstruction process.  Once the original scars are opened up, the Tissue Expanders removed and the best breast implant shape and size determined, everything is put into place, shifted, moved and positioned perfectly, then stitched up and strapped down under that same sticky-tape used during the mastectomy process.

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Before I knew it I was back on the ward and feeling completely ‘normal’.  I was surprised to feel so alert and alive, without any pain, no discomfort and all-in-all from what I could see over the strapping tape, my new foobs looked great.

Strangely, I haven’t been in any pain post breast reconstruction surgery, none at all!! Maybe after 8 days sitting on a bike seat for up to 12 hours a day actually rid me of any ability to feel pain, because I’ve never been to darker, deeper more painful places than I was in for the first few hours of each day on the ride.  It was like sitting on razors and I’ll be sharing a blog about that too, so stay tuned for that one!!

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Moving on from my reconstruction surgery, I’ll be required to do daily breast massage for a few months, I get to wear this sexy crop top for support all-day-every-day, including when I’m sleeping and I have the option to consider a nipple reconstruction in the future.

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What’s a nipple reconstruction?  Well, it means that I can choose to have either a nipple tattoo, or a small nipple built from my own skin, which is pinched and shaped into a hard little lump and then tattooed around to appear like a real nipple.  I’ve shared an image below of someone who has had a nipple tattoo, it looks very realistic, but I’m not sure that I’m going to bother with it to be honest.  I’m very comfortable with no nipples!

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It’s going to take a few weeks, possibly even a couple of months for everything to settle in, but for now I’m really happy with how it all looks and feels and I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things with regular exercise, some swimming, running and despite the darkness on the bike recently, even some cycling again.

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And perhaps a trip down to the beach with my nipple bikini top!  Now these nipples I can cope with!!

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I’m so grateful for the love and support from family, friends and even strangers.  It’s helped me come through what I guess is considered ‘major surgery’ with relative ease.  What an amazing journey I have had and I’ll never EVER be diagnosed with breast cancer, which is the most amazing feeling in a family like mine.

 

21 Days – Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy

Posted in News

Well it’s official, I’ve made it to the 3 week mark!  Yesterday was my 21 day anniversary post Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy.

There are quite a few exciting moments of this past week…..

Number 1 – I can now drive!!  Whoo hoo!!  I’m back on the roads, driving as safe as ever and a little more cautious as I turn corners, go over speed bumps and reverse park.  You see, even as the passenger, being in a car post prophylactic bilateral mastectomy has been a challenge.  Every bump feels like I’m being grabbed around the chest, pulled violently and propped back into place with a jolt.  Leigh’s been really good (most of the time), he remembers to slow down and take the corners a little less excitedly, but when we pull into our driveway, I’m often heard ‘groaning’ momentarily as I get flung around, reminding me that I’m a little fragile.

I must admit, it’s a good reminder, because it if wasn’t for the bumps in the car, I probably would forget that I’m still in ‘slowing down’ mode.

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Number 2 – I am now sleeping back in our bedroom!  Gone are the nights spent sleeping alone downstairs in my bargain Gumtree recliner, I can now make my way upstairs and sleep cosily beside my beautifully warm husband.

I’m proud to also confirm that since I posted my blog about my little ‘speed bump’ – I haven’t had any more accidents.  I was surprised to have more than 20 friends, family and strangers all share with me their own little story about their ‘accident’.  It seems that wetting the bed or your pants isn’t so rare as an adult after all.  I laughed so much at the shared stories, many of which are in the ‘vault’ as promised to so many of you.

Number 3 – I’m able to sleep on my side!  This sounds insignificant, but it’s actually really exciting, because it means I’m healing well and for a sleeper who normally loves to be on her tummy, sleeping on my side takes me one step closer to the dream of sleeping ‘normally’ again.

There’s no spooning just yet, but I think it’s getting closer each and every night!!

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Number 4 – No more knee scooter!  This is a great milestone, because it means my foot is healing well enough that I can now weight bare on it.  While I’m a little while away from running again, I can now waddle my way around comfortably in my moon boot without injury and without medication.

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Number 5 – I can now get on the wind trainer – Dr’s approval!!  I’m surprised I didn’t make this one Number 1 and I bet some of my friends are shocked too.  I must admit, I popped it down here at Number 5 because while I’ve been desperate to do some sort of training, I really must admit that I’m proud of myself for not being so ‘hung up’ on it in the past 3 weeks.  I’ve really tried to suppress my previous strong desire to train, so instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to just embrace and accept that I needed to respect my body, be healthy to my mind and not ‘care’ about the fact that I haven’t been able to do anything. So that’s why this is all the way down at Number 5, because while it’s important to me, it hasn’t been the priority in previous weeks.

I know, even I’m surprised!!!  I can’t wait to train with this crew again, Friday here we come!!!

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Number 6 – I don’t need to wear a bra!  My first trip ‘out’ this week was to attend a corporate function with 900 other delegates at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.  I managed to fit reasonably well into one of my business dresses, I was relieved after trying on at least 5 different options from my wardrobe, most of which were far too roomy around the bust to take out in public just yet.  The bonus – I didn’t need to wear a bra!  No crop-top, no tank, no cami, no boob-tube, no nothing!  Just me and my bare skin underneath my Cue dress.  It was a little strange to begin with, but I decided to run with it and it felt amazing.  I think I might make a habit of this!!

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Number 7 – I had coffee with friends!  Lucky Number 7 indeed.  Who would have thought that the act of simply catching up with some of my triathlon buddies would make me feel so much more alive?  I took advantage of the fact that I can drive again and decided to sneak into The Valley Pool and meet up with some of athletic friends all training with Tri Alliance Queensland at the regular Friday ‘windy’ or ‘swim’ session.  Our favourite meeting place is Bellissimo Coffee in Fortitude Valley.

I arrived as everyone was finishing and just seeing some familiar faces immediately made me feel better.  I was connected again, seeing the people who I’ve trained with over the years all sweaty and grotty after a tough session. Not once did I feel sorry for myself because I wasn’t able to train.  I got a few smelly hugs and loved it!  I couldn’t stop smiling, I was surrounded by some really amazing people and when we all met at the local coffee shop for breakfast, it reminded me why I miss training.  It’s not the act of physical activity that I miss, it’s the connectivity with the beautiful people I train with that I’ve missed the most.

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I had a little spare time before my Dr’s appointment after coffee, so I popped in to visit the team at Kosama.  Talk about another injection of positivity and energy!  I chatted to Niki, one of the trainers and once again it reminded me of why I get out of bed at 4:30am most days.  Being surrounded by people who are passionate, positive and truly genuine is enough for me to want to skip off to training each morning.  Yes the exercise is great and it undoubtedly keeps you physically fit, but I really don’t think that it’s the driving force behind why some people love to train.  For me personally, it’s the friendships, the connection and even the smile from a familiar face, even if no conversation occurs.

It really energised me for the whole day!!

Number 8 – My hair is long enough to cover my ‘chest’.  This is a weird one I know, but that’s kind of expected if you know me well.  You see, I’ve been growing my hair for about 2 years now with the view that I will shave it all off during my ‘Smiling for Smiddy‘ Challenge this year.  I’m riding my bike with around 50 people all the way from Brisbane to Townsville, all in aid of helping raise money for The Mater Foundation, supporting much needed research into Breast, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer.

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It’s timely that this weekend is my Pop’s birthday.  He passed away a few years ago with Prostate Cancer, so in addition to me proactively beating breast cancer by removing my breasts, I’m a big fan of supporting Smiling for Smiddy via their many events, to raise money to help find a cure so I can save future family members from being diagnosed with this terrible disease.

I’m prepared to shave my head bald – completely bald, blade ZERO style!!  But I’ll only do it if I reach my fundraising target this year.  If you’d like to make a small donation to have your vote for me to either ‘Save’ or ‘Shave’ my hair, check out my Fundraiser page and make your donation there.

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So now that I’m past the 21 day mark, I’m well and truly on the way to a full recovery.  I have my first ‘fill’ scheduled on Monday 31 March, so that’s going to be a whole new experience.  I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

On a final note…..I’m currently preparing my own ‘no make-up selfie’ to post on my personal Facebook page.  Mine will be a little different though, as I’m actually working up the courage to post an image of my chest, bare, no make-up, no touching up, no filters, nothing!  I know I’ve shared this here in my Previvor blog and on my Previvor Facebook page, but I’ve never posted it out to a wider audience via my own personal profile.

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Most of the photo’s I post of myself are makeup-less anyway, so I thought I’d bravely share an image which will undoubtedly represent what I see as a visual image of being brave and raising awareness of breast cancer.

I’ll be asking my friends and family to support my selfie by making a donation of just $5 (the cost of a takeaway coffee), in support of Cancer research.

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If you want to get in early, feel free to make your ‘coffee’ donation here, you’re also welcome to connect with me on my personal Facebook profile to see the ‘chest makeup-less selfie’ post when it comes.

Thank you to all of you for following my journey and supporting me with messages of love and unconditional, non-judgemental support.

Yas xxxx