October 19, 2022
Breast Cancer Awareness with Founder, Holly Schleich.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an opportunity to educate about prevention, support and empower women in treatment, and celebrate breast cancer survivors. In support of this worthy cause, Eye of Horus has partnered with Look Good Feel Better to donate beauty packs to show our support and bring confidence to women with breast and other cancers at a time when it is needed most.
With our very own founder and fearless leader, Holly, receiving her diagnosis and commencing treatment this year, it is closer to home than ever before. Holly opens up for a candid conversation about her journey in hope of encouraging and empowering women or the loved ones of those women experiencing the same diagnosis.
When were you diagnosed and what thoughts went through your head when you found out you had breast cancer?
I noticed a lump in my right breast in April 2022, just days after I finished breastfeeding and weaning my 1yr old. I experienced Mastitis while breastfeeding a number of times in that same area, so I assumed it could be scar tissue. After an initial consultation with my GP, I was referred to Lismore Hospital for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy the following day. I could sense the concern and urgency of the Specialist in the room, he explained to my husband and I what possible outcomes could be just from what he saw on the scan which was a mass on the breast and an enlarged lymph node.
There were only two possible outcomes he went on to say, it could be scar or fatty tissue (which he said was unlikely) or it was Breast Cancer…
I remember walking out of the room with my husband holding my hand. We were both trying to keep it all together until we got outside of the hospital, we hugged and cried and I think in that moment we both knew what the outcome was.
We drove separately to the Hospital because he came from work and met me there so I drove home alone with my thoughts and emotions. I was in disbelief, I was thinking the worst with so many feelings and questions. How will my little boys survive without their Mumma, what would Jay my husband do, what would I do with the business, my friends and family will be devastated. All these thoughts for my loved ones were spinning around in my head and I was trying to make sense of it all. Why me? I have always looked after my body, I’m too young for this, I eat so well, exercise and live a clean and healthy lifestyle.
On the long drive home, I thought about calling my family to tell them but instead just drove in silence, alone in my head, sobbing to myself, numb and thinking the worst.
One week later, after a visit to the GP the biopsy results confirmed the news we were waiting for. My GP was crying while delivering the news, she is a Mum of young kids and could only imagine the shock and pain I was feeling. At this point, we weren't aware of the stage or grade and despite trying to think positively we both wondered how bad it really was. The fear of the unknown was the worst part, we didn't know what we were dealing with.
Days later I met with the Surgeon at John Flynn Hospital who sent me for a PET Scan which showed a large tumor in my right breast. I was booked in for the following week for a single Mastectomy to remove the tumor and my breast. Once in surgery, they found cancer had started to metastasize, it was also in my lymph nodes. The outcome of this meant Chemotherapy was going to be a certainty which I was devastated about.
To be honest, I don't remember much of the weeks that followed other than feeling like I was living a bad dream. I would wake up in the morning and expect to be living my normal life then be shocked and reminded of the nightmare. The weeks that followed were a blur with infections, further surgeries and weeks away from my family in a hospital.
What does your treatment plan look like?
After a diagnosis, I was told to be prepared for a twelve-month treatment plan, consisting of four phases.
Phase 1 was surgery to remove the Cancer. I had a single Mastectomy on my right breast where the tumor was located. They also took out the cancerous Lymph node and 10 surrounding nodes just to be sure they got it all.
Phase 2 was Chemotherapy. Due to the nature of my cancer, Chemotherapy was advised, which is a total of 5 months.
I will shortly start Phase 3 of treatment which is Radiation. This will include daily fractions (rounds) 25 days in a row.
The final Phase will be a Mastectomy on my left side, followed by reconstruction surgery.
What do you find to be the most difficult thing(s) about going through breast cancer treatment?
Initially, my fear was centered around Chemotherapy and I was searching for alternatives especially given my background in studying Naturopathy and living a plant-based, non-toxic and healthy lifestyle. Due to the nature of my type of Cancer, IDC and found in the lymph nodes it was next up on the treatment plan after surgery. I expected Chemotherapy to be the most challenging part of the process and in some ways, it is an emotional experience especially when you lose your hair and are confronted with your illness that way. However, the surgery and the complications that went along with that were by far the most difficult part. I was away from my family for weeks and I had never been apart from the boys. I was staying in the hospital and it had a huge impact on our boys and our little family unit.
Have your personal health beliefs differed from the traditional medical system?
The decision to go through Chemotherapy was a difficult one. The moment I was diagnosed Jay and I were reading, researching and open to as much information to ensure we made the right choice when it came to treatment. I decided on an integrative oncology approach where I utilized the best evidence-based complementary therapies to work in conjunction with conventional treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.
How do you define ‘Wellness’ and how have you been trying to maintain your own sense of wellness throughout treatment?
I recall saying to Jay prior to my diagnosis that I just didn't feel vital. I had a cough for weeks and my body and mind was fatigued and overwhelmed. I had always prioritised wellness and valued that feeling of vitality and that was lacking around the time of diagnosis. I had two kids under 3 and had spent the last four years either pregnant or breastfeeding, plus I own a business and it was a lot of stress on my body and mind.
I define wellness and vitality with a feeling of being energised and thriving in body, mind and soul. I feel wellness is holistic, not just physical but mental wellness and spirit go hand in hand. I knew my mindset had to be strong to overcome the disease and I have focused all my energy on not only feeding my body with good nutrition but also being strong of mind.
Key factors that have assisted my recovery:
Mind / Mindset:
When I was faced with a life-threatening disease, it shifted my perspective on my whole life. My priorities changed and I realised there were things in my life that had to change to enable me to live my best life. I began to see my diagnosis as a gift, a second chance to start living the way I wanted. I believe a positive mindset with hope and happiness allows the body to be open to fighting back stronger against the disease. I made the decision early on to approach everything with a positive and open mind, I changed the nickname of the Chemo Drug AC “Red Devil” to “Red Angel” and I was thankful to modern medicine for providing treatments.
Prior to treatment, I visited a Naturopathic Oncologist who prescribed me supportive supplements and therapies to assist my body to cope with the side effects of Chemotherapy. I also visit a Healing Center every week and do a range of alternative therapies including Oxygen Therapy, infrared Sauna and RED light therapy. Aside from the complementary and supportive therapies we eat a raw plant based diet and I drink liters of cold-pressed juice daily.
I had a friend teach me meditation when I was first diagnosed and I found this to be a great support for the mind and body. It allows you to focus on breathing and essentially deactivates your sympathetic nervous system which is necessary when you are in a state of fear and anxiety.
I am fortunate to have an incredible support system around me. My friends check in with me daily and my family have been by my side each step of the way. Surrounding myself with positive and supportive people has been key to my recovery.
I honestly feel the combination of all these things has allowed my body to tolerate the side effects of Chemotherapy, and support, boost and sustain my immune system. I believe an integrative care approach with complementary therapies and conventional treatment can work together to best optimise results, supporting the body to combat cancer and side effects.
What have you learnt from your experience?
There is beauty in everything if you choose to look for it. It would be easy for me to say that this has been the worst year of my life, and in some ways that is very true, but when I think back on the year, all I can see is the love that has surrounded me. Love prevails all and you should seek love in every aspect of your life. Ultimately, love and connection to other humans, in my opinion, are the essence of life. That is my biggest learning.
What message would you like to provide women in the community?
1 in 7 women in Australia is diagnosed with Breast Cancer according to the NBCF. Those statistics are scary.
I encourage all the women I meet to get checked and look and feel for any changes in their breasts. Through my experience, I hope to spread awareness and empower women no matter what age to get regular breast checks.
For more recourses and information on how you can show your support visit https://lookgoodfeelbetter.org/bcamonth/