How cancer helped me turn my life around

In her own words, Sali Sasi shares her experience.

Sali Sasi, cancer, breast cancer, Poppy Renegade

Poppy Renegade co-founder, Sali Sasi was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26. Here, she shares how this experience changed her life for the better.

The diagnosis

In 2007 I discovered a lump in my breast. I wasn’t really that concerned about it, as it was quiet painful so I assumed it was just a menstrual cyst. However, I opted to go see my GP to be sure. My doctor didn’t seem overly concerned, as I was quiet young, 26, with no family history of cancer.

He sent me for an ultrasound and overnight the results came back inconclusive. He really wasn’t fazed, and suggested that we monitor it for three months, then retest. Three months later, my ultrasound results came back inconclusive, once again.

Looking back I can’t believe I didn’t question it, but at the time I believed that if my doctor wasn’t fazed then I shouldn’t be either.

The quarterly tests ran for an entire year with the same results, inconclusive, inconclusive, and inconclusive!

It wasn’t until I went overseas for a holiday that I noticed something wasn’t right. Within 24 hours of a pretty stressful event whilst travelling, I started to notice dimpling (similar to an orange peel) starting to form on my breast. I knew this wasn’t normal. I jumped straight in the shower and started playing with the tap – hot…cold…hot and noticed that my breast was non-response. It was dormant.

Upon returning to Australia I went straight to my GP who sent me for an urgent mammogram. It was hours later that I held the results in my hand as I Googled the findings; “right breast is consistent with carcinoma”.

Within days I found myself getting ready for theatre to carry out a lumpectomy in the Peter MacCallum Cancer Clinic in Melbourne. Positive. Stage II Breast Cancer.

I couldn’t help but feel like I was going to die. On the outer you project yourself as being strong, but on the inside you hold a piece of the journey so close to yourself that you don’t want to share the fear with anyone else. I found myself secretly planning my funeral in my head; regardless of the fact I knew I was going to fight.

The treatment

Given my age my cancer was pretty aggressive. The lumpectomy showed a non-clear margin. This meant that they weren’t able to remove all of the cancer so I was put on seven months of intense chemotherapy.

I shaved my head, as I wanted to have control and didn’t want to experience my hair falling out. There were days that were easier than others. There were times that I felt like I had been hit by a truck, barely able to get myself out of bed. Constant nausea and the horrid metallic taste in my mouth was probably the easiest part. Staring at myself in the mirror was not.

I had to learn how to love myself all over again. You find yourself staring into the mirror with no hair to hide behind, scars from your surgery and the thought that your own body was causing you so much harm. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.

Once my chemo was finished my medical team decided all that I needed next was post-treatment medication. This would put my body into a false menopause to decrease the risk of the cancer returning.

I didn’t have an issue with this treatment, but felt it wasn’t quite enough for me. As long as I had natural breast tissue I was at risk of the disease coming back. Maybe not in the near future but I had to look at a way to protect myself for the next fifty plus years to come.

So I pushed and urged my doctor to give me double mastectomy. He was thrown and thought the idea was too radical given my age, but I was not open for discussion or compromise on any other alternative.

It wasn’t easy to convince the medical professionals. They were more concerned with how I would cope with the mental, emotional and physical changes. Yet, for me, I was more concerned with saving my life. With many counselling sessions to confirm I was 100% ‘sane’ in making the decision, they finally agreed.

As my surgeon was wheeling me into theatre he said, ‘Sali I guarantee you a latte on each breast this is a waste of time and we won’t find anything.’

I never saw my surgeon again after that date. He sent another doctor post-surgery to tell me they had found two more tumours against my blood vessel. If I didn’t trust my instincts I’m sure I would have died.

Then vs. Now

People often say that when you’re five years clear of breast cancer you’re a survivor, but I don’t agree. Once you have been touched by cancer you will always be a fighter, for the rest of your life. The younger you are the higher the risk of return, because you have many more decades to live through and the reality of secondary cancer occurring is a very real one.

As daunting as that all is, it is definitely a hidden blessing. It makes me appreciate life and my loved ones on a greater level, it also makes me ruthless in the pursuit of the life I want to live.

Life is short and energy is contagious. Surround yourself with people who are good for your soul and don’t be afraid to cut people out of your life if they are not.

Words by Sali Sasi.