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Toral Shah

SOFI LEOTA, AUS

DIAGNOSED AT 23

How old were you when you were diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was 23 at the time. It feels like forever ago but it has only been 2 years this April 24th!! I barely remember that girl who was diagnosed.

How did you discover you were at risk of breast cancer?
It wasn’t until I began all the testing after finding my lump that I realised I was very much at risk. That simply being a woman was the biggest risk factor.

How long have you been in remission?
I have been in remission since the 8th of January 2018! The day radiation finished.

Prior to your diagnosis, was breast cancer something you considered a risk at your age and were you active in self-checking?
It definitely never crossed my mind that I was at risk of breast cancer at my age. I wasn’t active in self checking at all! I had never self examined my breasts once nor did I know how to do it or that it was even a thing! I for sure thought it was just something you worried about when you were much older.

What was your toughest day during treatment?
Ohhh this is hard.. I really battled some demons on different days but if I had to choose I’d say the toughest day was the day I shaved my hair off. It was about 16 days after my very first chemo treatment and at the time it had already been thinning out a week prior and then dreading in my club. It was a really weird feeling. It was the toughest because that’s when things became very real in my eyes. It’s when I truly felt like a ‘cancer patient.’

With the experience you have had, what advice would you give to younger women on self-checking?
I cannot encourage it enough! I wasn’t actively self-checking, I had accidentally felt my lump just by chance and if I hadn’t my diagnosis and treatment could have been a lot worse and more full on. It’s a simple and quick way to quite literally save your life. We take the time to do things like straighten our hair, do our makeup, take selfies; why not add this into your self care routine as well? It’s so easy to do.

What do you take from the campaign message “take control now”?
I take from it that we hold the power over our bodies and our lives already and take control now is a reminder to do just that. To use that power and to take control, to be the force in actively protecting your body and your health by knowing your body and self-checking regularly.

Who was your support system and how did they help you get through this difficult time?
I’m very fortunate that I had (and still have) a great and large support system. My fiancé, both of our families, and my best-friends were my support system. There were days when I didn’t reach out for the help as that’s the kind of person I am but just knowing I had people in my corner for absolutely anything was comforting for me. They were always checking up on me, sending message of love, celebrated every milestone with me and make it feel special. I liked things to remain as normal as possible and be treated normally. My fiancé was my biggest support. He would do little things to remind how beautiful I was daily, he was patient with anything I needed (hundreds of foot and hand rubs) he’d make me feel comfortable in public when not wearing a wig and always lend an ear and hug whenever I really needed it. It was the little things that really got me through.

When did you first meet your fiancé Joe and how long have you been together?
I first met Joe in 2010 in high school. We started dating in June 2011. We have been together 9 years this year!

How did you feel when you first found out about your pregnancy?
I was extremely shocked. It wasn’t planned so it definitely took me by surprise. It took me a good day or two before I started to get really excited. I always knew I wanted to have my own family, especially with Joe. I just like to stick to a plan and it wasn’t part of my life plan, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt from my experience, it’s that nothing ever goes according to plan! It’s been the best surprise in the world.

What inspired you to create your blog “23andbreastless” and as a result, becoming an advocate for breast cancer awareness?
What inspired me to start my blog was the hope of being able to help other women out there. The night I was diagnosed I was on Google trying to find something to relate to (being so young). I eventually stumbled across somebody’s blog from the U.S. and resonated with it so much. I thought if I was able to help somebody in those dark moments like this lady’s blog helped me I’d be so happy. I also found that when I started to write it was therapeutic for me to get those words out. Any time I’d have a breakdown or freak out, Joe would tell me to go and write and almost every time it would make me feel that little bit better.

What does it mean to you to work alongside ghd and support breast cancer awareness in young women?
It means so much! I feel very passionately about sharing my story with the world, especially with young women and I especially feel strongly about encouraging women to self check. The team at ghd have been so incredible and fun to work with, it truly has been such a wonderful experience. They’re absolute professionals and the work that they do for breast cancer every year is applaudable. It’s an absolute honour to be involved in this particular campaign!

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