Sally with her beautiful baby Annabelle. Photography Maree Homer
Today Tonight presenter Sally Obermeder, 39, was eagerly awaiting the arrival of her first baby when diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011. Her daughter, Annabelle, was born the next day.
“At 41 weeks pregnant, I’d felt a lump on my right breast, which I mentioned to my obstetrician at my weekly appointment. I thought it was probably my body preparing for breastfeeding.
My doctor sent me to have an ultrasound the next morning. I ended up having a mammogram, a fine needle biopsy and a core biopsy. With my husband, Marcus, by my side, I was told I had stage-three breast cancer.
‘You’ve got a couple of massive tumours. Your obstetrician will induce you in the morning. You need to be in chemo before the week is over.’
All I heard in my head in the beginning was, ‘You’re going to die’. But I wavered between this and the trivial – ‘I’m going to lose my hair’ and ‘What about my job?’.
I cried a lot about losing my hair. I felt like it was a walking sign that I had cancer, and I really hated that.
People say things like, ‘It will grow back’, and, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just hair’, and while that’s all true, none of that takes away the pain of going through something that you didn’t choose to happen to you. Hair’s such a huge part of your femininity and identity and you become so conscious that you look different to everyone else.
It’s important to me that life doesn’t change too much and that it doesn’t become all about the cancer. I still like to get out of the house and take Annabelle to the park. We go for hour-long walks daily, which is an achievement in itself; when I was in chemo, I could barely manage 100m. I also try to attend some social functions. It becomes a small goal – get dressed up, get out of the house and have a good time. I also have a couple of wigs – blonde and redhead – that I wear for fun occasionally.
There is no good time to get cancer. I get that, and mine is in that basket as well, but I do feel like I’ve been robbed of certain things in motherhood. At the same time, perhaps I’m a different kind of mother because of the experience I’ve had. I’m immensely grateful for all the things that can be perceived as annoying, like having a child wake up constantly during the night. Before [the diagnosis], I, too, may have complained about this; now, I think, ‘What a joy. How lucky am I to still be here for her’.
I’ve done eight months of chemo, had a mastectomy and am currently in daily radiation. Then, I’ll have another mastectomy, followed by a full breast reconstruction. It’s a long road. Although it’s common, cancer is such a lonely disease; it’s nice to know that you’re in people’s thoughts and prayers. It spurs you on to keep fighting.”
Psychologist Dr Vicki Williams' advice on how to be a good friend to someone dealing with breast cancer
“They’ll feel less afraid if you can sustain eye contact during tough conversations, and a hug is more than a pleasurable feeling; it helps to deregulate psychological stress and anxiety.”
Discuss their fears
“Rather than, ‘What can I do to help?’, ask ‘What’s the worst thing about this for you right now?’”
Cook up a storm
“Especially through the treatment phase, fill their freezer with meals. You’ll relieve worry about everyday chores.”
“Talk about things – big and small – to be grateful for. It’s a healthy habit and can aid in recovery.”
Don’t play doctor
“Leave advice about different treatment options or information to the experts only and, instead, back their chosen path.”