Every year in New Zealand, more than 3000 women receive those three little words that no one ever wants to hear: "You have cancer".

In May 2017, Tauranga woman Ann Mitchell was one of those thousands of women and she has lived to tell the tale in spectacular form.

She shared her story of bravery with Bay of Plenty Times reporter Jean Bell ahead of being a speaker at a Pink Ribbon Breakfast this Sunday, an occasion that brings her full circle.

Judging by her bubbly, upbeat personality, you wouldn't guess the battle with breast cancer Ann Mitchell has been through.

Or perhaps it is the Tauranga woman's celebration of life in spite of her fight with the illness - she climbed Mauao on the day of her double mastectomy - that has made her into the person she is today.

On the night of her diagnosis, Mitchell flew in the face of convention and literally had a celebration.

"It was a Monday and a couple of friends came around with a bottle of wine and we had a cancer party the night of my diagnosis," she said.


More people joined the gathering and before she knew it, a dozen people had joined her to celebrate life in spite of adversity, wine glass in hand.

It meant that all of her friends were in the loop and it wasn't something that needed to become an awkward subject.

While she is set to turn the big 5-0 this September - marking this milestone with a trip to Paris, she adds - she doesn't look a day over 40.

Originally from Scotland, Mitchell made the move to New Zealand around a decade ago and settled in Tauranga.

This meant the physiotherapist and pilates teacher was miles away from home when she was diagnosed, living alone with her pet cat and bunny.

The life-saving procedure required that she had both breasts removed, dubbed a bilateral skin sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, and she had silicone implants done during the surgery.

While the surgery happened nearly two years ago, regular medication and check-ups meant the cloud of cancer still loomed over her head.

"You do think you're going to get the surgery and life is going to come back to normal. It doesn't ... you have to create a new normal.

"Any time you have a pimple, you think it's a new cancer. You're always on high alert, all the time."

Mitchell's diagnosis came in May 2017 came after she found a lump in one of her breasts. This followed a false alarm following a mammogram in 2015.

Mitchell was adopted so she had no family history to indicate her susceptibility to the disease.

A visit to the doctor found that she had another lump in her other breast and an ultrasound revealed five lumps of different sorts of cancer.

"Different types, different stages, both sides," she said.

She chose not to get chemotherapy and counts herself lucky that she only needed surgery and rounds of anti-hormone medication for five years, despite the "terrible" side effects of the latter.

The surgery left her with "horrible scars."

"For a very, very, long time I couldn't touch my scars, I didn't want to look in the mirror. I still don't like it."

Now fit and healthy, she said she owes a lot to her support network.

"I've got some amazing friends in Tauranga and all over the world," she said.

She said Tauranga women were lucky with the Breast Cancer Support Services available here.

From sponsoring sporting activities to delivering frozen meals to young mums balancing the life-threatening disease, Mitchell said the team went above and beyond.

She has also become a keen advocate for the benefits of exercise for cancer survivors and urged people to get educated and get checked for all types of cancer.

While she used to hate water activities, she is involved in the Bay of Plenty Boobop dragon boating team.

Mitchell was due to be one of the speakers at a Pink Ribbon Breakfast organised by Mana Taio which would be held this Sunday at the Te Puna Rugby Club.

She was looking forward to sharing and getting in touch with people whose lives were impacted by the deadly illness and having bubbly at the occasion brings her full circle, she said.

"I'm happy to hand out my phone number and just share information for their journey."

Mana Taiao Events director Jacqui Rolleston said the breakfast would see at least 70 women come together for a Bubbly Brunch with pink champagne.

The breakfast was based on koha entry with all funds raised to be donated to the Breast Cancer Foundation.

Bubbly Brunch Pink Ribbon Breakfast
When - Sunday, 10:30am at Te Puna Rugby Club
What - Breakfast with a charity auction, quiz and live entertainment

Koha entry and spaces are running out fast - email jacqui@manataiao.com to reserve a seat if available

Breast cancer in New Zealand - the numbers
- Number one cancer that affects women.
- 3300 women diagnosed each year
- Breast cancer more than claims 600 lives a year.
- 25 men are diagnosed each year.
- 70 per cent of women who are diagnosed are over the age of 50.
- Nine women are diagnosed daily, one of those Māori.

Source: Breast Cancer Foundation