Emily Searle's breast cancer "journey" began July 14, 2016. Diagnosis day.
The word journey seems to be the go-to word given to the harrowing, prolonged ordeal of breast cancer and its treatment. Even medical professionals refer to it as a journey.
But in reality, it's the journey no woman wants to take.
Emily, from Welcome Bay, like most women who have had an experience of breast cancer, does not like the word. It sounds far too nice for what it actually is.
Emily counts her blessings every day. Her "experience" (as she prefers to call it) is over. But she's wise enough not to holler her cancer-free status from the rooftops. It's still all very fresh in her mind.
Emily's life turned upside down when she found a lump in her breast. The lump was small. The subsequent MRI showed five masses, which was a major shock for the mum of two young children.
Worse news was coming ... the cancer was stage three.
She required a mastectomy. But the dreaded chemotherapy to shrink the tumours would come first.
During that time before surgery, Emily tested positive as a carrier of the BRCA2 genetic mutation. This was a game changer. The mastectomy plans became a bilateral mastectomy with plans to have her ovaries removed.
Emily struggled to wrap her head around what was happening. She was told to write-off a year of her life to treatment.
Her thoughts were with her children.
"My children were both so young at the time and I couldn't imagine how I was going to do this, to be a bystander in my children's life."
Chemotherapy was the worst part.
"I could cope with surgery but I hated the thought of pumping all these chemicals into my body."
She endured six months of the horrendous AC chemotherapy — with its deceptive happy cherry-red colour — for four times every three weeks.
The mastectomy involved node clearance, breast reconstruction followed by five weeks of radiotherapy. She continues with hormone therapy.
Emily had her ovaries removed in an operation in January.
She's recently undergone another single breast implant replacement surgery.
Emily has always been a bit of a writer.
After her last radiotherapy dose, Emily launched the Dear Boobs Project.
"I felt like everything had been taken away from me. Time with my children was taken away from me as I had no energy. My life seemed completely unmanageable.
"During my first lot of chemo I went to see a psychologist just to get my head around what was going to be ahead. She suggested I write letters to myself on the good days that I could read to myself on the bad days.
"On those good days, I would write that I was going to make it. And it helped a lot."
A week before her surgery Emily was feeling "a little sentimental" about her boobs — especially their role in nurturing her babies — so she wrote a letter to them.
Emily shared the idea on social media and the project grew from there. In 30 days she had 30 letters, which doubled the next month. The 38-year-old has received more than 100 Dear Boob letters from around the world. She's still receiving letters, and 1165 people currently like the Dear Boobs Project Facebook page.
"It's not really something that's talked about, losing your feminine parts. It's very much about medical terminology but the emotional side of losing your breasts is not really talked about."
Dear Boobs is a collection of 100 letters and imagery from women all over the world, including local women. It is currently in layout form and is destined for release in October. Emily aims to make 1000 books free and available for waiting rooms and cafes. There is also an opportunity to purchase via website www.thedearboobsproject.com when it is released.
Emily feels a special connection with each and every woman who has shared their story with her. "I hope the letters will educate and inform supporters and families about the significance and sometimes ongoing impact of breast cancer surgery on women's emotional and spiritual health, and their relationships. The Dear Boobs Project will offer these readers a unique insight into the long road to a 'new normal' for women who have had surgery due to breast cancer."