Karen's Story

I’m Karen - Mum of two adult daughters, wife of more than 30 years, and a career woman. I’ve spent decades working to support regional and remote Australia along with the most disadvantaged members of our community, particularly our First Nations people. I was 54 in early 2021 when diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

I’ve now completed 12 months of active treatment with “the red devil” (AC chemo) along with Paclitaxel chemo, had a double mastectomy, complete hysterectomy, radiotherapy, and a couple of extra surgeries to deal with other side effects I experienced.

I was never a girly girl, not much into makeup, rarely blow drying or straightening my hair (unless there was a special occasion) and always felt more comfortable in jeans or shorts, runners, and a t-shirt. Once the side effects of treatment kicked in, however, and I had no eyebrows or eyelashes, I was being met at all turns with a lot of concerned faces and I could feel the discomfort others were feeling based on my presentation. I must have appeared a bit scary to be honest, despite feeling better than I looked.

I knew there were “tricks” that I could use to help, but I had no idea where to start. I certainly wasn’t going into a department store (covid and all) and I knew I also needed a LOT of guidance and practice. Just the thought of how overwhelming it would all be was a lot.

I decided to register for a Look Good Feel Better workshop and, apart from the generous supply of products which meant I never had to wonder what I needed, it was the absolute patience of the lovely volunteers helping me to figure out how to draw my features back on that helped me the most. I learned how to draw on my eyebrows and how to create the illusion of eyelashes, and also learned that makeup didn’t have to be complex or scary. It could be quite simple, and so could skincare. Being taught how to look after my skin during treatment ensured it came through in the best possible condition. The added benefit was getting to try out a lot of products in a really, really safe and non-judgmental space. Those things, along with a kind and encouraging group made my experience a wonderful one, and I walked out of the workshop not only looking more like me, but feeling confident I could replicate it. There was absolutely no downside to it.

My family was delighted. They all commented on how I looked “like Mum” again and that the spark in my eye had returned. It also stopped friends and colleagues asking me if I was okay all the time, as I now looked more okay.

When I was feeling good, what I learned at the workshop meant I looked it too. When I wasn’t feeling so good, what I learned at the workshop resulted in me feeling a bit brighter.

My lovely youngest daughter had done Dry July a few times already by 2021 - the year I was having treatment - and she has taken part every year since. She sees Dry July as a way to contribute through her own actions in making a change for others. Participating in, or supporting others to participate in Dry July is an opportunity to create change in our community and to contribute to something that’s important or impacted on you in a meaningful way.

I’m thankful for the support of the Look Good Feel Better program during my experience with cancer and know any Dry July funding will help others going through a similar experience feel a whole lot better too.