Sometimes in life you can know someone for many years, but not REALLY know them. Caryn is someone who I meet years ago as our eldest kids have been right through school together, we have meet through business networking events and spoken whenever we bumped into each other.  However we never spent the time to really get to know each other…until the end of last year when Caryn came in for a portrait shoot to celebrate herself & her life.

Caryn is one of those woman who I have always seen as a very strong and capable woman, someone who was never afraid to give something ago. During her shoot (and after) I found out so much more about her, I saw things I had never seen before and I am so pleased I had the chance to get to know her more.  She has a strong exterior, but with that comes a very dedicated, caring, loyal and beautiful woman. She shared her journey through breast cancer with me and her portraits are to celebrate those 5 years.

In September 2009, Caryn had found a lump on her breast and went straight to the doctor, who unfortunately didn’t feel she needed further test. Through self examination Caryn noticed slight changes and by February 2010 the lump was now a hard ball.  From her second visit to the doctors, she was sent straight to the radiologist who performed a biopsy and then diagnosed Caryn with breast cancer at the age of 35.

Here are a few words from Caryn herself on her journey through breast cancer

How did you initially feel when you found out you had breast cancer?
I was annoyed with myself that I hadn’t seeked a second opinion back in September. I was busy with an event & it suited me to hear the first Dr say it’s okay.  Even though there is a history of breast cancer in my family – my Nana had the disease also, otherwise I was pretty calm about the whole thing.

How did your family react to hearing the news?
Everyone around me was in shock but remained strong. People in my life are pretty tough and we are all optimists.

What were you doing (work & life) when you were diagnosed?
I was part of the team planning Matariki,  the Maori New Year for the Community and I was also halfway through organising the Tauranga Moana Seafood Festival 2010.  Both events continued and were a huge success.   I was also on the New Zealand Maori Tourism Board at the time and went to many meetings wearing my wigs or scarves.  It actually kept me focused on life and to continue without telling my story to everyone.

What treatment did you have and what did your body go through or feel like during this time?
I had several major operations, the lymph node removal is the one that still affects me today.  I’ve ended up with my stomach fat from having three kids as my left breast as they had to remove all of it.  I opted to have this 8-9hr surgery in one go.  Afterwards was very blurry & the first few days are the toughest. I had all these lines coming out of my body draining the excess fluid & blood which is kinda gross, so I couldn’t wait to get those out.  My arm was constantly hurting and physio helped stretch it into place.  The next step was Chemo which is horrific, they really need to come up with better options.  Poisoning our system to kill the disease also destroys all the good in your body. I feel like this past year I have only just recovered from that.  Everyone is different, depending on what type & stage you have to be honest. I can’t even remember what mine was called.  I do remember it was very aggressive.  My cocktail of Chemo was four big ones then 12 smaller injections.  After the first one I decided I never wanted to go back!  But for my husband & kids I continued three more times.  I decided to change doctors, as my initial one did not like my answer of I not continuing with the twelve suggested.  I did ask for a lady Dr who was a lot more compassionate, as Dr.Death (what my friends & I called my first doctor) said if I didn’t have them I would surely die.  Because of this my Radiologist, another lady, was alarmed and concerned, her suggestions was to add Radiotherapy which was not in the initial plan.  So after the Chemo treatments here in Tauranga I travelled to Waikato in January 2011 for a month of Radiology, every day for a month, except weekends.  It was a fast 10min zap which didn’t hurt and that targeted the area where the cancer was found.  I still have the small dot tattoos that they line up the laser.  At this stage my body hurts everyday, but with a young family, life goes on & I think about all the other woman out there who have it much worse than I did.  The support of my husband, my family & friends kept me going.  I wasn’t about to let breast cancer have the last laugh.

How did you feel about yourself when you lost your hair?
At first I was upset, because I hadn’t cut my hair in years, I found my style & I liked it.  Then with all the surgeries coming up I took the plunge & cut my own hair shorter in preparation.  I picked out two wigs that I liked. One was totally different & the other looked like my hair, but short.  I remember sitting on the deck & stroking my hair, big clumps of it were coming out so I went into the bathroom, plugged in the clippers & shaved it off.  In the end I really couldn’t care less & I ended up rocking short hair anyway.

You have been clear 5 years now – Do you feel different? Do you feel like you have changed as a person?
I do feel like I have changed, but then I also got older….there is something about forty that makes you feel absolutely empowered & fabulous.  So I’ve grown over the years.  I haven’t got time for time wasters or draining people anymore.  I had a few in my life & can spot them from a mile these days.  It is true to let go of the negatives, I also changed my diet, my family no longer have takeaways as a treat on Thursday night. We cook good colorful food & I try my best to stare them on the good food highway.

Do you know other people close to you, who have also had breast cancer?
Yes I had a friend who told me her story years ago, she had to face it again seven years down the track, I think she is an amazing strong woman that is a real battler.  I don’t know how strong I would be if the challenge ever arose again.  There are two other woman, one I follow in a group who is such an inspiration on life & one I gave one of my wigs to who is thankfully going to be alright x

So how did you feel before, during and after your photoshoot?
I have never felt better, the preparation was fantastic  I couldn’t of been more ready. You have photographed other ladies I know and you capture not only what’s on the outside but I know them on the inside & you show this in your photos.If there is one thing that you ever do for yourself in life, it should be this!  Capture yourself and how you want to be remembered whether its with you, your best friends or daughter/s.  It’s a special moment in time that you can make stand still for a moment.  I will definitely be going back with my daughter.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
As woman we need to celebrate each other’s strengths & the people around us. I love to help, especially people & connect lives. Be grateful for everyday being alive, life’s challenges shape us everyday whether they are negative or positive. Keep smiling, keep healthy inside & out.  Stay true to yourself & dream big.

Here are a few favs from Caryn photoshoot – enjoy.

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