‘Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them’ – Unknown

For the second year now, October has been a really poignant month for me.

I was always aware of Breast Cancer Awareness month – Morning Teas to raise money for the McGrath Foundation, big lavish Charity Balls to raise even more money for Breast Cancer Research, Pink Lady Fun Runs… The list of fundraising initiatives is endless. Last year was the first year that people were raising money and awareness for ME. And for all the other young women in their prime with young families, corporate careers, in peak physical health who have been struck out of nowhere, at varying levels by this disease.

I’m a survivor. One of the lucky ones. I caught my breast cancer super early and went to great lengths to ensure it never raises its ugly head ever again – double mastectomy, chemotherapy – I had the works. My Mum always told me I never do things by halves!

Last October one of my best friends Fiona Craig, Founder of Smart Women Connect and also a Breast Cancer survivor, hosted her very first Pink Ribbon Fundraiser for the McGrath Foundation. At this point in time I was not long out of treatment and still feeling pretty beaten up. I didn’t have much hair and I didn’t have the capacity to be around other people. I was tired, scared and struggling to come to terms with what had happened to me. Fi invited me to attend the breakfast. I was still so vulnerable. My state of mind was terrible. I was at my lowest point mentally. I just couldn’t go.

Fast forward a year… I am looking and feeling a billion times better! Fi asked me again to attend the breakfast only this time to join two other women on a Corporate Panel at one of Sydney’s leading Law Firms. The session was to raise awareness of Breast Cancer in Young Women and funds for the McGrath Foundation I’ve always been terrified of public speaking – never felt like what I had to say was good enough. The other two women on paper were corporate power houses. I felt completely out of my depth.

I took some time to face my fears and reflect on all I’d been through, on what I had survived.

I realised, in comparison, speaking on a panel was going to be a walk in the park! I knew I had to be part of the conversation. That I could potentially help other young women just like me catch this disease in its earliest stages, when it’s pretty much 100% curable. I had to embrace the experience. What was the worst that could happen?! I clam up, I cant speak – so what! It was the most liberating feeling for me to witness such a huge shift in myself as a result of this whole experience.

So, on Thursday the 17th October bright and early I started my day with two of my best friends and the most amazing group of women.

It was an emotional morning and one which left me feeling liberated, proud and courageous. It was a real privilege to be there with the other beautiful women on the panel – Andi Csontos a Partner from EY and Donna Parades an Architect from Aecom Construction. Both have travelled this journey and survived. That lived experience and unspoken bond we shared was so special. A kindness and love for one another that you can only feel when you’ve gone through something so huge and so personal and you know, they know almost exactly how you feel.

The morning was a huge success in every possible way. Smart Women raised $4500 for the McGrath Foundation!! Lots of the young women in the room agreed to go and have a breast check – tick!! And I was reminded of a few incredibly valuable lessons….

1. Don’t listen to that little voice of doubt in your head – I could have easily said no to the panel and missed out on such an incredible experience. Self-sabotage is the worst and at times we’re all guilty of this. Feel the fear and do it anyway – you wont ever regret it! What’s the worst that can happen?? We only ever grow when we’re out of our comfort zone!

2. The power of human connection and lived experience – I’ve always known this to be true but now I was experiencing it firsthand. Sharing our experiences with each other and the other women in the room helped all of us realise we weren’t alone. There is such comfort in this feeling! We all share the same vulnerabilities and insecurities – no matter how powerful we appear to be on paper – we’re all human! Out of 100+ women present that morning almost every single one had been touched in some way by Breast Cancer. This experience was such a powerful reminder for me that when we connect in a deeply authentic manner, the magic really happens!

3. Laughter is the best medicine – If somebody had told me ‘Claire you’re going to get breast cancer, cut off your boobs and lose your hair and guess what, you’re still going to be able to laugh’ I wouldn’t have believed it for a second. Of course, at times there have been floods of tears but it’s so true. I’ve never laughed so hard with some of my friends as I have since my diagnosis. It’s good for your soul and I don’t ever want to stop! We take ourselves so seriously at times. It doesn’t feel good and doesn’t help us in any way. We need to lighten up!

4. Importance of Boundaries – Fi knows me inside out, we’ve been besties for almost 20 years. She surprised me with a question on the day that I wasn’t expecting. She told me I was one of the most empathetic people she’d ever known (to my own detriment at times!) and did I feel more or less empathetic to others after my experience with BC. I knew where she was going with this – I had to be honest – I definitely feel less empathetic. But in a good way. I now have healthy boundaries. I can’t and won’t take on other people’s ‘stuff’. My health and wellbeing is paramount. I have finally learned to say NO to others.

5. Stop sweating the small stuff – Most of the things we stress about in our corporate lives really don’t matter. Even though I was successful in my career prior to The Serenity Collective and a high achiever, I still constantly worried I hadn’t done enough. Going over and over conversations that I’d had in meetings -wondering if my opinion had been taken seriously or offended somehow. Staying up till the early hours to get through all the things the people on my team hadn’t done because they weren’t as conscientious or diligent as I was. Being lost in unnecessary detail. The list goes on and on…. It was exhausting. Now I have The Serenity Collective and a Business Partner I respect and adore, I think to myself in stressful or tough situations – what’s the worst that can happen?? Probably not a right lot. And I’m totally cool with that! And as a result, my work life works for me – I don’t allow myself to sweat the small stuff and it feels amazing! I’m fully aligned with my values and purpose and as a result completely happy and fulfilled!

This experience has taught me so much. And reminded me of how much strength and innate wisdom we have. I wish everyone could have their eyes opened like I have without having to go through the trauma that is Breast Cancer.

My beautiful friend Fiona sums up the Breast Cancer journey and its aftermath perfectly….

Cancer is a game changer, a decision maker
I am the same, but I am different
I have lost, but I have gained
I live and I love with more ferocity, intensity and intention than ever before
I fear more, yet I fear less
I live for today, but I have hope for tomorrow
I am me but forever changed

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