Sonja and Travis | Chris O'Brien Lifehouse
 In Patient Stories

Sonja:   We are proud parents of two amazingly beautiful daughters – Sienna who has just turned one and Mikaila who is two.

About three months after I finished breastfeeding Sienna I found a lump in my left breast. The next day I made an appointment with my doctor to get it checked. At first impression my doctor thought the lump showed all the characteristics of a breast mouse [a benign fibrous lump] but we thought it best to get all the tests done.

Sure enough, following both a mammogram and biopsy, I was diagnosed with a grade 3 triple negative breast cancer in October and had surgery at the beginning of November with Dr Cindy Mak. Three weeks later I started adjuvant chemotherapy. I started off with four treatments 21 days apart. Now I’m in every Wednesday for the next 12 weeks. This is week number two.

I see Jane Beith here as my oncologist. I’ve also been through the genetics clinic and through that I found out that I’m positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation.

The surgery successfully removed the cancer. After my 12 rounds of chemo are finished I’m going to have a double mastectomy and a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy [removal of both my ovaries and fallopian tubes] although I’m still deciding on a full hysterectomy. These surgeries are to reduce the risk of this cancer returning.

Travis: I must’ve read just about every medical book out there on the subject. Sonja is 40, so she’s fit enough to have the strongest chemo to fight the aggressive cancer. We try to stay as healthy as possible, we don’t smoke and drink very little alcohol, so she’s in good shape to fight it.

Sonja: It’s probably harder for him than me.

Travis:  It’s difficult for me as my profession is to look after the safety of people and places. So when it comes to your loved one being diagnosed with cancer and there is nothing I can to do make her safe and healthy it feels like my hands are tied. It’s hard because I can’t control it and normally I can control most things.

The staff at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse are incredible. I know Sonja is in good hands when she is here. Even when Sonja was diagnosed, it was all so quick – she was diagnosed and then within a very short period of time Sonja was having surgery and then the chemo.

Knowing that the Sonja is being looked after at a high level makes it easier for me to travel with work. On one occasion Sonja actually collapsed in the shower while I was away with a client and when I came back she was being looked after so well. Lifehouse, from my perspective is just fantastic.

Sonja and I met 16 years ago through work and we still work together. I’m from the Sunshine Coast and Sonja’s from Nowra but we met in Sydney. With have no family or relatives in Sydney. Working full time and Sonja having treatments has been tough. We’re very lucky to have some really great business partners who are happy to do a lot of babysitting.

Sonja:  Sienna is too young to understand what’s going on, but Mikaila is starting to get more and more inquisitive. At least she knows there’s something going on. She sees me at home and knows that Mummy doesn’t have any hair. Her carers at day care have told us that she grabs ‘mummy’s hats’ when it’s naptime. They’re hats with hair attached to them. The girls have seen me with no hair on – when I’m not wearing a hat or a wig. Mikaila touched my bare head and giggled at the fuzz. So she’s aware of some changes, but not what they mean. Which is how you want it. It’s too much for us to get our heads around at time, let alone a two-year-old.

Travis: There’s no real green light at the end of this. I guess they can’t see tiny cancer cells so the idea is to hit it with everything they have and then it’s just checking and hoping it doesn’t come back.

Sonja: We’ve tried lots of healthy things at home – we’ve gotten into juices and superfoods and trying to make my body more alkaline through nutrition.

Travis: It’s become a new KPI for our team at work – we’ve gotten everyone into juices and trying out new combinations. The office shelves are full of fruit and veg.

Sonja: My favourite is beetroot, pineapple, ginger and apple.

Travis: But not too much ginger – you have to get it right.

Sonja: I’m walking in the Sydney Weekend to End Women’s Cancers this year. I saw the little brochures advertising it around Lifehouse and I thought ‘I can do that.’ I’m a pretty fit individual so I think I’ll be ok. I might have to start taking longer walks to practice though. I’m recruiting everyone! I’ve signed up four friends so far.

Travis:  I won’t be walking. I will be looking after the kids while Sonja’s doing the walk. And besides, we’d be asking all the same people for donations. The kids and I can be Sonja’s cheer squad.

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