ROBYN TRELOAR: From confidante to cancer survivor
STORY: ALANA ROSENBAUM PICTURE: RAY SIZER ighteen years ago, Robyn Treloar purchased the Bowl Corset Salon, a lingerie shop in Shepparton that specialises in prosthetics for women with mastectomies, and over the course of her career there, she has gone from being a confidante to cancer survivors, to a cancer survivor herself. In February 2014, a two-yearly mammogram detected a lump in her left breast. Her working knowledge of the disease did not mitigate the shock of the diagnosis. “To be told you’ve got cancer, it’s like walking around the corner and getting hit by a bloody Mack truck,” Robyn said. After the death of her husband, Robyn moved to Shepparton in 1996 for a fresh start. In Gippsland, she had owned a furniture shop and initially hunted around for a similar business that could use her expertise. When she heard about a lingerie store up for grabs, her initial thought was “I don’t think so.” She didn’t especially like lingerie, but there was little else on offer. The previous owners of the Bowl Corset Salon stocked prosthetics and Robyn travelled to Melbourne to attend courses on fitting them. Other fitters, she knew, were slapdash in their approach, but she took pride in her fittings, ensuring that women ended up with prosthetics that felt comfortable and looked right. Many of her customers were deeply vulnerable. One woman confided that no-one except her husband knew about her double mastectomy. Another was so disturbed by her appearance that she would rush out of the store mid-fitting, buying a prosthetic only after her third visit. Women would talk to Robyn about their loss and she would listen attentively. “People’s stories touch you, sometimes you go home and bawl your guts out,” Robyn said. Robyn promised herself she would have a mastectomy if she ever contracted breast cancer. But in the end, she didn’t need one. Within days of her diagnosis, her entire tumour was successfully removed. Among the hardest period of her cancer was the lead-up to her chemotherapy — the procedure frightened her even more than the surgery itself. “I was petrified,” she said. “I was dreading the sickness.” Robyn lost her hair, but managed to avoid the racking nausea that can accompany chemotherapy. “One day I had chemo and went home and mowed the lawns,” she said. After a bout of radiotherapy, she received a clean bill of health, in September 2014. Robyn, who is prone to colourful expression, speaks candidly about the embarrassing side-effects of her treatments. Without prompting, she pulled at her collar and showed me the surgical scar on the upper quadrant of her breast. I asked her if there was anything about her own cancer battle she wouldn’t share. She paused for a moment, then said, confidently: “No.” She said her illness had made her a more empathetic saleswoman; surviving the disease has enlightened her to customers’ experience. “Once you have been told you have cancer, the big-c always worries you,” she said. “The big-c is always there. I couldn’t understand customers saying that before. “I would think ‘They’re cured, what are they worried about?’ But you do worry. Cancer is cancer and it’s in your head all the time,” she said.