ROBYN TRELOAR: From con­fi­dante to can­cer sur­vivor

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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.

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