“I can fi­nally breathe again”

The TV pre­sen­ter, au­thor, mum and busi­ness­woman talks to Elin Tough about reach­ing her big­gest health mile­stone yet

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - B+S HEALTH SPECIAL -

Alot can hap­pen in five years, some­thing Sally Ober­meder, 44, knows more than most. In that time, she’s be­come a mum to two gor­geous girls, Annabelle, 5, and Elyssa, 9 months, pub­lished four books, opened an on­line fash­ion bou­tique, and be­come a firm fan favourite on the desk of Seven Net­work’s The Daily Edi­tion. But per­haps her big­gest feat has been tri­umph­ing over a rare and ag­gres­sive form of breast can­cer and pass­ing the much longed for five-year-clear mark.

“I feel like I’ve been hold­ing my breath for five years and I can fi­nally breathe prop­erly again,” she says. “There’s al­ways a low-level anx­i­ety you live with – will it come back? Is this go­ing to be it? – espe­cially be­fore a scan. I know the rou­tine well but the in­ner di­a­logue and emo­tion is so full on, I was ner­vous go­ing to that scan and when it came back clear... My gosh, the re­lief!”

That said, the pain of what she’s been through is some­thing Sally ac­knowl­edges that deep down will never re­ally go away. “It’s a part of who I am and it doesn’t take a lot for it all to come to the sur­face,” she ad­mits. “I get teary when I’m speak­ing some­times and sur­prise my­self. I’m like ‘Come on, pull it to­gether. Why are you still like this? It’s been five years... Stop cry­ing!’ But it’s still very raw and very real.”

Much has been writ­ten about Sally’s can­cer jour­ney, which be­gan in Oc­to­ber 2011, the day be­fore Annabelle was born. It struck at a time when life couldn’t have been bet­ter – dream job, dream fam­ily on the way, even a book deal. Her year-long bat­tle with the dis­ease, which in­volved eight months of in­tense chemo­ther­apy and a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy, was played out very much in the pub­lic eye.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing, if I’m go­ing to go through this I want to speak about it, be­cause I didn’t re­ally know where to go,” she says. “I didn’t know any­one who’d had it and I needed some­one’s steps to fol­low, to know what other peo­ple did to cope.

“But it doesn’t mat­ter if you’re in the pub­lic eye or not, when you go through can­cer treat­ment you’re very openly sick. I’d see the pity and sad­ness wash over peo­ple’s eyes when I went out to get bread or milk with my baby. And I found it re­ally hard to feel nor­mal when the whole world was go­ing on and I was in this bub­ble of chemo. I’d hear peo­ple say things like ‘Oh, next sum­mer I’m do­ing this’ and I’d think, I don’t know if I’ll even be alive next sum­mer.”

But Sally did live to see an­other sum­mer and she’s now health­ier than ever and em­brac­ing ev­ery day. “Be­cause my prog­no­sis wasn’t that good, I was al­ways fo­cused on get­ting through each stage – surgery, treat­ment, the first year, the big pe­ri­ods where re­cur­rence is most com­mon in years two and three. But ul­ti­mately any­one who’s gone through can­cer hopes they can get to that fiveyear mark – which is funny, be­cause it doesn’t mean you’re im­mune from any­thing,” she says. “But since I got the ini­tial all-clear [ in 2012] I’ve al­ways lived ev­ery day like I’ll live for­ever but also like it’s my last, be­cause I re­ally get that it could be, but I also don’t know what to­mor­row will bring. I can only as­sume it will all be OK and go for­ward with my life.”

It’s this ap­pre­ci­a­tion for ev­ery day that’s fu­elled Sally’s am­bi­tion – both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally – and driven her to achieve so much since that first di­ag­no­sis. “You go through a lot when you’re in treat­ment and surgery, emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally, and af­ter­wards you have to think about re­build­ing. How do you re­build your life in a way that’s true to you? And I re­ally did feel like I needed to re­build. [ The ex­pe­ri­ence] made me ques­tion ‘What is it that I love? What is it that I’m con­nected to? What is it that I want to do with my life?’ Be­cause you don’t ever want to die won­der­ing – I wanted to just go for it.”

And go for it she did, with her ca­reer tak­ing off both on and off screen. But the high­light came nine months ago, when Sally and her hus­band, Mar­cus, wel­comed baby Elyssa, who was born via a sur­ro­gate af­ter doc­tors said an­other preg­nancy would put Sally’s life at risk. “We cel­e­brated [ five years all clear] by hav­ing Elyssa!” she says. “We re­ally felt like it was a new be­gin­ning for us.”

And while the joy and re­lief that comes with reach­ing such a mile­stone in her

“There’s al­ways a low-level anx­i­ety that you live with – will it come back? Is this go­ing to be it?”

re­cov­ery is un­de­ni­able, it’s also brought with it an un­ex­pected emo­tion: guilt. “The thing I’ve re­ally no­ticed af­ter reach­ing the five-year mark is sur­vivor guilt. You know how blessed you are to have made it but it makes you deeply aware of all the other peo­ple who haven’t and how un­fair that is. You want ev­ery­one to get to that point, so if any­thing it makes you re­alise how im­por­tant it is that we find a cure,” she says.

It’s no sur­prise then to learn that Sally con­tin­ues to work tire­lessly to help raise aware­ness of fe­male can­cers and the vi­tal funds needed for re­search. “If I can help one per­son, then it was worth it. I be­lieve that firmly,” she says. “I’m al­ways so touched when peo­ple say ‘I read your book when I was go­ing through can­cer’ or ‘I picked up your smoothie book af­ter­wards when I wanted to feel bet­ter’ be­cause ev­ery­thing I’ve ever done has come from a place of love and com­pas­sion and hav­ing been through some­thing so shit.

“You know what? One in three peo­ple will get can­cer. You re­alise this isn’t just some­thing that af­fects a few peo­ple. If you’re for­tu­nate enough to not know any­one who has it, then fan­tas­tic. But what I re­ally hope is that even­tu­ally none of us will know any­one who has it, and we’ll be able to say ‘Can­cer? Who even gets that any­more?’ Un­til we get to that point we all just have to keep on do­ing our bit.”

(from top) With daugh­ters Elyssa and Annabelle; dur­ing treat­ment in 2012; with Mar­cus and their girls; co-host­ing The Daily Edi­tion; Sally’s In­sta­gram post when she got the “all clear” from her doc­tor Hi Fran I just did my PET scan this morn­ing at St Vin­cent’s. Do you mind ask­ing for the re­sults - fin­gers crossed it’s ok. This is the 5 year scan.


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