“It felt like I had been given a

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - /cover - Pho­tog­ra­phy CAMERON GRAYSON Styling KELLY HUME In­ter­view JES­SICA HALLORAN

“I’m sure it’s noth­ing, but I’ll send you for a biopsy just to be safe,” the GP said to me. I wasn’t too wor­ried. Yes, I’d just found a lump in my breast, but I was only 32 and it was barely four weeks af­ter the birth of my sec­ond son, Fred­die. It was likely a blocked milk duct, not breast can­cer. In fact, I only re­mem­bered to men­tion it be­cause my hus­band re­minded me to. With a new­born to look af­ter and my older son, Olly, be­ing only 20 months old, there was just so much tired­ness and chaos in our fam­ily.

Within 24 hours of the biopsy, I got a phone call from my doc­tor. “We’ve got the re­sults,” she said. “I need you to come down here.” I knew im­me­di­ately that some­thing was hor­ri­bly, dread­fully wrong. “It’s not great news,” she said. It was the most se­ri­ous I had ever heard her sound. “It’s can­cer.”

I felt like the world went dark and the floor just im­me­di­ately dis­ap­peared out from un­der­neath me. You know how your body gets all shaky? That’s what it was like. It was so sur­real.

At the time, I didn’t know any­one with can­cer who had sur­vived – breast can­cer or other­wise. The only ex­pe­ri­ence I’d had was a few peo­ple, like my fa­ther-in-law, who had passed away from the dis­ease, and so I as­so­ci­ated can­cer with death. I felt like some­one was telling me my own death sen­tence.

When I told my hus­band Ed I had can­cer, I just kept look­ing at him and won­der­ing how he was go­ing to cope with look­ing af­ter the two lit­tle ones with­out me. As a mother, that’s all I could think about. It wasn’t so much about me. It was, “Oh my god, these kids

Breast can­cer sur­vivor Paulina White opens up to Stel­lar about fac­ing her mor­tal­ity, lean­ing on her best friend, ac­tor Marta Dus­sel­dorp – and be­ing one of the lucky ones

are not go­ing to have a mother. How will my hus­band sur­vive?” You start mak­ing plans for life with­out you.

One of the first peo­ple I told was my best friend [ac­tor Marta Dus­sel­dorp]. Marta, my twin sis­ter Elsa and I were all born on the same day in the same hos­pi­tal, so we were des­tined to be­come friends. We went to school to­gether. When Marta changed schools at 15, we be­came best-friend pen­pals. I re­mem­ber we used to write these long let­ters to each other and even record mes­sages on cas­sette tapes and send them. We had our first boyfriends and went through the re­bel­lious stage of sneak­ing out at night to­gether. In the hol­i­days we were in­sep­a­ra­ble and I was mis­er­able with­out her at school.

Dur­ing my can­cer ex­pe­ri­ence, Marta, Elsa and I be­came the three ami­gos. My hus­band was a mas­sive sup­port in the way he could be and in the way I needed him to be, but there were some things I could only ex­plore with Elsa and Marta. Life, death, my pur­pose in life, the mean­ing of life… These are very fe­male con­ver­sa­tions, I think. For a lot of men, it’s a bit of an ex­haust­ing dis­cus­sion and my hus­band is no dif­fer­ent. I needed my girls around me to ex­plore the other path – in­stead of be­ing fine, what if I wasn’t? What if I died?

The three ami­gos were strong as I went through surgery to have my right breast re­moved [the can­cer was an ag­gres­sive ma­lig­nancy], through six months of chemo­ther­apy and the long road to re­cov­ery. Go­ing through the jour­ney with me was one of the main rea­sons Marta de­cided to em­cee the re­cent Bazaar in Bloom char­ity event, which was held in or­der to raise money to pur­chase a mam­mo­gram ma­chine for The Royal Hos­pi­tal For Women in NSW. Mam­mo­grams are im­per­a­tive for early de­tec­tion of breast can­cer. I’m so proud of Marta for rais­ing aware­ness of breast can­cer and hope­fully rais­ing funds, too.

Even though I couldn’t have gone through can­cer with­out my fam­ily and friends, it re­ally is a solo jour­ney. Sit­ting in the sur­geon’s of­fice, get­ting ready to sign the con­sent form to re­move your breast when you don’t ac­tu­ally feel sick, was so strange. “It feels like I’m sign­ing up for elec­tive surgery,” I said. The doc­tor

“There were some things I could only ex­plore with Marta… what if I wasn’t fine?”

replied, “You are. You’re elect­ing to live. I can’t guar­an­tee what’s go­ing to hap­pen, but if you don’t have this surgery you will die.” It was ter­ri­fy­ing.

It has now been 14 years since my di­ag­no­sis. I re­mem­ber some­one say­ing at the time that the can­cer might be the best thing to ever hap­pen to me, and I thought, “Well, that’s ridicu­lous.” I found it of­fen­sive for all the peo­ple go­ing through the gru­elling treat­ment and fear of the un­known.

But in say­ing that, it does hold some truth. There is not a day that goes by that I’m not grate­ful for be­ing here.

It hasn’t stopped the fact that I’m go­ing to die, be­cause we all are, of course, but to be blessed with be­ing able to ex­pe­ri­ence get­ting older, watch­ing my chil­dren grow and be­come teenagers, and hope­fully see them one day have chil­dren of their own… I am truly lucky.

If you would like to do­nate to The Royal Hos­pi­tal For Women Foun­da­tion’s mam­mo­gram ma­chine fund, go to roy­al­women.org.au/bazaar­don.

Liz Cambage didn’t want to hurt in si­lence any longer. So two months ago, the Aus­tralian bas­ket­baller de­cided to make some noise. She opened up for the first time about her bat­tle with men­tal-health is­sues, re­veal­ing how a panic at­tack caused her to with­draw from a WNBA (Women’s Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion) game in the US. She also talked about how she was put on sui­cide watch af­ter the 2016 Olympic Games.

To­day, Cambage is again telling it like it is – and wants you to know that she is OK. “I am in a re­ally good spot,” the 28-year-old tells

Stel­lar. “Af­ter my break­down [at the WNBA game] dur­ing the year, I am back on med­i­ca­tion. If I was not in a ca­reer that is so up and down, I would be fine, but in this life­style, I need bal­ance. I’ll be stay­ing on them un­til the Olympics next year.”

Aus­tralian bas­ket­ball star Liz Cambage has never been one to “just shut up and play” – and in char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally can­did fash­ion, she tells Stel­lar why she’s proud to be known for tak­ing a stand

Her job brings a “roller-coaster” of hec­tic emo­tions. Joy, fun and hap­pi­ness crash up against fear, doubt and worry on the court – and spill into her life off it. Be­ing on show week in and week out, and in in­tense pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ments, can cause even the hardi­est to crum­ble.

Cambage al­ways wres­tled with self-be­lief. “She’s only good be­cause she is tall,” was some­thing Cambage – who now stands 2.03 me­tres – heard of­ten as a kid. She started to be­lieve it. “It would get to me,” she ad­mits. “I never thought I was that great.”

Now she tries to em­brace her world-best sta­tus rather than shy away from it. She has had many con­ver­sa­tions with friend Dy­lan Al­cott, the Par­a­lympian and Grand Slam-win­ning ten­nis champ she met when they were teens. He’s per­suaded her to own her ac­com­plish­ments, revving her up with com­pli­ments – “Liz, you are the great­est bas­ket­ball player in the world.” “You are the best.”

He boosted her when she needed it, and hear­ing the same from team­mates and coaches, both in the WNBA and in Aus­tralia, re­in­forced it in her head.

Yet not un­til a WNBA game in July last year – when she wrote her­self into the record books with 53 points in a game – did Cambage start to truly be­lieve in her­self. She had posted big num­bers in games be­fore, but many said she couldn’t do it in the world’s best league. She proved them wrong.

“It took me un­til last year that I re­ally be­lieved it, like, ‘Wow, I am great,’” says Cambage. “It’s taken me a long time to be able to say that out loud. Peo­ple look at it as ar­ro­gance or cock­i­ness – but look at the facts. It is what it is. Un­til some­one can shut me down one on one, then I am go­ing to wear it with pride.”

Along with own­er­ship of her tal­ent has been the rise of her star sta­tus. Cambage plays for the Las Ve­gas Aces and Aus­tralian Opals and is wor­shipped by bas­ket­ball lovers across the world, par­tic­u­larly in the US, China and Aus­tralia. Such is her sta­tus in the US that she re­cently earned a cov­eted nude por­trait in ESPN mag­a­zine’s an­nual Body is­sue. “I loved do­ing it,” she smiles.

IN THE PAST few weeks, Cambage has been back at home in Mel­bourne. She loves the city – hav­ing moved there at 10 af­ter a stint in NSW’S Coffs Har­bour. (Cambage, who was born in Lon­don to a Nige­rian fa­ther and Aus­tralian mother, came here at three months old.) But be­ing back is also dif­fi­cult, as it can shine a light on how tricky she can find life when play­ing over­seas. The soli­tude and lack of a big net­work are of­ten chal­leng­ing.

“It’s a re­minder of how un­set­tled I am,” she says. “It’s hard be­ing all over the shop be­cause of my job. But look, I know it’s not for­ever. I am soak­ing it all in. I have a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to live the life of a pro­fes­sional ath­lete.”

Cambage is not driven by fame, per­sonal records or the money a ca­reer in sport can of­fer. “At the end of the day, I just want to win,” she says. “I want to get my team to the cham­pi­onships. I want to lead Aus­tralia to a gold medal at the Olympics in Tokyo. That is my end game. That’s my goal.”

With the rapid as­cen­sion of women’s sport, more spon­sors have come knock­ing. Cambage re­cently did a shoot for Bonds and she is signed to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions giant AT&T. “It’s a change in the way we view ath­letes,” she says. “It’s gone from, ‘Just shut up and play your sport,’ to ‘Oh, ath­letes are ed­u­cated and have great views on what they are tak­ing a stand for.’ Hav­ing some­thing to stand for and say and giv­ing a fly­ing f*ck about so­cial is­sues. I care a lot about equal­ity, about ev­ery­one hav­ing a fair go.”

Cambage has ques­tioned why the NBA has been praised for in­tro­duc­ing a rule that states ev­ery men’s team has to have a men­tal health pro­fes­sional on staff, yet has not ex­tended it to the WNBA. She has also been vo­cal about pay par­ity. In 2012, she was so in­censed that the Aus­tralian Opals were flown to the Lon­don Olympics in econ­omy while the men’s team went busi­ness that she leaked it to the me­dia.

“A lot of peo­ple have put me down and told me to shut my mouth, but at the end of the day I have made a lot of big­ger changes to women’s sport – es­pe­cially bas­ket­ball,” says Cambage. “I don’t need thank yous. I am rid­ing the wave and liv­ing in the changes that me speak­ing openly has made. ” Life­line 13 11 14

MARTA (left) WEARS Ro­tate By Birger Chris­tensen dress, myer.com.au; her own jew­ellery (worn through­out) PAULINA WEARS Art Club by Heidi Middleton dress and belt, thi­sis­art­club. com; her own jew­ellery (worn through­out)

SOUL SIS­TERS (from top) Paulina White, hus­band Ed and their chil­dren Olly (left) and Fred­die; Paulina, Marta Dus­sel­dorp and Elsa Mor­gan in Syd­ney in 2006.

LIZ WEARS (above) COS jacket, cos­stores.com/au; Scan­lan Theodore dress, scan­lan­theodore.com; Lin­den Cook ring, lin­den cookde­sign.com; (left) Dun­das dress, mytheresa. com; COS bike shorts, as be­fore; her own shoes (from top) Liz Cambage shoots for the Las Ve­gas Aces dur­ing the WNBA semi­fi­nals in Septem­ber; Djing at Flem­ing­ton Race­course on Mel­bourne Cup day in 2016; pic­tured with her mum Ju­lia.

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