Interview with Courtney // images and film by Bec Zacher
Please share a little about your life journey so far?
I have lived on the beautiful Gold Coast since I was 12 years old. When I was in my mid 20’s I decided to travel to America for 5 months, and upon returning I decided to start studying to become a registered nurse. shortly after I started my uni degree I met Mark through a mutual friend. Mark was also at uni studying to become a teacher. We started dating, and it wasn’t long before our lives started to mesh together and we were planning a future together as a couple. We both completed University got engaged, started our careers and then shortly after we had our first daughter. We then decided to get married. The day after we returned from our honeymoon I found out I was 8 weeks pregnant with our second daughter.
Please share some details about your health journey and what it was like finding out your diagnosis? What is your diagnosis and what have the last few years been like since your diagnosis?
In February 2015 my youngest daughter Evie had just turned 1. I had also just returned to work after 1 year of maternity leave. I had an aching armpit which I initially dismissed as injury, probably from weights at the gym. A few weeks later the ache was still there, except now I could feel that I had a lump in my breast, close to my armpit. Being a busy working mum, and also not believing it would be anything sinister, I put off having it checked for about 6 weeks. When I did eventually go to my GP she expressed immediate concern and sent me off for the relevant scans and Testings. A week later I was told by my GP that I did, in fact, have breast cancer. I was in total Shock -I was only 32. I felt healthy, I was happy and life was going so well, how could I have breast cancer? Life as we knew it was never the same again. After almost 12 months of treatments – including a mastectomy, hysterectomy, chemo, radiation and numerous hospitals stays I was given the all-clear and told to get back to my normal life. However, in December 2016 I had a scan due to some chest pain that wouldn’t go away. A few days before Christmas I was told that the breast cancer had returned. This time it was in my ribs, my spine and my pelvis. I was told that there was no cure this time, I had stage 4 breast cancer And my condition was terminal. I was told that although there were treatments to help prolong life. I was eventually going to die from this. I was given the timeframe of 2-5 years to live, my children were 5 and 2 at that time and my husband and I were absolutely devastated.
How has your diagnosis changed your outlook on life?
I am very focused on living presently in each day. I am more conscious of the words I speak to my children and loved ones, how I interact with then, and I am very conscious of how I spend my time. I live a very different and much slower paced life to the one I lived pre-cancer. I use to be much more future-driven, goal-focused, and I was often overloading my schedule and getting caught up in the busy-ness of life. I have much more simple priorities now. I can also honestly say that besides having cancer, I am now the happiest I have ever been, I live much more authentically now and I try to live each day like it could be my last.
What have been some of the beautiful things that have emerged during such a hard season?
I have met some incredible people. I have also gotten to know myself better. I was also able to heal some childhood wounds that I had purposely buried deep down inside of me. They were wounds that I would have probably taken to the grave with me – but an incurable cancer diagnosis made me realise the importance of letting them go and working through them.
What would you say to encourage others on the same journey?
Live in the love of life rather than the fear of cancer. Live your life how you want to be remembered. Have faith in yourself and your choices. Spend lots of time healing at many levels, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Even on the hard days (as we all have those) think of 3 things you are truly grateful for and always remember that nothing stays the same forever – this to shall pass.
What do these photos and film that you have, represent for you?
It makes me smile and cry tears of happiness. It truly captures the love in our home and our family. It’s exactly how I want my children to remember their childhood.
You can follow Courtney and her regular updates over on Instagram at – @x_willowbelle_x