Grief, gratitude and pixie dust: Sally Obermeder on her breast cancer journey

Sally Obermeder is a picture of good health. Her life looks perfect: a successful media career, thriving online business and a loving family. It’s easy to forget that a few years ago, on the due date of her first baby, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer.

Sally remembers it as a day that started like any other. ‘I felt well and it had been a great pregnancy. Even when I felt the lump, cancer was the furthest thing from my mind’, she says. ‘When I got the diagnosis, it was like the world just fell out from under me, and my question was – am I going to die?’

Sharing her vivid memories on the Upfront About Breast Cancer podcast, Sally recalls being induced the next day and daughter Annabelle arriving safely. But there was little time to celebrate, as the new mum began intensive treatment.

‘It was a grief-stricken time. The first everything was out the door. They let me do one [breast] feed, and that was it.’

Nine months of gruelling chemotherapy and radiation took an enormous toll physically and mentally, but amid the sadness Sally says she still found comfort and joy in simple things such as holding her baby, smelling her and taking time to enjoy beautiful meals.

Another challenge for Sally was to accept that she not only needed a double mastectomy, but that she would need to undergo two separate surgeries several months apart, removing one breast at a time.

Sally admits to struggling during this period and having to wait for reconstruction. ‘The shame I felt was surprising. I’d lost my hair, eyelashes, already lost my entire identity, and then I had this emotion that I wasn’t prepared for.’

Many of those who’ve had breast cancer or supported a loved one with the disease will identify with Sally’s observations of the impact it had on her relationships and her own wellbeing.

‘You have to go through the grief before acceptance. There are so many scars, but that’s just who I am, and you work out what is important to you.’

She also encourages those undergoing treatment to be specific in articulating ways people can make things easier for you; whether it’s cooking or cleaning, or sitting with you and saying nothing.

‘People want to help you. It’s not medicine but it’s helpful. It’s the pixie dust. Tell them – they want to know.’

Having another child after recovery was important to Sally and her family. She talks with candour about the surrogate process, remembering some of the crazy comments well-intentioned friends and strangers would make.

Now a mother of two little girls, life is busy both personally and professionally. Her online fashion, beauty and health business SWIISH, founded with sister Maha in 2015, encourages women to be the best version of themselves.

It is through her breast cancer experience that Sally believes she is a little more brave and fearless and shares with listeners why she has no time for second-guessing; ‘I have a deep sense of gratitude, because every day is day I thought I wouldn’t get.’

Even nine years on, the now 47-year-old admits sometimes she fears the breast cancer will come back, and triggers that remind her of her ordeal can sit just below the surface.

Sally uses her experience as a reminder that no one knows what tomorrow will bring, and the importance of being kind to yourself and finding things that make you happy.

You can listen to Sally on the Upfront About Breast Cancer podcast on the BCNA website, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Issue 87
Spring 2020