Stephanie lay on the couch beside her boyfriend watching television. As she reached up for a stretch gently grazing the inner of her breast on the way, she discovered an unusual lump on her left boob.
The then 22-year-old Stephanie Murphy was diagnosed with triple negative Breast Cancer after many ultrasounds and biopsies. Doctors initially said her lump was benign—because why would a fit and healthy 22-year-old have such a disease? But with Breast Cancer running in her family, doctors quickly raised eyebrows. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would be fighting for her life in her early twenties.
After her diagnosis, Stephanie spiralled quickly into a burning reality known as hell on Earth. Her treatment began with a lumpectomy, then the removal of her lymph nodes, followed by a fertility egg collection, not to mention four painful rounds of intense chemotherapy, a double mastectomy straight to implants and the list continued. Her skin around her breasts died, which allowed for wounds to open. Her implants were removed and she had expanders put in. Not long after, she had a fat grafting surgery to try and fix the fragile thin skin on the boobs. With infection after infection, Steph was hit with every bug that came her way.
Despite her physical adversity, no pain could ever compare to the painful sorrow of losing the woman who brought her into this world.
“I remember hiding in my mum’s cupboard one day getting ready to jump out to scare her. I was just about to do the big jump when I heard my mum and dad walk in, and mum sounded really sad. I heard her say to my dad, “The Cancer has spread” and I could only imagine how scared my mum was,” Stephanie reminisced.
Stephanie was just six-years-old when she found out her mother had Breast Cancer. What was considered a long, painful and treacherous six-year battle ended in heartbreak and loss. The Cancer had spread through her entire body. The battle became one-sided, weighing in favour of the cancerous cells. Her mother took her last breath at age 40 while her three daughters and lifelong partner watched her soul float out of her body.
It is tragic for any daughter to live her life without the witness of her mother, particularly facing the same battle her mother faced with such bravery. Stephanie misses out on the small joys like having her mother give her away at her wedding or introducing her children to their grandmother. It is something so sweet and innocent that Breast Cancer has now stolen from young Stephanie.
As a result, Stephanie never had a normal childhood. Her classmates would stay up all night playing video games and laughing about kid jokes, while Stephanie stayed up all night listening to her mother howl in pain, crying ferociously.
“But that’s okay because, maybe, if I didn’t go through everything I went through with my mum, I wouldn’t be as strong and fierce as I am today fighting my own battle!”
It has been a year since her diagnosis and she is stronger than ever. She’s had six surgeries and has lost all her hair but still smiles like an energetic 23-year-old.
Stephanie is a proud Diva Dance Photography ambassador, posing in awe-inspiring shots and unapologetically showing her battle scars. Initially, the thought of having no hair for a young woman posing in high-quality editorials, Stephanie’s confidence hit rock bottom.
Photographer Leah made Stephanie embrace her baldness in the most beautiful way imaginable with golden beads to decorate her scalp.
“It was so much fun flaunting my glittery bald head! Showing off all my battle scars has been a great way to share my story, and raise awareness for breast cancer!”
Stephanie has always been an energetic girl, competing in Calisthenics at Heathergene Calisthenics club for many years. The idea of performing in a team still makes her smile. She may come back to her beloved sport one day but her double mastectomy restricts her from doing things she used to do.
“Exercising and staying overly positive is what helps me get through my day to day life!”
Stephanie’s life mission now is to help raise awareness for Breast Cancer and help fight the statistics back to zero. As organisations such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation receive no government funding, spreading awareness is even harder.
“Every year breast cancer diagnosis figures seem to increase. Younger and younger people keep getting diagnosed. Women need to know their risk and be taught how to self-check,” Steph advised.
“No matter the age, history or not—I would never wish breast cancer upon anyone or family.”