Living in Papua New Guinea was no place for Tessa when she was told she had secondary breast cancer in 2013.
“It was around June 2013. I rarely ever got sick and yet I started getting chest pains I couldn’t explain,” says Tessa
At the time there were only two mammogram machines in Papua New Guinea and neither were working. So Tessa went to Australia and in four days, rushed through all the tests, including a biopsy and consultation with doctors.
“The oncologist sat me down and told me I had a tumor in my right breast. There were a few moments of stunned silence.
“I asked as many questions as I could think of. I don’t like crying in front of anyone and I was still flat out asking questions when I realised tears had been running down my face for a while,” says Tessa.
The doctor told Tessa not to panic but that she needed to go back to PNG, pack up and go and get treatment in New Zealand. “At least I could go,” Tessa explained, “There are limited options for screening and treatment in PNG and a close friend of mine died of cancer a few months later because she could not be treated.”
“Finding out I had primary and secondary breast cancer at the same time was a double whammy because it wasn’t going to be a short time out from my life to deal with one tumor,” says Tessa.
“But I wasn’t going to spend time and energy fretting over my diagnosis.”
Tessa says she her diagnosis made her seriously think about her priorities and what she does with her time.
“The amazing thing about having terminal cancer is it actually makes some things easier. When you have less energy and less time you do nothing out of obligation, you choose carefully what to commit to and do so wholeheartedly” says Tessa.
“I don’t know how much time I’ve got, but I’m going to use it as well as I can. I’m so much closer to my friends and family now because I’m focused on the time I have with them.”
Joining Sweet Louise helped Tessa find people facing the same diagnosis.
“Sweet Louise is a space where everyone is in the same boat. You can talk about different treatments and instantly, people know what you’re talking about. You don’t have to explain anything and you don’t have to comfort people who don’t know what to say when they find out you have terminal cancer. ”
“Sometimes I get frustrated with stories about ‘battling” and “overcoming’ breast cancer. When you’ve got a cancer you can’t get rid of, you define the battle differently,” says Tessa.
“Instead every day is a victory.”