Combating cancer with colour
Clare was following her dream timeline: in love, recently married and 17 weeks pregnant with their son, John, when they found out he had a terminal kidney disease. He died in utero soon after.
Living in Melbourne, Clare and her husband relocated to her parents’ home in Barwon Heads in 2018 and were about to move into their own place when her breast became enlarged.
“We lost our little boy half way through the pregnancy and I got really bad mastitis. After we moved I started a full-time job and three months later my whole right side blew up. I knew something was wrong so I went to the hospital,” Clare said.
“I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer that was advanced and aggressive. There was no time to preserve eggs, I was put into menopause and started chemotherapy within two weeks.”
The couple had just begun trying for a second baby when they got the diagnosis.
“We thought I might’ve been pregnant at first because my breast was tender. It was a bit of a rude shock that it was actually cancer. It was awful, only six months after losing John our life was flipped around a million different ways again.”
On her second wedding anniversary, Clare had a mastectomy where they removed her right breast. She was 30 years old.
“After six months of chemotherapy and a mastectomy, I was told I was cancer free and started five weeks of radiation followed by 12 months of Herceptin. I finished treatment in December last year.”
The loss of a child and a breast in such a short timeframe has been hard for Clare but she believes in challenging times “you kick on, and keep going”.
“You go into warrior mode. It’s just what you do, going into early menopause was hard. I’ve only just come out of it so I had to deal with that also.”
Clare used art as a release during treatment and as she struggled with the side effects of chemotherapy (including the physically painful process of losing her hair), began making head scarves.
“Your head is so sensitive it hurts to even lay down. My hair fell out in massive clumps. I have a visual arts degree and when I couldn’t find beautiful, colourful scarves that were large enough, began making my own.
“I thought I’d be fine with losing my hair but I wasn’t. I thought I’d wear a wig and go blonde for a little while but it just wasn’t me. The scarves allowed me to keep my own style and that’s what I’m offering through my business.”
Clare launched LOF YOU, a site where people can purchase headscarves designed by Clare, or sign loved ones up to a subscription box for scarves to get delivered regularly.
“I sketch and do ink paintings that I turn into artwork and the prints for the scarves; everything is Australian made. People can receive a new scarf regularly to wear every day so they feel beautiful and bright.”
As life regains some sense of normalcy for Clare and her husband, she said her hair may have grown back but some scars still remain, both physically and emotionally.
“Losing a boob is weird. Sometimes my husband and I will make jokes and other days I’ll think ‘What the hell?’. Reconstruction isn’t on the cards for me, they had to take too much skin and I won’t put my body through the trauma.
“I’m positive, though, and feel stronger emotionally and physically than ever before. I’m really focusing on my health and fitness and feel very lucky to be alive. While breast cancer will always be a part of who I am and I can physically see the scar, it doesn’t define me.”
If you would like to see Clare’s art and scarves, head to lofyou.me or Instagram @lof_you_ and @art_by_clare_elizabethau.