An Australian mum-of-two had her life turned on its head after discovering a lump in her breast that was later found to be aggressive cancer.
Tania Jolley, from Adelaide, was the fittest she’d ever been when she noticed a small unusual lump on her breast one night that seemed to have come out of nowhere.
The 52-year-old had a mammogram, a traumatic biopsy, a breast cancer diagnosis and started treatment all within days of finding the mass.
She had to put her life on hold as she underwent intense radiation therapy that left her skin burnt and brittle.
Tania has now ‘come out of the tunnel’ with a newfound appreciation for life and wants women to know they don’t need to be ‘led by the nose’ when it comes to their health.
One Sunday night in 2016, Tania was in bed with her husband, Andrew, when she rolled over to notice a lump on her breast.
‘It was like someone had shoved a ball bearing or a marble underneath. I poked around it and thought it was really weird,’ she recalled.
A self-described ‘pragmatic person’, Tania was on the phone to her GP by 9am Monday morning and in the clinic that afternoon.
By Tuesday, she was already getting a mammogram when the technician voiced some concerns Tania’s lump looked a lot like cancer so called for a specialist.
‘Then probably the most horrific thing happened out of my entire journey. I had to lay down on this bed and go through having this biopsy with absolutely no anaesthetic whatsoever,’ she said.
Tania was being held down on a bed by the nurse and Andrew while a doctor ‘pumped needles into her breast’ to get a biopsy.
‘I felt like I had been transported back into the fifteenth century, and I was being hung, drawn and quartered. It was the most disgusting, painful thing. I will never forget it. I was screaming with pain,’ she recalled.
‘One thing I now understand in this whole process is that you have to advocate for yourself. You absolutely have to and you don’t have to say, ‘Yeah, no worries, I’ll just accept anything’,’ she said.
Tania left the clinic with Andrew ‘shell shocked’ in the late afternoon and he suggested she skip the Women in Innovation Awards she was due to host only a few hours later.
She was a mum to her two daughters, Charlotte, now 18, and Eliza, now 15, running a security business with Andrew and on various boards for women’s and business organisations and was determined not to let any potential diagnosis interfere with her life.
‘I said I’m absolutely going to this event. I am not going to let this thing dictate and tell me how my life is going to be,’ she said.
‘If I’ve only got a short time left on this earth. I’m going to do it my way. This is going to be by my rules, not somebody else’s.’
Tania describes the thought of having to tell her daughters, who were nine and 12 at the time, about the cancer equally as painful as her biopsy.
‘They’d lost their grandfather to cancer, and before that my mother-in-law passed away with breast cancer. So you’ve got two little girls who only knew death from cancer,’ she said.
‘They knew something was wrong, they knew Mummy was upset, but they didn’t know why. We really waited until we got all the information to sit them down and tell them.’
On a Thursday afternoon, just four days after finding the lump, the mum was given the news she had a grade four hormone-positive type of breast cancer.
‘That was the most aggressive form that you could have but I was fortunate in that I caught it so early so it was still what they considered to be stage one,’ she explained.
Tania, whose father had passed away from cancer less than two years before, had the lump swiftly removed and considered her next steps with her oncologist.
‘I was scared to death of chemotherapy because I’d seen my dad go through it 15 months before,’ Tania said.
‘Having to go in there with him every time and see the pain and the anguish of sitting there for six hours, I was absolutely terrified and I was prepared to do anything to avoid it.’
Instead, she went through weeks of radiation therapy which left the skin around her breast tender and burned.
‘It was just horrendous, and towards the end of it they were quite worried that the skin tissue was going to break apart because it just gets so burnt,’ she said.
‘Imagine going out, lying in the sun and getting your breast burnt, and then tomorrow going back and doing it again and then again for six weeks.’
Tania said the radiation was the most ‘painless’ part of her whole journey and she was able to get on with her normal life, juggling work and being a mum.
‘I remember going and thinking, nobody knows I’ve got breast cancer, nobody knows I’m going through radiation treatment right now,’ she said.
‘I certainly did have this absolute zest for making sure that I was living the life that I wanted to live and doing the things that I wanted to do.’
When she was ‘out of the tunnel’ of her cancer journey, Tania reignited a business idea she had a year before her diagnosis which lead her to start a beauty brand Lashes of Change.
Tania wanted to create a mascara where shoppers could choose their preferred colour formula and brush style all while being refillable and recyclable to have a low impact on the environment.
She said the idea for the business was ‘born out of pure frustration’.
One busy day she hurried into a department store to pick up a tube of the Clarins mascara after she ran out.
‘I’d been purchasing this mascara for 22 years because for me it was perfect. It was quite an unusual colour, like a deep aubergine,’ she said.
‘The lady behind the counter, said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but that mascara has been discontinued’, and I thought ‘What am I supposed to do now?’. I had literally five minutes.’
When she had more time to browse, she struggled to find a colour and brush similar to her discontinued favourite but to no avail.
Tania kept her old Clarins brush and would dip it into other mascaras formulas. She found juggling the brushes and tubes an annoying process but was left with no other option.
‘I thought to myself, ‘Why isn’t it customisable? Why can’t we have a choice of brushes? Why can’t we then choose to combine it with colour and formula style that we want?’,’ she said.
‘I started coming up with all these solutions then wondered if I could put it all together in one piece.’
Tania wanted to create a mascara that allowed shoppers to chose their own colour and brushes while being able to be refilled and recycled.
The idea keeping ‘niggling’ in the back of her brain all while she was battling cancer.
When Tania’s health woes subsided, she started meeting with international suppliers and engineers who she had to convince her product was one women were after.
‘One of the owners said, ‘That’s not how mascara is done’ and I’m like ‘I know that’,’ she said however days later she received an email from him saying he was on board.
‘He went home and told his wife about this ‘unusual conversation I had with this Australian woman. She was crazy but she was adamant this is what she wanted to do’,’ Tania laughed.
‘The wife said, ‘Don’t you know I have been doing mascara like this for years because I can’t find the right brush?’.’
While it was an experience that helped get Lashes of Change off the ground, it was one that left Tania feeling frustrated at the beauty industry.
‘The CEOs, the COOs, the CFOs, the heads of engineering at these big cosmetic companies are all men, like sorry, what? None of them use cosmetics,’ she said.
Lashes of Change was launched in 2021 and allows shoppers to have their ‘dream mascara’ for $79 and refills for $39.
There are five interchangeable brush styles, three formula and colour options and three polished Aluminium outer case colours.
25 per cent of all profits made from Lashes of Change goes directly to Breast Cancer Research at the Centre for Cancer Biology in Adelaide, a cause close to Tania’s heart.
‘In the end, I’ve created a mascara I wanted. I created something I was looking for. I wanted to be able to choose the perfect brush for me not be told what was.’
Women are snapping up their customisable Lashes of Change mascaras with the business selling $10,000 worth in just three days.
While her business ventures have proved successful, Tania’s health still isn’t back to what it used to be pre-2016 and she avoids using the words ‘remission’ or ‘cured’.
‘I never, ever use that word when people ask me how me health is. People always say, ‘How are you going or how are you feeling?’ I tend to say, ‘I’m feeling good today’,’ she said.
‘I was so betrayed by my body. I was 46 and the fittest I had been. I don’t think I’ll ever get back to having that confidence to say I’m fine because I don’t actually know that. I’ll never know.’
‘But it’s a way of reminding myself to just be grateful for every day. I’ve come out of this a much more appreciative person of life and a little bit braver as well.’