The Women of Strength Campaign is our way of giving back to a community of women who’ve either endured a challenging life experience or event to have come out the other side with her head held high. We’ve asked our audience to nominate a women in their life that needs her experience and story honoured. We’re a fashion business with a big heart and we gift each of our contributors with a dress of their choice as a way of showing solidarity and appreciation. As we share their stories with you, we sincerely hope that you are encouraged by the strength of these women that have endured life’s challenges with guts and grace.
So here we go, may we introduce Selina McGarrigle from sunny Brisbane, Queensland!
(Selina modeling for a Curve photo shoot)
1. Tell us a little about yourself Selina
What can I say? I wasn’t sure what to write so I asked a few of my closest friends!
They describe me as passionate, driven, loving, soul-nourishing, inspirational, and a savvy woman with a heart of gold! I have to say I’m blown away because for so long I’ve felt that I had to be something or someone else . I felt pressure to be a certain size, manner, shape - I really felt that to be ‘myself’ wasn't enough and I had to be 'perfect'.
I grew up in Sydney and was told that I was ‘dumb’ by my teachers and would never progress academically past the age of 8. I felt useless, no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I carried this for years, despite turning around my grades, I struggled with depression and low self esteem. I was also violently assaulted at the ago of 16 years old. I tried so hard not to let things affect me – I was more active in the community, started a peer support group for girls in my high school and got into university. Unfortunately all of these things did not help my mental and emotional wellbeing - I became an emotional comfort eater and a silent self hater.
At the age of 25 - I left my career in child protection (truth be told, I burnt myself out trying to do it all and was working over 60hrs a week!) and had a emotional breakdown. I needed to take time for myself, so I decided to travel the world and focus on me. Little did I know that this choice would lead to some of the happiest times of my life!
I ended up spending five years travelling and living in many different places including London, New York, Somerset and Paris. I got to work with some very special young people and was able to encourage and assist them in their growth. I fell in love for the first time and finally felt like I had found myself and could be myself.
Unfortunately, at the age of 30 I was required to return to Australia as my visa was expiring and my relationship ended.
I hit rock bottom about 4yrs ago which lead me to successfully turned my life around through learning through coaching, NLP and Hypnosis. I hadn’t considered the mind to be such a powerful tool, but when I did the work on my limiting beliefs about myself - everything changed and I recognised the negative self talk that had troubled me from childhood. Looking back now, I realise the impact my childhood made on my self belief and confidence. I know now that my mind is my most powerful tool. From that moment of realisation everything changed for me.
( Selina in her ‘Selina’ wrap dress , yes we named it after her ❤️)
2. Would you mind sharing with us the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in life
At the age of 36, I was feeling more and more fatigued in my everyday life, I felt exhausted. I was single, extremely healthy and very active. I undertook rigorous testing to get to the source of my loss of energy. It took nine months of blood tests, iron infusions and new thyroid medications to feel a little better. However one day when I was just doing a routine check, found a lump in my breast.
Within a week of finding the lump, I was diagnosed with stage 2 - Invasive Carcinoma of the left breast (Ie; Breast Cancer). Invasive means that the cancer has “invaded” or spread to the surrounding breast tissues - hence my lump was about 3.2cm. Carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues that cover internal organs — such as breast tissue & lymph nodes.
I was shocked! There is no family history and I was so healthy. How does this happen?
I underwent genetic testing as I thought perhaps it was the BRAC 1 or 2 gene - then I would have a Mastectomy and have both breasts removed - I have even picked out a tattoo to have in replacement of my breasts. But when the results came in, of the 33 genes tested - I was negative to all cancer genes. I didn't have the BRAC 1 or 2 either. This breast cancer was just bad 'fucking' luck. Within 48hrs of seeing my GP - it was a whirlwind of ultrasounds, scans, MRIs, biopsies, endless doctors appointments, sleepless nights, conversations with other women who have gone through it, and so much research!
The week before my surgery I started IVF to try and freeze some eggs because I was warned that Chemotherapy would trigger menopause (which it did!) and could destroy my ovaries completely despite being on Zoladex injections. After much consideration, I decided to have a Lumpectomy, a surgery in which only the tumour(which ended up being only 2.4cm) and some surrounding tissue is removed - I have a 5cm margin removed and thank goodness only three lymph nodes. This loss was only lightened by my talented surgeon who managed to save my nipple and give me a semi-breast lift at the same time ( God bless her! LOL!).
The day I was released from hospital - I had my ultrasound and was told that I had over 28 eggs from treatment (even though my surgeon was very concerned about me doing IVF due to the high levels of estrogen that goes into your body - I was so blessed to have choice now) - My amazing IVF specialist and his team retrieved 22 viable eggs a week later, which are now in frozen in storage.
Against my better judgement I did chemo. This was hell on earth! The pain aside, my surgery was such a success - and the lump was smaller than originally thought - my chemo went from 8 cycles/6 drugs to 4 cycles/ 2 drugs.
Before making the decision to do radiation I wanted my body to have the best chance to recover and be in the best condition to fight - so I took a 8 week break. I did holistic medicine as well as western medicine and mindset work everyday so that my mental condition didn’t deteriorate as my physical strength did.
To be absolutely honest, treatment was hell. I felt as though I was in the underworld of illness. I was frustrated and confused, how could the treatment be worse than the disease? I endured everything from bone pain, brain fog, nausea, skin irritations , weight gain of 10kgs in 3 weeks, metal tastes in my mouth, shaking, constipation, fatigue, to only name a few - it felt like every part of me was dying. This pain is one I can't begin to describe - It felt like I was on fire and my body was burning from the inside out.
I don’t wish to go into the darkest moments, however I know if had not spent time working at building my mental strength and fortitude prior to Chemo, I do not think I would have beaten cancer.
Although the Chemotherapy was brutal, I did get the opportunity to be the first patient at the hospital to trial a new British technology ‘The Cold Cap’ . The Cold Cap freezes your hair so that you don't lose it all during the Chemo process. It also means you may not require a wig. This aside, I still cut my off my long hair and donated it. During the trial I only went slightly bald with a few patches of hair that didn't fall out. It may seem like a minor detail, but this small grace was a great distraction for me and I felt empowered to be able to give to other women that were in need .
(Selina during the first roll out of the hair saving technology ‘Cold Cap’)
(Selina Experienced minimal hair loss during treatment due to the Cold Cap technology)
3. What was your motivation while you were in thick of it?
My motivation.. there really wasn't any - the only thing I could focus on was to LIVE beyond the statistics! So the drive came from within. I focused on little things to get me through it all. I concentrated on one thing a day that made me smile, one thing a day that helped me move my body and one thing a day that helped restore my mind.
I began to do Facebook(FB) live videos telling people I had cancer, I would say “this is such a 'glitch' in the system” but I was determined that breast cancer was not going to knock me off the planet. I knew I had a bigger purpose in this world and breast cancer had picked the wrong woman to fuck with!
I did live FB videos and shared the ups and downs of breast cancer because I wanted to inspire others to push through the underworld of illness. I also wanted to encourage the friends and families of other patients to feel involved and like they couldn't contribute to the healing process of their loved ones.
I was personally encouraged and empowered by watching positive youtube clips/ reading posts from amazing people like Brendan Burchard, Danielle LaPorte, Taryn Brumfitt and Oprah. I surrounded myself with people who had my back and knew that I was passionately determined to LIVE. Nothing was going to stop me.
In August 2017, I got my 1yr all clear without Tamoxifen! As I read the email from my surgeon to say that I was all clear and there were no signs of recurrence in either breasts, I celebrated by going to the gym and deadlifted 65kgs that morning! Then I booked a trip to Bali to celebrate!
( Selina doing a celebratory 65kg deadlift)
My plan is to continue to stay clear & well! My 2nd year scan is due in August of this year and there will be more celebrating then too, I can guarantee that!
4. What have you learned about yourself during the whole process?
I have learnt that FEAR drives so many things in the world and that LOVE for myself is more powerful than fear.
I learnt that I can control my thoughts, my reactions, my mind and that while it is important to acknowledge the facts - I can defy the verdict and live!
I learnt to focus on my business and my message that “ wellness in the mind, creates wellness in the body!”
I had to rebuild myself and my life from the hell of this adventurous ride of breast cancer. I learnt that at rock bottom, the only way is up!
Breast cancer took everything from me - my energy, my femininity, my body, my choice to have children and my money (financially I am starting from scratch again).
Although it took everything, what it did gave me was A WHOLE NEW LIFE!
I might not feel like a woman anymore or somedays the pain is so intense that I can hardly breathe or sleep, but I AM ALIVE.
I remind myself that I am alive everyday! I make LIVING LISTS now - not bucket lists - life is to be lived, not settled for.
I am so lucky & grateful that I have a 2nd chance now! At present, I am pouring all of my energy into creating a new me and all my learnings into a program that will help other women go through their own endings with focus, clarity, power and determination. Its my focus to help women unlock the issues that are really holding them back in life and to stop feeding themselves the bullshit stories –to shed the fears! I want to help women pursue their passion and soar into the incredible life they deserve – because we are all worth it!
5. What would you say to encourage other women experiencing hardship or challenge?
● Focus on you - go within and fill up your cup first!
● You get one life - take a breath and focus on what you can do!
● Be in the moment - be present.
● Only you can change the way you react to the world.
● Don't waste your beautiful, precious life trying to please everyone else or look like someone else or stay to make others happy.
● There is no such thing as failure, only feedback - work with it - flow with it.
● Your vulnerability is your power to be YOU and that is what the world needs
● You've got this ☺