After having her gall bladder removed Rina Gualtieri struggled with her weight, gaining 25kg. In May 2012 she decided it was time to make her health a priority and started losing weight.
Little did she know that making the decision to focus on her health would do more than shed some unwanted kilograms, it would save her life. After losing 25kg via a mixture of eating well and training at the gym, taking up running and Muay Thai, as well as competing in events like Spartan, The Stampede, Miss Muddy and True Grit, the 44 year-old from Zillmere in Brisbane discovered a lump in her right breast.
A trip to her GP lead to the discovery of second a lump in her left breast, less than 48 hours later, and in the best shape of her life Ms Gualtieri learnt she had bilateral breast cancer.
She was 42.
“If I was 35kg heavier I might not have discovered the lump so in a nutshell losing weight saved my life,” she said.
Once she discovered the enemy was cancer, that’s when Ms Gualtieri’s real battle began. She credits her weight loss and fitness with not only enabling her to discover the lump, but helping her deal with the cancer treatment on a physical and mental level.
“I also believe the weight loss contributed to me being fit and healthy and I was in the best shape physically and mentally to tackle such a traumatic event,” she said.
While her new found fitness was a blessing, it was also proved to be a curse. Training had become such a part of her life, not being able to do it became a mental struggle. During her treatment she almost gained all the weight she had worked so hard to lose.
“I remember talking to my oncologist as I was quite distressed and she reassured me with; ‘let’s get you treated and you will lose the weight again, you’ve done it before and your hair will grow back’, and you know what, she was right,” she said. “The last day of chemo I turned up in my active wear. I couldn’t train, but I could still wear my active wear.”
In 2014 Ms Gualtieri volunteered at the Mother’s Day Classic, and from that first day volunteering in 2014, she was hooked.
“The following year (2015) I volunteered and helped out in the registration tent,” she said. “In 2016 I was part of the Brisbane MDC Committee as a volunteer on the participation subcommittee. In 2017 I am again part of this committee, and I’m excited to be participating in the 4.5km Brisbane event.”
Ms Gualtieri knows first-hand the difference breast cancer research can make to one person, and by extension knows the impact an event like the Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic has.
“When I first volunteered (2014, 2015) before my breast cancer diagnosis I was shocked at the number of people that were touched by breast cancer, everyone has their story, why they were walking, running and fundraising,” she said. “When I arrived at last year’s event it was quite emotional because all these people were walking and running for someone like me, I shed a few tears that day, but they were happy tears.”
Ms Gualtieri has the following advice for people battling breast cancer, and for the people who love them;
Research only what you need to know.
The best piece of advice I got from my medical team was to only research what I needed to know at the time and only use reputable sites. So initially I only looked at surgery and information about the Oncotype DX test. It can be so overwhelming; there is a lot of information out there and different people sharing their experiences with you. I have an amazing medical team who have seen me through different stages of treatment and follow-up regular check-ups.
Connect with others in your situation.
I have also connected with fellow breast cancer survivors who are at different stages of their treatment; we have a special bond because we understand what we are going through and have gone through, sharing our experiences and supporting each other.
Reach out and offer help.
My friends stepped up and helped me out. As a single independent woman, I struggled to ask for help. My friend set up a Facebook group and did up a spreadsheet of things that people could do for me such as cooking, shopping, driving me to appointments and mowing my lawn. So many people offered to help out, and this was a great way of them doing what they could. I feel so blessed, the kindness of friends and family supporting me during this time was humbling.
People just want to help out. I received some lovely care packages and so many messages of support.
It only takes 30 seconds out of your day to send a text and it was these messages of support and checking in that would put a smile on my face.