Paula's story

“A breath of fresh air when I was just drowning…. Mater’s breast cancer care team were like that little lifeline… I never, ever once felt alone.” 

It was Christmas Day, 2022. 

Paula Rizqallah—a 36-year-old business owner, women’s empowerment advocate, mother-of-three and wife—finally had a moment to let her hair down.  

She took a mid-afternoon shower that would turn her world upside down. 

“I stumbled across a lump in my right breast that felt like a marble, and I was like ‘oh, that’s a bit strange’,” Paula said.  

“I had no family history that I was aware of at that stage. Potentially, if it wasn’t Christmas time and I wasn’t in my holiday mode and much more relaxed and calmer, there’s a chance I would have thought ‘it’s nothing to worry about, I’ll deal with it later, I’m too busy’. 

“So, I’m the biggest advocate now for awareness because it’s not in your face enough, especially for young people. There’s 300-400 women under 40 diagnosed every year so we need more awareness and education on that younger age group.” 

Early detection has proven vital. Paula was diagnosed with aggressive, triple negative breast cancer, and was found to be carrying the BRCA1 gene. With husband, Lucas, and children Conor, Robbie and Alana by her side, she completed five months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, radiation and reconstructive surgery.  

“I’ve had a complete response (to treatment), which is great news, but I do know my journey has not ended,” Paula said. “But for now, I can breathe a little bit.” 

“The way I looked at it was I couldn’t control that I had cancer, but I could control how I react to it, and how I was going to let it impact on my life. I made the decision to keep my life as normal as possible. I had a business to run and three children. 

“I started documenting my journey in a normal way with jokes and crude humour and all the rest of it, and I had so many people reach out to me. They thanked me for making it so real—I didn’t sugar coat it or make it out to be worse. It was everyday, mundane issues that potentially can arise, to give people a real perspective of a day in the life of a chemo patient. 

“Mater, and the Mater breast cancer care team, they were like that little lifeline. They really were. I don’t know how else to explain it. No one realises that you get this whole support team and I never, ever once felt alone. Mater was just amazing. 

“Ash (Ash Mondolo, Mater Breast Cancer Care Nurse) was the very first person that I saw when I went in after I booked in with Ben (Dr Ben Lancashire)—they were both fantastic,” Paula said. 

“Ash was just sensational. We got in there, she sat down across from me and basically just said ‘women, we’ve gone so far, we’ve caught it early and we’re not dying of breast cancer as much these days. We’ve got so much technology, we’ve got so much medicine, we’ve got so many options, it’s not what it used to be 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.  

“She (Ash) was a breath of fresh air when I was just drowning and because she was so positive and loves a good joke, it just really changed the experience. It became, ‘this is a s—t thing we’ve got to get done’. 

“My family, my friends, my staff, they’ve all banded together—just absolutely amazing people. It’s been such a good experience. It’s the little things that make a huge difference.”  

Mater Chicks in Pink was created so no woman goes through breast cancer alone. 

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