Have you ever met someone who makes you extra stoked to be alive? Someone whose chutzpa and zest for life makes you momentarily forget that Donald Trump might be president and that the Great Barrier Reef just died. Someone who is just so genuinely funny and clever and honest to goodness, “good people.”
That’s how I felt when I met Emma Markezic two years ago.
She had a fresh blow out (seriously the kind of hair you would happily spend hours watching YouTube tutorials trying to replicate) a dazzling smile and witty banter until the cows came home. We met only once in person at a mutual friend’s book launch. Thanks to Instagram and Facebook, I got to continue my girl crush on a daily basis. I followed her stand up comedy career and read several of her articles. Last week, I was blissfully double tapping pictures of super fruits when I saw Emma’s post. She was on the cover of Body + Soul revealing that she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. It was like hearing the sun stopped shining. I immediately got the article and started reading.
The sun definitely did not stop shining. In fact – it became a super sun. Emma’s reaction to breast cancer is inspiring, funny, admirable and everything our often sad world needs. You MUST read her article HERE. Since Emma is also the most gracious person I’ve ever met, she agreed to answer a few questions for me.
Summer: Have you always checked for lumps in your breasts or was your tumour so large you couldn’t help but notice it?
Emma: I’m going to be real with you right now… I have never checked my breasts. Not once. And yes, this is blatantly OUTRAGEOUS. But I think a lot of women my age don’t; it’s simply not on our radar. But, oh boy, it should be. I happened to discover a lump in my left breast while getting dressed to MC a friend’s wedding. I wasn’t looking for it, I wasn’t doing a check – I was just hiking my boobs up in my bra because I’d noticed the saxophone player in the wedding band was pretty cute and wanted to look my best. THAT IS IT. But when I did that I felt something; like a frozen pea. I had it checked and within days I was admitted to Sydney’s Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and two weeks later I was undergoing a mastectomy. I think the lesson here is… saxophone players: is there anything they can’t do?!
Summer: Does breast cancer run in your family?
Emma: Nope, not a sausage! Which is why it was so easy to be complacent. I think women of all ages don’t really know what they’re checking for which is why we ditch a medically flavoured fondle in favour of an extra-long shower. “But my breasts are lumpy anyway,” a lot of women tell me. And to that I say: get to your GP. Even just twice a year and let them have a go. Because they do know what they’re looking for and if you happen to have a lump, getting it early is a lifesaver. Quite literally. Don’t be a boob and ignore me, I will hunt you down.
Summer: Did you start questioning WHY? Did you ponder about your diet? Make up? Chemicals? Alcohol intake?
Emma: Well, I didn’t until you mentioned it… gosh. But no, I’ve never questioned why. It’s like asking why I wasn’t born a giraffe. I’ll never know! It’s just how it is. Having cancer doesn’t define me, it’s just another part of my story, in the same way it is for one in eight Australian women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. For now at least, my penchant for rouge and red wine are safe.
Summer: We just had a mental health awareness day and I can’t help but think how healthy your brain is. It seems like you’re so good at pushing negative thoughts away. Have you always had that skill?
Emma: I think we all have that skill; it’s just a matter of digging around for it. The crux of it is this as I see it: only you get to choose how you respond to something. Your initial reaction to a vexing situation might be panic or anguish or rage, but if you step back and drink in some perspective you’ll find you can replace those emotions at will. At will, I’m telling you! It takes practice, I’ll give you that – but it’s doable. So, maybe the car broke down and your toddler is screaming in the back and you just spilt coffee down your new ASOS blouse, but you’re here, you’re alive, you’re free and breathing, and have apparently made your own human! How bad could it be? The absolute heinousness of breast cancer aside, the one thing it’s taught me is how unimportant the minutia of life really is. You don’t exactly see a lot of breast cancer survivors asking – “does this mastectomy make my butt look big?” – because that sort of frippery just tends to melt away with a little objectivity. I don’t suggest everyone go out and pick themselves up some cancer by any means, but perspective is certainly key for a healthy noggin.
Summer: Do you find your friends and family struggling with your breast cancer? I know you’re able to laugh, but do you find you need to comfort people who love you aren’t as capable of seeing our optimistic approach to cancer fighting?
Emma: Dealing with other people’s reactions is one of the hardest things about being diagnosed with cancer. Some people are so awkward that they won’t even so much as send a text because they don’t know what to say; other people will go above and beyond. Swimming through all of that as an adjudicator is overwhelming. And there is a lot of hand-holding involved, which can be pretty tough when you’re the one with the mutant cells. In fact, for anyone who’s been recently diagnosed I’d actually recommend seeking out someone who has been through it before you as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. Drawing on their experiences with this will help a lot. Misery loves company and there’s nothing more miserable than cancer. I think we can all agree with that.
Summer: Is this “journey”, haha, NEW EXPERIENCE making it into your stand-up comedy routine?
Emma: Oh, you bet. I’m thinking the title “One girl, two cups” will make for an excellent festival show.
Summer: You write so well. Please tell us there is a book in you.
Emma: Well, with all this cancer-appointed couch time I have officially run out of excuses… So, yes – 2017, WATCH THIS SPACE.
Summer: What have you been doing to pass time during chemo and radiation? Any book reading or movie watching?
Emma: I have become the world’s foremost authority on true crime documentaries. No fooling. I could win a JonBenet Ramsey trivia night at 20 paces. But I’m also working on raising money for breast cancer research. Before I was diagnosed I was as involved as anyone who hasn’t had their life touched by breast cancer before – I bought my fair share of pink water bottles and pink candles and pink ribbons. I even recall at one point thinking, “Man, they must almost have this breast cancer thing licked, right? I mean, there are pink products up the wazoo!” But no – we really don’t have this licked. There is such a long way to go. I hope we can get to a point where no one dies of this disease ever again. That’s the goal, for me at least. Well that, and growing the best white-girl afro the world has ever seen once chemo is over. One step at a time though.