By Jolene Ogle
It started as a marketing strategy designed to jumpstart three home-based businesses, but the photo of a young woman baring a henna design on her chest has gone viral and taking with it a powerful message.
Hayley Walker was told three times she didn’t have cancer, but her gut told her she wasn’t too young for the disease, a lack of family history didn’t matter and that bumpy lump in her breast was something to worry about.
Hayley knew deep down there was something wrong and demanded two more biopsies before she was eventually diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, an aggressive form of breast cancer. Just one week after her diagnosis, Hayley’s left breast was removed and she was told the cancer was stage two, grade three and it had spread to three of her lymph nodes.
“It’s all over now. Apart from the hot flushes, I’m all clear,” she said. “I’m one boob down and a completely different girl to who I was six months ago, but I’m happy, healthy and doing the whole living life to the fullest thing. I’m so damn grateful, I could burst.”
Hayley said she has found a new love for life and wanted something good to come from her traumatic experience.
“I want to help people like people helped me when I needed it and I want to spread the word about the importance of early detection but also the importance of trusting your gut,” she said.
“My story could have been a hell of a lot different if I had listened to my GP. If I had not insisted on that biopsy, even when they told me it could do more harm than good. The type of cancer I had was so aggressive and so fast growing; it would have for sure spread throughout my body by now.
“But because I didn’t fit the profile, I didn’t say answer ‘yes’ to family history and because of my age, they told me I was fine. If anyone can take something from this, like booking that mammogram, checking their boobs right now or following up any concerns that they have with their doctor, or just realising the importance of how quickly everything can change and how every single day we get on this earth is a blessing, then I’ll be happy.”
Enter three Noosa business women – photojournalist Helga Dalla, henna artist Alicia Mireille and florist Mandy Jedovnicky. Earlier this year, Alicia was sitting in one of the Noosa-based Powerhouse Collective networking meetings when she met Helga. The group offers a networking opportunity for work-from-home parents and while speaking to the group, Alicia said she wanted to boost her business. It was Helga who suggested they collaborate to create an artwork that could be used as marketing for both of their businesses.
For mum-of-four Alicia, creating a personalised artwork for a cancer survivor was deeply important after she lost her mum to the disease four years ago.
“I wish I knew then how to make my mum feel beautiful in her journey,” she said. “One day I saw a woman with a henna crown and I thought that’s what I want to do. I want to help women feel beautiful.”
It’s been six months since Alicia started Henna Folk, a home-based business that often sees Alicia delicately apply the natural pigment of henna to pregnant bellies for special photography sessions, but this time she wanted to create a special artwork for a cancer survivor. Helga offered to reach out to her network and was introduced to artist Hayley Walker.
Alicia and Hayley worked together to create the deeply personal design that features Hayley’s favourite flower as well as two lions; one that looks to the side as a protector and the other lion that looks straight forward to show Hayley’s courage.
Helga, who has lost a partner to cancer, said she was still shocked how a photography session that started as a collaborative idea for local business has really “come to life” and taken with it a message of cancer awareness.
“I’m overwhelmed with the response to the photo,” she said. “It’s taken on a life of its own. The photos have touched people. I loved photographing Hayley and seeing her fierceness, confidence and tenacity. It was inspiring to watch Alicia work. She is just so natural.”
Helga said her passion lies in helping people shine through photography.
“I want to show the beauty in people through imagery, despite what life throws at them,” she said. “I want to help people be the best version of themselves.”
Hayley said she was grateful for the opportunity to share her story saying it was “fun and heartwarming” to spend the day with inspiring, talented and creative business women.
“I was actually blown away by the talent of these women,” she said.
“This is something I never imagined doing but like I said, I’m living life to the fullest, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and hopefully sprinkling a little bit of inspiration to those I meet along the way.”
Since posting the original image onto her Facebook page on 1 March, Hayley has received many messages of support and to date the post has been shared over 2300 times with more than 9000 people liking the photo.
“I am so happy with the attention it is getting as I really do want to make sure this doesn’t keep happening to other young girls,” she said.
“I’ve had so many messages from girls saying the same thing happened to them and it really worries me.
“I’m really happy with all the lovely comments and support people have shown. There are so many beautiful women out there, which is what this is all about. It’s important to build each other up and look out for each other as women.”