Annette Epps didn't feel like a survivor until she ran the Cancer Society Relay for Life last year.
Despite deciding to have two breasts removed when doctors discovered an ominous lump, it was a small symbolic gesture at the charity run that made her feel special.
"The survivors make a paper chain where we staple a ring of paper together for every year we've survived.
"I had one ring last year and there were people with chains right down to the ground.
"That's when I thought: I am a survivor."
This weekend Ms Epps will add another ring to her chain as she joins the relay again to raise money for breast cancer research.
She's the first woman in her family to survive breast cancer.
Her grandmother, mother, aunt and cousin all died from the illness and two years ago doctors discovered a lump in Ms Epps' left breast.
Ms Epps says doctors found the 21mm grade-two lobular tumour early because she had regular mammograms.
"It's so important for women to have mammograms regularly and not to be frightened. If they get diagnosed with cancer early it's so much more manageable and survivable."
Although she's had a double mastectomy, Ms Epps still requires mammograms for the small amount of tissue that's left in her breasts.
Ms Epps had her nipples removed and opted not to get nipple reconstruction.
"I didn't want to have any more surgery. I think when women get one breast done, it's probably a good thing for them to do so they look the same. But I look the same anyway and my partner Dave's not bothered and neither am I," she says.
Partner Dave Lee is a volunteer with the Cancer Society. His family has also been affected by the illness.
"My dad, aunty and uncle suffered different forms from prostate to cranial cancer.
"I got involved with the Cancer Society as I thought I could give a bit back," he says.
Relay For Life is an overnight fundraising event where teams of work colleagues, school groups, family and friends walk beside one another to raise funds in support of those with cancer.
Cancer Society Auckland chief executive John Loof says it's an opportunity for the community to come together, share stories and meet others who have walked the cancer journey.
Relay For Life is at the Millennium Stadium, Mairangi Bay this weekend. Survivor celebrations take place on Saturday from 2.30pm to 5pm.
Visit relayforlife.org.nz for information or relay.org.nz/st-andrews to donate.
- Western Leader
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