A brave woman from Down Under is determined to stand up to her cancer — and do it in a way that inspires others.
Kristin Pretorius is documenting her battle against cancer on an Instagram feed, @kicking_the_big_c, that started out as a way to update family members, but has quickly become an inspiration for strangers far outside her hometown of Sydney, Australia.
That's because despite the emotional impact of a mastectomy and chemo treatments that robbed her of her appetite and hair, the 34-year-old mother of two has refused to let the disease steal her zest for life. And it shows in her often humorous, upbeat posts.
"It’s hard to cling to positivity and joy in your life when things are going wrong," Pretorius told TODAY. "But I don’t want my life to be just about cancer. I try very hard to maintain as much normalcy as I can for my daughters. I’m naturally quite a positive person."
"When you look at yourself in the mirror, you look so different from your regular life, but you need to go on living without hibernating," she explained.
One of the first decisions Pretorius and her husband, Maurice, made after the initial cancer diagnosis in June was to be honest with their two young daughters — Amelia, 8, and Nina, 6.
"They were horrified that I was going to lose my hair (from the chemo)," recalled Pretorius. "I already lost a boob which is already a symbol of femininity and now I was going to lose my hair, losing another part of what makes you feel like a woman."
So Pretorius took control of what was going to happen inevitably.
"I decided to cut it before treatment because I thought it would be easier psychologically. And we turned it into something fun, we had a pre-chemo hair cutting party."
It felt so good to turn a negative into a positive that she's been sharing photos of her bald head on her Instagram feed, to show other women preparing for chemo that there is life after locks.
As a devotee of a healthy lifestyle — eschewing chemical-based cleaners in her home and eating a vegan diet — Pretorius was stunned by the diagnosis. Within two weeks of being diagnosed, she started on a "whirlwind," with an emergency mastectomy. Shortly afterwards, however, doctors discovered that there was still cancer in the breast and more had spread to the lymph nodes.
Pretorius looks back at a photo taken on a vacation to a resort near the Great Barrier Reef, just two months earlier, and marvels at how much has changed since. "I remember consciously thinking 'life can’t be better' when the picture was taken," she said. "Being diagnosed and looking back at this photo thinking I had this cancer in me and I had no idea."
As she began her battle, a friend suggested that she use her Instagram feed to advocate for awareness of early testing. She didn't realize how many people she was reaching until she started getting calls from Australian television stations to tell her story.
"I want to spread the message to take charge of your own health, the message that if you are going through cancer, don't let it rob you of your own sense of self," said Pretorius. "Find a way to continue living and continue finding joy."
And she's spreading that upbeat message as tirelessly as possible for someone undergoing chemo.
"Don't be fooled," she said laughing, "I rested the whole morning for this interview."