Farrah Millar was overjoyed when she gave birth to her second child, Rhylan, on March 29, 2016. But not even one day later, that bliss turned into devastation when she was told that she had stage 3, grade 2, breast cancer.
“It was very aggressive,” Millar, 38, tells PEOPLE. “Everything was fuzzy after that. I just remember thinking, ‘Am I going to die? What’s going to happen?’ ”
When Millar, of Perth, Australia, was five months pregnant, she felt a lump on her breast but didn’t think anything of it because she was breastfeeding her now-2-year-old daughter, Lehnae, at the time.
“I totally dismissed it as mastitis [breast inflammation usually caused by infection]. Around the same time, my father had a couple heart attacks and he came to live with us,” she says. “I was so busy and brushed it off.”
It was only when she went to a doctor’s appointment at 38 weeks pregnant — one week before her planned caesarean delivery — that she mentioned the lump. She was immediately given an ultrasound and was sold the results would come back right after she gave birth.
“I never once thought it would be bad,” she says. “But the day after I gave birth, I had a shower, walked back into my hospital room and saw my doctor and two midwives standing together and holding hands.”
She took one look at her doctor’s face and knew it was bad news.
“I said, ‘Oh my god, I have cancer, don’t I?’ ” The midwives rushed over to grab me because I got weak in my knees.”
Facing the Odds
Millar was immediately thrown into what she calls the “cancer train.”
“I had every appointment made for me and I blindly followed along,” she says. “I made arrangements for someone to look after my daughter and my newborn came with me.”
Within three weeks — not even before Rhylan was 20 days old — she started chemotherapy and had to stop breastfeeding.
She somehow got through it, she says, but it took time. Her relationship with her partner — who is the father of her two children — fell apart and she had complications after making the “very tough” decision to have a double mastectomy in October. She came down with an infection that surrounded the tissue expanders that were inserted as part of the immediate reconstruction after the procedure.
“I was very unwell at the end of this year until last month,” she says. “In January, I went to live with my mom because I was so sick. It’s been a very difficult time, but I’m just starting to feel better now.”
She’s now more active and able to look after her kids without assistance. She also recently moved into her own home.
“There is now so much light in my life,” she says. “It was so dark for the longest time that it feels really good now.”
While there is a 27 percent chance that the cancer will metastasis throughout her body again, she says that doctors have a positive outlook on her future.
“I’m taking a lot of drugs to switch off the hormones, which is what my cancer responds to,” she says. “It’s turning off my adrenal glands and ovaries, which is basically forcing me into a menopausal state.”
Millar says she wants to find something positive from everything she’s been through and encourage young women to be more vigilant with their health.
“I was so disrespectful with mine,” she says. “It’s so important to look after yourself. I always put myself last.”
It’s also so important for her to be the mother she’s always wanted to be for her children, especially this Mother’s Day, the first one she’s well enough to celebrate.
“I found out I was pregnant with my daughter on Mother’s Day,” says Millar about Lehnae. “That was the first time I ever felt a connection to being a mother.”
Then last Mothers Day, she won the Mother of the Year award through an Australian magazine called Mother & Baby.
“It was a huge validation for me as a mother,” says Millar, who spent four years trying to get pregnant through IVF. “It was separate from the cancer. In the last few years, it has meant so much to me because I always wanted children and I tried so hard to get them. To have them both is an absolute miracle.”
To raise them both on her own, she says, has shown her that she’s capable of more than she ever imagined.
“I want to leave them a good legacy and show them the lesson of what it means to be loved and have love for your children,” she says.
This Sunday, she will be walking with her children and her mother, Leah Matthes, at the Mother’s Day Classic, a run and walk that raises funds for breast cancer research.
“I want to start a new tradition for me and my children,” she says. “It will be really special. My mom has been an absolute rock for me and I couldn’t have survived without her. I now want to be my children’s rock and show them what that means to me.”