Artist, mother, cancer survivor, and all round warm and wonderful woman, meet the subject of our latest shoot, Sha. Meeting Sha turned out to be so much more than we expected. Prior to this, we had no idea about her battle with cancer, and from the start were blown away by her willingness to be open and share her story. As a team of predominantly women and with February marking Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, we wanted to share with you the honesty and warmth we all experienced getting to know Sha. In turn, we hope we can pass on a message of hope, education, and most of all to trust your body and instinct.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?
My name is Sharren Marie, but most people call me Sha. I was born in the UK and emigrated to New Zealand in 2006. Since 2017 I have been on a rollercoaster ride of cancer. I freelance and have four different jobs. I’m a professional commercial paper cut illustration artist, I am a professional mature model and I am also a small-part actress. I have just finished studying and am now also a fully qualified hair and makeup artist including special effects and wig prep for film and TV.
What do family and friendship mean to you?
Most of my family are overseas, so my friends here are my family and are equally important to me. My son is, and always will be, my everything.
What message would you give your younger self?
Gosh…probably believe in yourself, never be reliant on anyone, listen to your body and never give up hope, you only have one life. Live it, love it.
How did you get into modelling?
I originally started modelling when I was 16 in London, but I actually had pretty low self esteem and didn’t really like the vibe, so ended up training to be a portrait photographer, but then switched to being photographic stylist, which I did for many years. I re-started modelling in 2020, after being diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer. I wanted to have some fun in my life. I was 55.
You were so open with us on the shoot about your experience with Ovarian cancer? Tell us about when you were first diagnosed?
I first noticed something wasn’t right back in May 2017, I felt very lethargic and took myself to bed for a week thinking I had the flu coming on, but no flu appeared. I then had a UTI infection which didn’t go away. After two GP visits and two courses of antibiotics I went back and saw a different doctor and insisted something else was up. I pointed out my bloated tummy again, and finally she felt it and detected a lump. I say lump, but the tumour was 20cm in diameter when she finally found it. Sadly, before it could be removed, it ruptured. I waited another two weeks at home in bed with strong painkillers till they finally operated. It was at this point I was diagnosed with the rare ovarian Clear Cell Carcinoma cancer. It had two weeks to spread about my body. Even though I had duel chemo, then five weeks every day of intensive radiation then more chemo, it came back, after six months of remission. This time I had a pain in my shoulder and again I was misdiagnosed. I felt it just wasn’t right so got a second opinion. I was right, the cancer had returned, this time on my liver, and all over my peritoneum. It was five days before Christmas 2018 I was told “sorry it’s terminal.” It was the worst day of my life. My son was 13 when I was originally diagnosed and the only way he could deal with it was to dissociate from me. He was 15 when I was told it was terminal and I only had six months to live and this just amplified the distance between us. It broke my heart, but I understood why he was doing it. He hoped it would hurt less when I finally died. All I could do was watch him sleep and tell him often that I will always love him. I sobbed secretly every night and prayed I would see him turn 18. Luckily for me, my brother-in-law is an oncologist, who now works for a large pharmaceutical company and he found a trial in Australia. Long story short I didn’t get on the trial but did get the same immunotherapy drugs and within three duel cycles, no cancer was detected. That is still the same today, after two years of no treatment. And I saw my son reach 18 last year. We are now very close again.
How has your relationship or view of yourself changed since your diagnosis?
Since my diagnosis, I try to be as positive and live my best life as much as possible. I still struggle with how my body now looks, but it is part of my story, so I am trying to embrace it and feel empowered. Doing this lingerie shoot for you took a lot of courage. My tummy muscles no longer align and adhere properly, making my tummy slightly disfigured. I am very self conscious of this and not very body confident…but I’m trying. Because of chemo I lost my long dark hair and it grew back grey and curly, (the curls have now gone). I originally hated it, but now I actually love my hair.
What motto do you now live by?
My motto to myself is to be thankful, be happy, have fun, always hold hope in your heart, and always, always listen to your body and get a second opinion if you feel something isn’t right.
What brings you joy?
Lots of simple things like seeing the sunrise, watching bees land on the wildflowers in my garden, but most of all listening to my son laugh. Nothing beats that. I also want to say thank you for using a mature woman who doesn’t have a perfect body, to model your gorgeous lingerie. Too often we see young girls with figures that really most people don’t have. We all get old, most women have body insecurities, and I think its time to start embracing that we are what we are. So, let’s not beat ourselves up about cellulite, droopy boobs, non-flat tummies or scars.