“I noticed a lump in my right breast in April 2022, just days after I finished breastfeeding and weaning my one year old.”
We feel honoured and privileged to be in conversation with our long-time friend and one of the strongest and most courageous women we know, Holly Schleich.
Holly is a woman of compassion and grace, she radiates pure love and warmth with an effervescent energy and smile that lights up any room. She is the Founder of luxury Australian beauty brand Eye of Horus Cosmetics, a Mama to two beautiful young boys and an utter force to be reckoned with. She’s one of our greatest friends and inspirations in life and is devastatingly faced with her greatest battle yet, breast cancer.
In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our Founder Erin Deger shares an openly raw, empowering and refreshingly honest conversation with her dear friend Holly about her journey so far in the hope to shine a light on this disease that remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia; with 1 in 7 women diagnosed in their lifetime, and 8 Australian women who lose their lives every day.
In close alignment with the Mammae philosophy, Holly created Eye of Horus Cosmetics with the intention to develop products that pay homage to ancient wisdom and rituals honouring the divine woman.
Here, Holly shares her insights into her breast cancer journey, her daily rituals, the importance of self-care as a mother and words of wisdom for any woman that may find themselves on this path.
We are so grateful for Holly's time and for sharing her incomparable value of self-love, self-care and self-compassion.
Firstly, thank you so much for chatting with us today, we know what you’re going through isn’t easy and we are so honoured that you’re willing to open up, trust and discuss this conversation with us, thank you. Can you tell our beautiful community a little about who you are, who’s in your family and what you do?
I’m Holly, mama of two boys (2 & 4) and Founder of Byron Bay beauty brand, Eye of Horus Cosmetics. I live in beautiful Byron Bay and was raised by parents who instilled a passion for freedom and connection with nature and community. I understood the importance of work ethic from a young age as both my parents owned businesses, so I knew I wanted to run my own business one day. I have always been interested in the mind, body, and spirit connection and lived a healthy lifestyle, which is why I was inspired to start a clean beauty brand, while also studying naturopathy.
I felt at the time, there was little in the way of high-performance makeup that embraced natural ingredients and honoured skin health, so I recognised a gap in the market; the need to solve a problem. I began working on a brand dedicated to clean makeup, in particular eye makeup, and Eye of Horus was born.
I head up the product development and creative team, and I feel the upbringing that I had taught me to value nature and the land, allowing me to foster my creativity. I am naturally a creative person and love the process of incepting an idea and watching it materialise and manifest into something tangible. The opportunity to express my creativity through my own brand is something I am incredibly grateful for and owning your own business, although demanding at times, allows a sort of creative freedom, flexibility and satisfaction, especially when it can be a vehicle for producing something that has a positive impact on people's lives and the planet.
Can you reflect back on the moment you observed changes or cues within your body and the early diagnosis of Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Breast Cancer?
I noticed a lump in my right breast in April 2022, just days after I finished breastfeeding and weaning my 1yr old. I experienced Mastitis while breastfeeding a number of times in that same area, so I just assumed it could be scar tissue. After an initial consultation with my GP, I was referred to Lismore Hospital for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy the following day. I could sense the concern and urgency of the Specialist in the room, he explained to my husband and I what the possible outcomes could be just from his observations on the scan; which was a mass on the breast and an enlarged lymph node.
There were only two possible outcomes he went on to say, it could be scar or fatty tissue (which he said was unlikely) or it was breast cancer.
I remember walking out of the room with my husband holding my hand. We were both trying to keep it all together until we got outside of the hospital, we hugged and cried and I think at that moment we both knew what the outcome was.
We drove separately to the hospital because he came from work and met me there, so I drove home alone with my thoughts and emotions. I was in total disbelief, I was thinking the worst with so many feelings and questions. How will my little boys survive without their mama, what would Jay my husband do, what would I do with the business, my friends and family will be devastated. All these thoughts for my loved ones were spinning around in my head and I was trying to make sense of it all. Why me? I have always looked after my body, I’m too young for this, I eat so well, exercise and live a clean and healthy lifestyle.
On the long drive home, I thought about calling my family to tell them but instead I just drove in silence, alone in my head, sobbing to myself, numb and thinking the worst.
One week later, after a visit to the GP the biopsy results confirmed the news we were waiting for. My GP was crying while delivering the news, she is a Mum of young kids and could only imagine the shock and pain I was feeling. At this point, we weren't aware of the stage or grade and despite trying to think positively we both wondered how bad it really was. The fear of the unknown was the worst part, we didn't know what we were dealing with.
Days later I met with the Surgeon at John Flynn Hospital who sent me for a PET Scan which showed a large tumour in my right breast. I was booked in for the following week for a single Mastectomy to remove the tumour and my breast. Once in surgery, they found cancer had started to metastasize, it was also in my lymph nodes. The outcome of this meant Chemotherapy was going to be a certainty which I was devastated about.
To be honest, I don't remember much of the weeks that followed other than feeling like I was living a bad dream. I would wake up in the morning and expect to be living my normal life then be shocked and reminded of the nightmare. The weeks that followed were a blur with infections, further surgeries and weeks away from my family in a hospital.
Mammae is far more than just a brand, we are a platform that speaks from the heart to inspire, empower, break down barriers and bring about positive change. We rise by uplifting women and are committed to supporting breast care awareness through self inquiry, self-care and sensory ritual. What rituals do you implement to remain balanced and grounded throughout this unique season?
I am honoured to be featured in Mammae as I feel we are very much aligned with our core values and ethics as brand owners. I also believe in establishing a supportive community that elevates one another and advocates for awareness and positive change.
Our tagline ‘Empowered Beauty’ was envisioned from the intention of celebrating beauty in all shapes and forms and I believe there is beauty in unity by supporting and empowering each other, so it pleases me to learn that Mammae is also committed to supporting breast care & breast health awareness.
I feel as women and particularly as mothers, our days can be so busy and stressful that we don't prioritise our own self-care, which is essential to ensure we are functioning at our best for ourselves and our families.
A little bit of self-care goes a long way and I always start my day with a simple mindful meditation before the boys wake up, this is up to a 20 min practice and it sets me up for the day. I drink warm water for an internal cleanse and follow up with a nourishing breakfast. This year I have committed to a raw plant-based diet and I juice daily to ensure I am energised. I’m doing all that I can to remain healthy and supporting my body during high-stress moments.
For my skincare routine, I like to keep it pretty simple; I love staying hydrated by applying a facial oil and to compliment this ritual, my current obsession I have to say is the Ode Form Botanical Mist. I am a HUGE aromatherapy fan, especially in the form of a mist and this formulation is incredibly awakening and healing. It quite literally transports my mind into a state of total bliss. I am in love and I recommend this divine aromatherapy product to so many women in my life, not just those bound to motherhood.
At the commencement of my chemotherapy, I was gifted the Bosom Ritual products, which consisted of the Elixir and Balm. The moment I laid eyes on this product, I instantly felt immersed in the whole-body sensory experience. There really is something special about the signature Bosom Ritual infusions and the artisanal quality shines through. In my 6 years of judging on the panel for the Mama & Baby Beauty Shortlist Awards, I have never come across a brand or product of this calibre. Mammae is an indulgent self-care experience that you really must try for yourself. It becomes a part of you and your daily ritual that you just can't live without.
How has your love for a healthy, clean, and conscious life in both your business and personal life guided your cancer journey?
I decided on an integrative oncology approach where I utilised the best evidence-based complementary therapies to work in conjunction with conventional treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.
Prior to treatment, I visited a Naturopathic Oncologist who prescribed me supportive supplements and therapies to assist my body to cope with the side effects of Chemotherapy. I also visit a Healing Centre every week and do a range of alternative therapies including oxygen therapy, infrared sauna and RED light therapy.
As mentioned, I found meditation to be a great support for the mind and body. It allows you to focus on breathing and essentially deactivates your sympathetic nervous system which is necessary when you are in a state of fear and anxiety.
I am fortunate to have an incredible support system around me. My friends check in with me daily and my family have been by my side each step of the way. Surrounding myself with positive and supportive people has been key to my recovery.
I honestly feel the combination of all these things has allowed my body to tolerate the side effects of Chemotherapy, and support, boost and sustain my immune system. I believe an integrative care approach with complementary therapies and conventional treatment can work together to best optimise results, supporting the body to combat cancer and side effects.
"I feel there is a misconception that only mature women can develop breast cancer, when the fact is, it does not discriminate, almost one-quarter of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are under the age of 50."
How are you managing to operate your award-winning beauty brand, be a mama, focus on your daily health and endure treatments?
I am incredibly fortunate to have an amazing team at Eye of Horus who have all assisted me to shift my focus wholeheartedly on healing. A diagnosis comes with many, many appointments, tests and hospital visits and I am lucky to have the support network I do around me. My husband has taken leave from work while I am getting treatment for chemotherapy and radiation and my family is always with me in support.
Our Bosom Ritual collection extends far beyond the art of breastfeeding, sharing reverence to all womankind, enhancing her connection to self through regular breast massage and breast health checks. How has this cancer journey shaped your vision on regular health checks and more importantly breast checks and breast health?
I love the focus Mammae has on inspiring women to connect with their bodies and their true self, I feel this connection can sometimes be neglected when we focus wholeheartedly on our little ones. I wasn’t aware of the confronting statistics before my cancer diagnosis but 1 in 7 women in Australia is diagnosed with Breast Cancer according to the NBCF. I encourage all the women I meet to get checked and look and feel for any changes in their breasts. Through my experience, I hope to spread awareness and empower women no matter what age to get regular breast checks.
You’re openly raw and vulnerable on your social media sharing each step of your journey. How has this become part of your healing process and why did you decide to share instead of going through this privately?
I am generally a private person so it wasn't easy to make the decision to share my personal story. I was compelled to spread awareness about my diagnosis as I feel there is a misconception that only mature women can develop breast cancer, when the fact is, it does not discriminate, almost one-quarter of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are under the age of 50.
My intention was to educate about prevention, support and empower women in treatment, and provide hope and inspiration to anyone who's recently been diagnosed with cancer or undergoing therapy. I wanted to show in an unedited and authentic way the entire process and the challenges I faced each step of the way, particularly navigating it all with a young family.
I am told almost daily that I have encouraged other women to get checked and that was my purpose in sharing my story. Opening up and being vulnerable has been a challenge for me, but personally, I feel cancer is not something to go through alone, and the love and support I have received have been one of the most healing parts of the process. Awareness about self care, regular checks and cancer screening procedures helps in early diagnosis, subsequent treatment and a better outcome.
What life lessons and advice do you hope to teach your two boys?
There is beauty in everything if you choose to look for it. It would be easy for me to say that this has been the worst year of my life, and in some ways that is very true, but when I think back on the year, all I can see is the love that has surrounded me. Love prevails all and you should seek love in every aspect of your life. Ultimately, love and connection to other humans, in my opinion, are the essence of life. That is my biggest learning and something I will teach my boys.
And lastly, can you kindly share your words of wisdom for anyone that is currently going through their breast cancer journey, or who may know someone who is?
When I was faced with my diagnosis, it shifted my perspective on life and my priorities changed. I realised there were things in my life that had to shift to enable me to live my best life. I began to see my diagnosis as a gift, a second chance to start living the way I truly wanted.
I believe a positive mindset with hope and happiness allows the body to be open to fighting back stronger against the disease. I nourish my body with vital plant-based foods, prioritise my health and healing and accept all the emotions that arise.
I believe that knowledge is power and there is a lot to learn from embracing the survival stories of others who have t this path before. Lean into their experiences and discover hope in their healing and surround yourself with those that make you smile, happy and laugh.
There is strength in community and beauty in every chapter, cancer is just one chapter in your life and it is when you find empowerment and focus on the good, that is when the true healing begins.
Creative Direction | Erin Deger Founder, Mammae The Embodied Mother.
Visual | Tessa Kit, Studio Memoire for Mammae The Embodied Mother.
Reference | Statistics sourced from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.