Sofi Leota was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 23 years old. In the two years since her diagnosis, she has gone through surgery, chemo, radiation, and fertility preservation, as well as remission, a pregnancy, and the birth of her first child, a beautiful baby girl.
In the spring of 2018, Leota found a lump in her right breast. After several tests and appointments, she was diagnosed with grade 3 invasive breast cancer of no special type. It had spread to her lymph nodes, making her cancer stage 3.
She had no family history of breast cancer and the news came as a huge shock — but Leota pushed forward.
Leota started a blog to help her grapple with the huge changes to her health and her life, and titled it 23 & Breastless. Not only was writing it very therapeutic for her, but she hoped that through it she would be able to help other women going through the same thing.
She underwent a mastectomy of her right breast and also had three lymph nodes removed. After that, she went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 19 rounds of radiation.
Chemo caused Leota to lose her hair, and it was one of the most difficult aspects of her cancer journey.
“I’m just going to be blunt here,” she wrote in a letter to herself months after she went through treatment. “You lose your hair 16 days after your first chemo. You will be heartbroken and it honestly breaks my heart right now thinking about it as I type. (OMG I’m crying) There is absolutely nothing I can say to prepare you for the emotions you are going to feel as chunks of it start to fall out. It is honestly the most gut wrenching feeling ever. You also lose your eye lashes and eye brows.”
When Leota was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had been with her high school sweetheart, Joe Ofahengaue, for seven years. He plays for the Brisbane Broncos, an Australian professional rugby league football club.
Because chemo can cause infertility, Leota decided to go through IVF to preserve her fertility. She underwent two egg retrieval procedures while she was also going through chemo and radiation.
“I will be freezing my eggs as well as creating and freezing embryos,” she wrote in a blog post. “Because the success rate is much higher for embryos I thought it would be great for us. I wanted to make sure Joe was all in and felt completely comfortable, and he does. The reason I have decided to do 50/50 is because well…. Joe and I aren’t married. We aren’t actively trying for babies and as horrible as this may sound.. one day we could break up. (100% not planning on it!!!) But this is a big deal and I just don’t want to put that kind of pressure on the both of us at any point in our relationship. I think doing half/half is perfect and in all honesty I have a strong feeling I will have no problem at all conceiving naturally post all cancer treatment.”
Leota has also been inspired to raise awareness — and having a boyfriend who is a professional sports player has made it easier to get her voice out there.
“I am fortunate enough to have a boyfriend with an amazing profession. With his profession comes a little bit of spotlight in the media,” she wrote in a blog post. “Due to this, there have been in a few news articles and with this has come the opportunity to shine light on Breast Cancer and having a great platform to tell our little story of fighting this disease. From these articles, I have had so many beautiful messages or love, prayer and encouragement. From complete strangers! Do you know how much that bloody helps?! So, so much!”
In January of 2019, Leota went into remission for her breast cancer. She became pregnant in the fall of that same year. In May of 2020, the couple welcomed their first child, a girl named Mila.
“The journey was and has been beautiful,” Leota told Marie Claire. “Challenging definitely but so beautiful. I think what I went through with my cancer battle really prepared me for pregnancy and for motherhood – in so many ways, but especially physically and mentally. I’ve learnt to appreciate my body and all its magic so much since finishing treatment, so watching it grow and go through so many physical changes was really special to experience. And mentally, I’m just so much stronger and more willing.
“I won’t lie and say it’s been easy but being mentally strong has for sure pulled me out of the hard days.”