Ofahengaue helps tackle partner’s cancer fight
THERE is no part of battling cancer that is ever "easy".
But for Sofi Leota, 23, every hurdle since she was diagnosed with Grade 3 breast cancer has been made less daunting thanks to her positive mindset and the unwavering presence of her boyfriend, Broncos forward Joe Ofahengaue.
Together they have dealt with Sofi stopping work, going through the removal of her right breast, losing her hair and pushing through numerous rounds of chemotherapy.
And together, they also made the decision to fight for the future of their own family by undergoing IVF.
In an in-depth interview with News Queensland, Sofi opened about up about her treatment, the support she has received and why it is so important to tell her story.
PLAYING FOR KEEPS
Ofahengaue, who made his NRL debut with the Broncos in 2015, first revealed that his girlfriend of seven years had been diagnosed with breast cancer in early May.
Just hours after scoring the winning try against the Bulldogs in Round 9, he said the stunning play was a tribute to Sofi.
As the Broncos prepare for a knockout final against St George Illawarra tomorrow, Ofahengaue revealed how his life has changed since then.
"I'm playing for something more than just footy," he said.
"I'm playing for my future and Sofi's future as well."
Since Sofi received her diagnosis on April 24, she has undergone a mastectomy of her right breast, had lymph nodes removed and endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, with more still to go.
She also underwent two rounds of IVF.
"I want to have kids one day and so does Joe," she said.
"It was a bit funny (talking to Ofahengaue). We've been together for seven years, but we're not married.
"It was a matter of, do we make these babies and have them sitting there ready to go? But he was just as into it as I was.
"He was at every appointment, asking all these questions … It was a very easy conversation with him.
"We've spoken about having a family before. There's no questions there."
The pair underwent IVF treatment before Sofi began chemotherapy in June.
She could still conceive children naturally, but it was a back-up option they wanted to have for their future.
The first round didn't produce the results they hoped for, but the second produced four embryos and seven eggs.
"When we decide to have our kids, they're ready," she said.
THE TOUGHEST TIMES
While taking up the option of IVF was a simple decision, the couple have certainly endured some tough times.
Sofi is naturally positive. From the moment she received her diagnosis, she approached every hurdle with an attitude of, "I can't change what's happening so I may as well embrace it".
But even while she tried not to dwell on the difficult moments, she is still human.
Sofi said the first hurdle came on April 24 when she was told she needed a mastectomy. She made the decision with Ofahengaue and her parents John and Brooke and called it a "no-brainer".
But hours later, she had a moment of doubt.
"I changed my mind," she said. "My biggest thing was, I'm a chick. I need my boobs.
"I did come around pretty quickly in the end. It was going to save my life."
It was the right call for Sofi, but she said "being stripped" of her right breast and her hair has been the toughest part.
She said the effects of chemotherapy were minor. But giving up work, losing financial independence and accepting her new image had been hard.
"It's being stripped of everything I've embodied," she said. "I've always taken pride in my appearance. Having a mastectomy and losing my hair and not feeling great all of the time's been really hard.
"It's the small things like missing out on dinners with girlfriends because I'm too sick or not being able to work and have that independent stability which I am so used to."
Sofi has been positive throughout, but knows she could not coped without her family.
Her parents have been by her side while younger brother Riley, an Intrust Super Cup player with Norths, sends her inspirational messages daily.
She has moved into Ofahengaue's family home, supported by his parents Josh and Kath. And she has Ofahengaue.
The pair met at Ipswich's St Peter Claver College.
She always knew he would be there for her, but he has still managed to surprise her.
"It's brought us a lot closer," she said. "He's been positive and supportive and dealing with my random outbursts and hormonal freak-outs. He's a lot more patient than I am. I don't know how I would be if I was in his situation.
"If I ask for something, he'll get up straight away and do it. He hasn't complained the whole time. He does everything, no questions asked. If I have a cry, he'll sit there and tell me it's going to be all right. It's been special."
Once her treatment ends, Sofi has three major goals. Most important is to be cancer-free and healthy, then she wants to get back to work and, finally, to have her former life back.
In the meantime, she has a blog, "23 and Breastless" and is using it and Instagram to raise awareness of breast cancer.
"When people go through something so crazy or difficult, they usually have a big epiphany," she said.
"They say everything happens for a reason so why was I chosen to go down this path?
"Maybe it is just me getting this story out there and raising awareness and telling chicks to feel their boobs … maybe … I can help save someone's life."