Australian model and activist Robyn Lawley has always rallied against being described a “plus-size model”, instead preferring to focus on health in the hope it would incite change in the fashion industry.
“Telling women that they’re ‘plus-size’ is sending the wrong message – that there is something wrong with them,” she said.
But something has been wrong with Lawley’s body. The 182-centimetre tall model, who was the first size 14 figure to be featured in the Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit edition (a job she undertook while pregnant no less), suffered a cancer scare.
At 19, prior to being catapulted to international fame thanks to Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzanni casting her on a cover in 2011 wearing lingerie and leaning over bowls of spaghetti, she discovered a lump in her breast and from then made her health the main priority in her life.
“I felt a lump, I had it checked, it was benign. But I got a second opinion just to be sure, which is something everyone should do. It turned out to be nothing scary, but it was a scary experience,” she said. “My aunty had breast cancer and had a full mastectomy and hysterectomy so I was super aware of the risks. I also watched my dad endure radiation for a rare skin cancer when I was younger. Your health is your most important asset, nothing, nothing matters more to me.”
The 27-year-old is back in Australia to promote preventative health charity Pink Hope ahead of the annual Bright Pink Lipstick Day, an initiative that encourages people to have a conversation with their loved ones regarding their family health history. It also raises vital research funds for BRCA1 research and Pink Hope’s genetic counselling and support services.
Her earlier cancer scare prepared Lawley for 2015 – her most challenging year to date.
She recently made the decision to not have any more biological children after giving birth to her daughter Ripley last year. Shortly after returning from a brief maternity leave she was diagnosed with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome or SLE lupus – a rare condition where immune cells attack healthy cells.
Lawley’s symptoms began two weeks after Ripley’s birth when she was on a job. Vertigo struck and she lost movement in her hands. She then suffered with vision loss and could barely walk.
“I was misdiagnosed in the US, so I came home. We are so blessed with the Australian health system. When they finally figured out what was wrong with me I was sitting in a hospital room surrounded by 20 doctors. I was so lucky,” she said.
After treatment she was back on the runway in July during Miami Swim Week promoting her swimwear line Bond-Eye Swimwear.
She now has to undergo regular blood tests to monitor her white blood cell count and recently decided to be tested for the BRCA1 gene – a genetic test that looks for mutations that lead to breast or ovarian cancer.
“It’s a very easy thing to do. I’m waiting on the results but whatever it is I’d rather know ahead of time so I can prepare, I have a daughter to think about so vital check ups like this, for me, are necessary.”