She never returned to school that year. Testing revealed the lump was an aggressive tumour and immediate surgery was required to remove it, followed by six months of intensive chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiotherapy.
Sharon taught at Sacred Heart College Middle School for 10 years, Cabra Dominican College for four years and Marymount College for seven years before taking up the Year 6 class teacher position at SAC in 2015. Her initial concern when told the bad news was informing SAC principal Paddy McEvoy.
“When I found out I needed surgery, I thought ‘oh my, I have to tell Paddy I won’t be at parent information night’,” Sharon recalled.
“But everyone was just beautiful – Paddy said when you’re ready to come back, just let me know and there was this huge outpouring from St Aloysius, Marymount and Cardijn (the college where her husband Damian taught).”
Former staff members from Marymount even set up a roster for taking meals to her home every time Sharon underwent chemotherapy – which was 16 rounds in six months.
“There were care packages, flowers, cards and messages from students – and one Marymount teacher sent me an inspirational message every day,” she said.
“It definitely made a difference…there was no reason to be negative.
“When people ask me what the treatment was like, all I can remember is the soups, the meals, the flowers and the cards.”
The other positive to come out of her breast cancer experience was the time it gave her to follow her passion for art.
“I had always loved art and wanted to paint but I never had the time,” she said. “I had dabbled in it and taught art at Marymount and always got involved in any artwork for liturgies,” she said.
On the “good days” during her treatment, Sharon attended art workshops at The Changing Canvas in Sussex Street, Glenelg, with artist Gill Higgins.
“I found it really therapeutic, I met different groups of like-minded people who have become some of my closest friends,” she said.
“I really loved it.”
By January this year she had completed enough paintings to hold her own exhibition at Mockingbird Lounge on The Broadway, Glenelg South, and sold 10 of her 13 paintings. She also has completed several commissioned pieces and is putting her artwork on gift cards for sale at local outlets.
In between her sessions at The Changing Canvas and painting from home, she has been doing some relief teaching at Marymount and working with students on study tours from Japan through SAC.
“Even when I was having treatment I would pop into the school and see the students in my class and from the previous year to let them know I was okay,” she said.
“I wanted to make sure that no-one was worried about me, particularly my family.
“I thought if I’m strong, then they will be okay.”
The theme of her acrylic and mixed media artwork is “all about positivity” with lots of bright colours.
“My advice to others is to find an interest, something that will get your mind off the treatment,” she said.