WOODVALE'S Carla Daly has battled cancer and faced open heart surgery - all without shedding a tear.
It was only her diagnosis of lipoedema that brought her undone.
Lipoedema, which is believed to affect up to 11 per cent of women, is a condition which causes fat to be distributed irregularly, particularly around the legs.
The chronic condition can cause pain and lack of mobility for sufferers.
Mrs Daly said the unknowns surrounding the disease were the reason she was so deeply affected by her diagnosis.
"It's progressive and I don't know how far it will go," she said.
"I know I will never be attractive to look at, whereas cancer I could fight it; open heart surgery, I told myself I could get through it. But lipoedema isn't so easy to battle."
Mrs Daly is one of seven Australian women featured in a photographic exhibition to raise awareness of the disease. The photographs will be unveiled at a luncheon at the Bendigo Stadium on Sunday from 12.30pm.
She said having her legs photographed was "traumatic".
"We spend our whole lives trying to dress appropriately to hide our condition so to then show the world what we're dealing with was pretty difficult," she said.
Mrs Daly said receiving her diagnosis at 55, after struggling with the disease since puberty, was "bittersweet".
"When you think you're just fat, you think 'there's something I can do about this. One day I'll get on top of this'," she said.
"But when you have lipoedema, there is no cure. It's progressive, it's genetic and it's not your fault."
She said meeting fellow sufferers at a lipoedema conference in Sydney in 2014 was an "almost lifechanging" experience.
I had support from other women who had felt the pain, the shame, the humiliation that I feel nearly every day.Carla Daly
"Finally I had support from other women who had felt the pain, the shame, the humiliation that I feel nearly every day. They'd lived it, they understood it and it was an amazing sisterhood".
Mrs Daly said the disease was "all-consuming".
She regularly attends hydrotherapy sessions and has to wear compression garments and needs lymphatic drainage and skin care.
"The impact on my life is every day. There's no getting away from it," she said.
June is lipedema month. For more information on the condition, got to www.lass.org.au