Life is about quality, not quantity

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Amid the busyness of Christmas preparations and the special glow that that I feel at this (my favourite) time of the year, I found myself reflecting this year on the phone call I received from my beautiful sister just 2 days before Christmas, just one year ago. “Tan, I’ve got cancer” my sister shared through trembling voice.

As I sat reflecting on my sister’s journey over the past year, her courage, her resilience, her vulnerability, I found myself filled with joy and gratitude not only because her treatments had been a success, but because I’d seen the changes in my sister that so many who have shared her experience talk about. I began to reflect on my own experiences with this insidious disease too. What they taught me about life, priorities and perspective and how they helped shape my decision to change careers in order to better understand and help people to thrive instead of simply survive in life.

We’ve all heard the saying “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal” yet so few of us are actually living as if this were the case.

Below is an excerpt from a speech I gave over 10 years ago, as part of a charity fundraiser organised to raise money for Cure Cancer Australia. I’m sharing it now in the hope it will inspire those who take the time to read it, to click on the link included at the bottom of the extract and donate. Research is key in the fight against cancer. Not just ultimately to finding a cure, but to improvements in early detection and to constantly improving standards of treatment along the way.  

In this season for giving – what a wonderful cause to give to…. I know I’m not the only one thinking of, visiting, or missing a loved one touched by this disease today.

Like every parent, I dream of a healthy future for our children.

A future where the words “You have cancer”, mean nothing more than a trip to the pharmacy or naturopath to fill a script.

And with continued research, perhaps eradication of that phrase altogether.

I dream of a future where the word cancer appears only in the pages of history.

A future where cancer no longer lives, but in our memories.

My memories begin when, as a young girl, I watched my grandmother lose her battle with breast cancer…

I have hazy recollections of days as a young girl accompanying my mother, as she visited her mother, who was dying of breast cancer. I remember vividly, however, one such visit near the end of my grandmother’s battle, watching my mom fight back tears, as we left the hospital, and her words, said not so much to me, as loud enough that I heard “So much pain, so little dignity. If I ever get that sick, I just want to go. Life is about quality, not quantity.”

I was too young to fully comprehend what my mother was experiencing in that moment, what those words really meant. Years later, however, my mother’s words would resonate with me as I watched her endure her own battle with breast cancer.

As a teenager, I nursed my mother through her unsuccessful battle with breast cancer…

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 37 years of age, younger than I am now. Towards the end of my mother’s battle, as I sat each day reading to her, talking with her, caring for her. I began to think more and more about that day on the steps outside the hospital.

Over the course of a few short months. The role of ‘mother’ and ‘child’ had been reversed as I became my mother’s primary carer and the cancer stripped my mother of her strength and dignity. Lying beside mum one day, I found myself echoing her words in my mind, “so much pain, so little dignity. If I ever get that sick, I just want to go, life’s about quality, not quantity.”

I was 17 when I lost my mom to cancer. Sitting beside her, holding her hand the evening she died. I remember squeezing her frail hand so tightly as she took her final breath, and amid a flood of tears and despair, being utterly torn between wishing she would stay with us and willing her wish to come true. Life is about quality, not quantity. This is what she wanted I had to keep repeating to myself.

At 35, my own breast cancer journey began…

In February 2009, through genetic testing, I discovered that I carry the BRCA II gene. In May 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries, I am the first in three generations of women to survive breast cancer. Without the benefit of my childhood and teenage experiences, the decision to take an aggressive response to an aggressive disease might not have been so ‘relatively’ easy. It was because of my experiences that I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure my children, never had to look at me, fight back tears, and utter those words “So much pain, so little dignity. If I ever get that sick, I just want to go. Life is about quality, not quantity.

Research is key…

Research is the key in the fight against cancer. Not just ultimately to finding a cure, but to improvements in early detection and standards of treatment along the way. Because of the availability of gene testing and improved technologies and techniques for detection, my cancer was discovered at the earliest possible stage. I had options in relation to both the detection and treatment of breast cancer that simply weren’t available to my mother or grandmother.

From the hazy memories I have of my grandmother’s battle with cancer, I do recall her having a double mastectomy. I remember seeing her chest once (she didn’t know I was there), and I remember feeling sad for her purely because it looked so awful. I was too young to fully appreciate what this operation had done to my grandmother’s sense of self. I just remember being shocked and feeling sad for her.

My mom had two separate mastectomies. I call it chasing the cancer these days, and I clearly recall thinking about railroad tracks on the day she showed me her chest. To this day, the image is so clear. But even more vivid is the sense of pain I saw in my mother’s eyes as she showed me her chest for the first time, following the second operation.

Breasts that had played such an important part in my mother’s identity as a woman, a wife, and a mother were gone. The extra years of age and the closeness I had with my Mum were enough for me to better understand the devastating effect those operations had had on my Mum and my Gran.

I’m immensely fortunate to have experienced firsthand the difference research has made in both the early detection and treatment of breast cancer, but I know that I’m also one of the lucky ones. We cannot stop until we have a cure for this devastating disease.

A world without cancer, nothing less.

Please donate, no amount is too small, every cent helps to fuel hope in a dream we all share. Please click below to give now…