I have to admit that when I decided to go to the Himlung fundraiser, I wasn’t interested in seeing “Ride Like A Girl”. Horse racing isn’t really my thing. The only time I’m interested is that first Tuesday in November when the Melbourne Cup is run and I have a ticket in a sweep.
I went to support my amazing oncologists Professor John Zalcberg and Associate Professor Lara Lipton who are treating me for Stage 4 cancer. Both are actively involved in the activities of the GI Cancer Institute.
So I guess you’re wondering why I’m writing about a movie that I wasn’t interested in?
The film is about Michelle’s fight to fulfil her dream and win the Melbourne Cup. For a cancer patient it is the fight to survive. For the team climbing Mt Himlung, it is that quality that will drive them to reach the peak.
The word “fight” is a word I often used to encourage family and friends who had been diagnosed with cancer. However, last year was a horrific year for me, and I began to question what the word “fight” really meant. I came to the conclusion that to fight takes courage, determination, perseverance, being proactive and patience.
So why is this important? Some patients have the natural ability to fight but others, through no fault of their own, don’t. To teach others to fight they need to understand what those words mean and you need to find a way to show how they work. Michelle’s journey is a way to demonstrate this.
Courage is the strength to overcome difficulties, even when you are afraid.
Jockeys regularly face serious injury from race falls. After being thrown from a horse during a race, Michelle sustained a fractured skull, bruising to her brain and loss of short term memory. Her recovery was long and arduous but Michelle’s courage gave her the strength to overcome her injuries & race again.
Cancer treatment can be painful, difficult and frightening. We can face side effects that affect our quality of life. Since 2010, I have undergone five operations for cancer. Recovery time was approximately 6 weeks. Movement was slow, painful, restricted and exhausting. It would have been easy to give up but I had to have the courage to keep going under the knife even when it wasn’t appealing. The end game was, and still is, to survive.
Determination and perseverance
Determination is the drive to achieve something whilst perseverance is the effort required to achieve something, despite the difficulties that may be faced.
Michelle faced setbacks from injury and prejudice as a female jockey in a male dominated sport. Constantly ignored by trainers she would arrive at the track in the early hours of the morning in the hope of being given the chance to ride track work. Her ability was finally recognised but only after she led one of the riders to believe she had authority to ride track work on the horse he was responsible for. Even then, it would take much more determination and perseverance to fulfil her dream of riding in the Melbourne Cup.
Like Michelle, the journey of a cancer patient can be long & arduous. It is 9 years since I started my cancer journey and there still is a long way to go. Whilst the end game for us is survival, there has to be something that drives your determination and the will to persevere. Michelle’s was to win the Melbourne Cup. Mine is my family and friends. These are the people that love and support you through the good and bad times, and with whom you make lasting memories. They are also the people who suffer greatly, helplessly watching you go through sometimes agonising treatment. This is something I regret having to put them through.
Being proactive is taking control and making things happen rather than waiting for things to come to you.
Michelle could have stayed on her father’s farm to ride for her father. Much to his dismay she left the family farm at the age of 15 to pursue her dream. There are many examples of Michelle being proactive but my favourite was Michelle sitting in her car somewhere in the middle of nowhere mapping out the quickest routes to various race tracks to maximise her rides in a limited amount of time, and still make it to her sister’s wedding.
Our oncologists actively monitor our cancer with blood tests & scans. They use various treatments to manage our cancer, but treatment is a two way street. A simple way we can be proactive is by eating sensibly and exercising in an effort to maximise the effectiveness of our treatment. For me, it is also about taking an active interest in my cancer by making sure that my oncologists are aware of any problems that have occurred between appointments and answering any questions that I have. Keeping a diary and writing notes to take to appointments ensures that all I want to discuss is covered. Hopefully this makes for better understanding of how to treat my cancer.
Patience is the ability to endure difficult circumstances over a prolonged period.
This is something Paddy tried to instil in Michelle. To win a race you need to be patient and wait for the right opportunity. It would be a key element to her winning the Melbourne Cup.
This is the biggest lesson I have had to learn in my cancer journey. In 2010, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer and to date this has not returned. However, in 2013, I was diagnosed with a GIST (gastro intestinal stromal tumour). Until 2018, treatment was a combination of surgery and a drug called Glivec. However, in July of last year the drug ceased to work and surgery was not an option. There were two other drugs used for treating GISTs but by mid-December the remaining drugs had failed. It would have been a bleak Christmas had I not been granted access to a new trial drug.
When diagnosed with cancer, many of us want to see immediate results. From my experience, it may take at least 3 months for the treatment to take effect. The progress of treatment is monitored through regular scans. However the wait between scans can cause stress and anxiety, so learning patience can help overcome this issue.
For me, the need for patience is heightened as it will take some time to stabilise the cancer even though I have been on the trial drug since the beginning of this year. This is something that I cannot control so remaining patient has now become a way of life for me. The upside is that I’m still here and have a good quality of life. I honestly didn’t expect to be here writing this article, if not for John and Lara’s commitment to my care. Thank you so much.
Thanks also to the Mt Himlung Himal Gutsy Challenge team. The fact that you are willing to put your lives on the line to help us shows the calibre and dedication of the oncologists and clinicians who are part of the GI Cancer Institute.
To help improve outcomes for people like Jeanette Laugooey from Melbourne’s Wheelers’ Hill, Victoria please support new research via www.gicancer.org.au/CancerResearch
The Carousel would like to thank Jeanne for this article.