IN October last year, Strathfieldsaye’s Vanessa Murray was starting to turn her mind towards her 49th birthday and the fun of a family Christmas.
“It’s a big time of the year for my extended family, and we were all looking forward to catching up at dad’s, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
Vanessa spent the next two months in and out of medical clinics, and feeling like she had lost control of her life.
“I felt a lump in my left breast and, with a family history of breast cancer, went straight into Breast Screen. I had found a lump once before, which turned out just to be a cyst, so I wasn’t too concerned,” she said.
“A week after the mammogram I met with the specialist at Breast Screen. She told me the lump was a cyst but that she’d seen something else on the mammogram and wanted to check it out.
“I had it biopsied and again was told to come back in another week. That’s when I had a bad feeling.”
After being told she had breast cancer, Vanessa met with a surgeon, who was still positive about the diagnosis.
“She wasn’t too concerned, but she suggested I go for an MRI to make sure there was nothing else going on,” she said.
“The MRI showed more cancer; this time on the other side, so it was off for yet another biopsy.
“From finding the first lump to the full diagnosis was only weeks, but it felt like years. I was waiting for a different result each week, and each week the news was getting worse.”
As anyone who has been given a cancer diagnosis knows, what comes after the initial news is usually a blur.
“Overwhelming doesn’t go close to describing the emotion,” Vanessa said.
“There was a feeling of not having any control and waiting for the next test result to inform the future. You try to live your normal life, but nothing is normal.
“I didn’t know the medical system, the role of the various medical specialists or all the terminology. It was a lot of new information to process during an emotional time.
“Initially, you tell yourself that there is a list of things that have to happen, and you just have to do them. Then it hits you. Cancer is a thing that can kill you.“
Successful surgery has resulted in a positive prognosis for Vanessa, and a renewed vigour for life. But it’s the support from family, friends and work colleagues at the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) that she will never forget.
“The whole period was horrible,” an emotional Vanessa said, “but I never felt like I was on my own.
“I was always a grateful person anyway, but knowing I have such amazing support deepened my relationship with each and every person, including my husband Mark, who is my rock.
“I was so fortunate to have such a fantastic medical team and an encouraging workplace, which gave me the room to return to work at my own pace. It also made it possible to get a bit of normality back into my days.
“If someone you know or love is going through cancer or struggling with another aspect of their lives, then let them know you are there. Never underestimate the importance of providing them with emotional support, but take your cue from them about what they might need and when.
“Even simple text messages letting them know you are thinking of them can make a big difference. They may not have the energy to contact you, but they know you care, they really do, and they are grateful.”
Vanessa’s advice to women of all ages is simple – “no matter how busy you are, please make your health a priority. If in doubt, get it checked out.”
“The earlier you catch it, the better. I’m living proof of that,” she said.
Vanessa will read the tribute at Sunday’s Mother’s Day Classic, and is leading the Bendigo event’s fundraising tally.
“We have a very enthusiastic team here at the CMA who are all giving up their breakfasts in bed, or giving up making them, to help raise money and raise awareness,” she said.
“The Classic has given me a goal and is a great way I can give something back to the wonderful people who have helped me.
“It has built up into a fun, positive and healing experience.”
– Anthony Radford