My mother Dorothy Frances Flynn nee Farmer who passed away in 1993 (aged 70) was a family colossus with deep rural roots. Comfortable in her skin, she was just as ‘at home’ stripping down a car engine as she was in the kitchen baking a cake or dressed to the nines to go to the races or elsewhere. ‘Domestic engineer’ fitted her to a ‘tee.’
My father Roy, also a son of the soil died young in 1978 (aged 63) of lung cancer with serious cardiac related issues. Mother nursed him for 4 years before he succumbed, but days before Dad died he asked me to make sure that she saw a doctor, he had noticed her stomach seemed odd looking. In the grief-filled flurry of his death, the funeral and a very sad Christmas just days later somehow his warning was overlooked.
I lived in Singapore at the time and after the New Year came and went, I returned home. The plan was Mother would set the ball rolling with finalizing estate issues then come to visit me and my husband Doug the following April.
The night before she was to fly to us I received a call that I will never forget, it had me literally sitting on the floor in complete shock. Apparently Mother was having severe headaches, her primary care doctor had dismissed them as widow’s weeds so she drove herself to Fremantle Hospital emergency room seeking relief. After a barrage of tests she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and was hastily scheduled for surgery the following day. Our lives changed in that moment. (It seemed Mother neglected herself while she was caring for my father and failed to have any routine testing or even her annual Pap smear.)
The outcome? A five and half kilo single tumour was surgically removed. Horrified, in shock, and still reeling Mother moved on to chemotherapy treatment with the hope that the tumour was encapsulated with no microscopic remains. This was not to be, a year later the cancer returned with a vengeance multiplied, nine new tumours ranging from egg to grapefruit size, a devastating prognosis. Her gynaecologist at the time told her, “I can’t finish this job, you need an oncologist and the only person who can give you a fighting chance is Tony McCartney, I will try to get you in to see him.” (I was very grateful for his honesty!)
Professor Tony McCartney lead oncologist at King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women began a medical friendship with my mother that lasted 15 years. Her battle was tough. Mother was one of the earliest patients in 1979 where doctors were testing chemotherapy dosages, how much was enough, but not too much, and at times I don’t know how she made it through. Much of her later life was taken up with medical tests and appointments but she never complained. When I lamented at the cards she had been dealt, she always replied, “Well, this life is the only life I have so I must make the best of it.” She often mentored younger patients at McCartney’s request because they were so afraid of the chemotherapy process. McCartney was a hugger, caring, kind and my mother loved him! He always said, “It takes two to tango, a good doctor and a positive patient.” And, they tangoed! At the time Mother was Tony’s longest surviving patient and he was so proud of that.
Both titans, my mother was a courageous inspiration to those who followed; as was god sent McCartney who always treated every patient with respect, and gave it everything he had to affect a cure. Tragically he passed away too soon to cancer at 70 such a loss to women
Team Flynn – McCartney gave future hope so that ovarian cancer patients could live longer with less chemical and more targeted treatments. I know Mother and Tony are rattling their Teal cups!
Four women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each day in Australia. It must be heartbreaking and traumatizing to find oneself in this medical morass, a life changer. In fact that initial shaft of cold fear at a confirmed diagnosis will shake them to the core, so we need to do everything we can to ensure that those facing this dreadful disease are supported in every possible way. No health? Then life’s accumulated flotsam and jetsam is worthless.
When I was approached three years ago by OCA asking for my voice in support I thought it would be impossible since I was living ten thousand miles away in the USA, but where there’s a will there’s a way and in this Cyber life we lead I found a path to make contact, effect change and provide inroads to sponsors who can make a difference in tangible ways.
On an ordinary day there is nothing like sharing an aromatic pot of tea, delicious cakes and pastries with friends and neighbours. Let’s turn this cosy affair into something more extraordinary and create a Teal occasion and make it count for something unique and life sustaining. Teal-themed teas are all about raising awareness and funds for Ovarian Cancer Australia. It is truly my honour to be an Ambassador for the 2016 Afternoon Teal appeal in February.
Hosting an Afternoon Teal during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month could be an entertaining and scrumptious way for you to offer immeasurable support. Send out the invites, paint your nails, tizz your hair, pop on a posh frock and do your bit for OCA and register your Teal here:
Now, in my mother’s name as well as my own, and every woman diagnosed I want to pick up my teal cup and encourage everyone across Australia to put the fun in fundraise and contribute to ongoing research, awareness and a potential cure. Sadly I know more people with cancer than the common cold. This scourge must be contained and eradicated. Can I count on you?
Thank you in advance for helping me make a difference!
Kerry Vincent: National ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia and television host.