In this extremely personal and honest account of her journey with brain cancer, Sally White has demonstrated the impact of this life-changing diagnosis on her life and that of those around her.
Sally has demonstrated that perseverance and belief can make an enormous difference, and that seeking an expert second opinion can be a life-saving decision.
Sally is not alone, brain cancer has the greatest impact on society of all cancers, yet it attracts the least funding and publicity. Brain tumours don’t discriminate, with our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, CEO’s and police officers, doctors and students dying in ever increasing numbers and we continue to have no idea why.
Of course there is hope - some people do survive. The second and perhaps more important hope, is that patients need to live until we find a cure, because the cure might be just around the corner.
Research is the key to progress and researchers are working hard to find better markers to deliver better diagnosis and treatments, leading to increased survival rates and better quality of life for patients.
We would like to again thank Sally for unmasking the face of brain cancer and would encourage others touched by brain cancer to gain hope from reading this deeply moving account.
CURE FOR LIFE FOUNDATION
In 1998, I thought I had my life mapped out. I was almost thirty years old. I had a very happy marriage of five years to David. I had a two year old, Josh, and a six week old baby, Ben, both of whom were planned and healthy. We had just moved into our new home, with land around us, which we envisaged staying in at least until the kids were old enough to move out, some time after they had left school.
I was connected to my extended family, in particular my mum and dad, and David’s mum and dad, who were readily available with practical and emotional support. I saw my brother Marcus and my sister Kate intermittently, primarily due to geography, but I knew where I belonged and whom I belonged to.
As a qualified social worker, I felt like I had done the hard yards of my career. I was no longer the ‘green’ twenty-three year old who had walked into her first job as an inexperienced Child Protection worker responsible for investigating, assessing and working with families where there had been allegations of child abuse. Having had almost seven years of case practice, I was now on maternity leave with the view to taking at least twelve months off work. Prior to Josh being born, I had undertaken further studies which incorporated competency-based, solution-focused ideas that I felt passionate about pursuing in my career. With opportunities to branch out into professional development, I envisaged returning to work on a part-time basis while having time to enjoy parenting.
Those years in direct case practice had not been easy for me. I frequently worked long hours, and David was often left to cook dinner and eat on his own. I had experienced being physically threatened and had suffered verbal abuse in the workplace on more than one occasion, but despite this I had the privilege of witnessing children’s resilience under traumatic circumstances. I had watched parents celebrate the success of change and growth in their parenting capacity, leading to reunification with their children. I had seen adolescents conquer their fears, overcome trauma and develop self-worth. These memories were all things that continued to motivate me as a social worker and helped make the sleepless nights tolerable after seeing the tragedy and horror of child abuse.
Spiritually, I thought I had a strong relationship with God. We were no longer going to church as a result of moving house but we had plans to re-establish ourselves in a local church community and bring up our children with the routine of church. We hoped that their experience would be as positive as David’s and mine.
Yes. I had it all worked out. I never imagined what was to come.
In the next ten years I would be the one who was challenged to change, instead of being the one helping other people to change. I would be the one who would feel out of control and emotionally bereft of answers, struggling to find meaning and purpose from my experiences. I would have all my plans changed over the next ten years to a point where my life would resemble nothing like the life I had planned. And yet, on reflection, it was in fact the thirty years I’d already had that would play a part in forging my new path.
When, twelve months ago, I made a decision to write about my life so far, I knew the experience would be a story in itself. I sat at my laptop for snippets of time when I could, in between school transport trips or boys’ sporting commitments or as the dinner cooked, but mostly at night when I couldn’t sleep because the words were racing through my mind. My story is based on my reflections, impressions and recollections, which I know are uniquely mine. Somewhat distorted by trauma, medication and time, they may well be different to those of my family and friends.
Nevertheless, I feel passionate about relating my experiences, in the hope that I will honour my family, my children and friends, but, most of all, the human spirit that enables us to demonstrate the character traits of resilience. Not only for ourselves but, importantly, for our children. The capacity to ‘bungee jump through the pitfalls of life’, as Andrew Fuller, a Melbourne psychologist, so aptly defines ‘resilience’. Many people told me, with the best intentions, to ‘stay positive’, to ‘be optimistic’.
The dilemma with those statements, though well intentioned, was that I did not feel I had permission to have times or days where I couldn’t see anything positive in my experience. Sometimes I couldn’t look forward with hope into the future, but, just like the bungee jumper on the edge of a cliff, the falling down is part of the experience.
I could not start to ‘be positive’ until I had been negative. Really negative. All I wanted at those times was for someone to be physically there and listen. Not to speak. Not to offer advice. Not to say ‘I understand’. Just to sit with me knowing that tomorrow, or maybe even the next hour, would be better. I would come back up, just as bungee jumpers spring up when they’ve gone as far down as they can. When I did come back up, it was then that I could explore the opportunities that might come out of my experiences. This is resilience, a skill that either strengthens or grows throughout all that we explore and experience in our lives.
Our children, Josh and Ben, have played a significant part in my recovery. David and I deliberately shared information with them, both good and bad, and I believe that as a result of this decision they have taught us as much as we have taught them; sometimes more. Many times they have spoken the words I could not. They have expressed my fears, highlighted the profound moments, celebrated the achievements, and made me laugh. In my opinion, children are simply ‘little people’, deserving the same respect and opportunities as adults. This is challenging at best and sometimes scary. My children have many times been my mirror, reflecting my fears, anxieties and weaknesses. However, they also reflect my hopes, dreams and strengths. Because they have been a part of both the highs and the lows, David and I hope that we have given them the skills to cope with the highs and lows of their own lives and thereby encouraged them to build resilience.
This story is not just about me. It is about those people in my life who have contributed in so many big and small ways to my quality of life throughout my difficult circumstances. Many are mentioned specifically throughout my experiences but many are not. It would be impossible to describe everyone’s contribution and thank them all individually, but, mentioned or not, those who have been part of my life, witnessing the trauma and the joys, have had a profound impact on who I am and where I am at. Indeed, David, Josh, Ben and I are extremely grateful to all of them.
Want to Read More?
Three Quotes from a Plumber: how a second opinion changed the life of a woman with a brain tumour is now available in leading bookstores and online for $24.95 RRP. Click here for a list of stockists.