Celebrating the ALL CLEAR

It’s been a great week. We held a party for our daughter’s 18th birthday party and no one puked over the cake, got arrested or punched. We were also lucky enough to be invited by Swisse Vitamins to the Welcome Ellen DeGeneres to Melbourne’ party, which was fantastic.

Pop the champagne!

Pop the champagne!


But my biggest reason to pop the champagne was MY BREASTS being given the all clear after some serious testing procedures.




I wrote about the process back on March 6th. How I decided to have a full-on health check, which led to a mammogram, which led to an appointment with a breast specialist. At the time, after the mammogram looked fairly clear, I was a tad peeved with my local GP for then referring me on to a breast specialist. If the ultra-sound and mammogram looked clear, why was that necessary? Surely that was just a waste of time and money? Did I really need MORE people groping my breasts? My cynical journalist brain started imagining it was all part a medical fraternity plan to refer patients on for extra tests, purely to line their pockets.

Breast Changes pamphlet issued by the Health Department

Breast Changes pamphlet issued by the Health Department

Not so. The breast specialist I saw, a delightful and thoroughly professional man, Dr Peter Gregory, explained how in fact, mammograms fail to detect cancer in ONE IN FOUR patients. ONE IN FOUR. I was staggered hearing that. I’d imagined mammograms to be foolproof. Then it made sense why my local doctor had sought a second opinion.


Dr Gregory put my mammogram results on a light board and explained what was going on and why he’d like to take a sample for further testing. That’s when the sense of fear returned.

It’s never fun, lying on a bed, knowing a doctor is about to plunge a needle in to your breast to remove some tissue for testing, but I did very much appreciate the serene pictures of Italian coastline plastered to Dr Gregory’s ceiling to distract me and give cause for planning an imaginary holiday in Portofino. More doctors should copy that idea.

But then you have to wait for the results from the lab. Unfortunately I seem to always have tests done just BEFORE the weekend, which only serves to extend the agonising waiting process. I’d advise anyone undergoing medical tests to TRY to have them done on Monday or Tuesday – if possible.

So the GOOD NEWS is that last week, I was given the all clear. However, Dr Gregory gave me a pamphlet to explain further how breast detection works and what to look out for with any changes. He also said I’ll need a mammogram again in six months and six months after that, just to be sure.

Which is TOTALLY fine. I know this is not the most fascinating blog, but I’m putting it out there to encourage others to get to the doctor and have health checks. We all know early detection is the best weapon in the fight against cancer.

Me and Sam Johnson

Me and Sam Johnson


I’m so glad I went to Federation Square back in February to see actor Sam Johnson start his epic uni-cycle ride around Australia. Sam took on the challenge after his sister, Connie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Together, they’ve launched the ‘Love Your Sister’ campaign, to raise money for research and to raise awareness about the importance of getting your breasts checked. Sam and Connie – your message is getting through. THANK YOU.





It’s all about my breasts…

A lot of hands have been groping at my breasts lately. And I’m not talking about my husband’s. Sometimes the world sends you plenty of signals that there’s something you need to do, so I did it, and suddenly my breasts are the focus of much attention. Here’s why.

Me and Sam Johnson

Me and Sam Johnson


Recently I’ve been surrounded by health issues. First there were stories of loss from heart disease at the St Vincent’s Hospital fundraiser. Then there was the farewell for Sam Johnson as he set off on his epic uni-cycle ride around Australia in support of his sister, Connie, who is  suffering breast cancer. (Please donate at www,loveyoursister.org) Read Sam’s diaries there too – his words are truly inspiring, not to mention funny! And finally, a story about a young woman who died from cancer two weeks ago. She’d been engaged to get married but didn’t live long enough to make it to the altar so was dressed in her bridal gown at her funeral. That made me weep and I didn’t even know her.



Enough already. I realised it was time. I wasn’t completely sure when I’d last had a full health check, but it must have been more than ten years ago.  And I’d never had a mammogram. (Thanks Sam for reminding us all to be ‘breast aware’) So I made an appointment with my local GP and the process began.

Dr Steve did the usual stuff – blood pressure, a long list of health questions and a urine test on the spot. Then there were referrals for a lung test (spirometry test) and blood test, to check liver, kidneys and cholesterol. Then he asked if I’d checked my breasts lately. I felt foolish saying ‘no’, but to be honest, it just isn’t something that occurs to me, despite knowing how important it is and hearing the constant reminders through advertising and health awareness programs.

Up on the table, he said and an examination got underway. I babbled away incessantly to distract myself from the embarrassment, but never for a moment thinking anything was likely to be wrong. So it was a little bit of a shock when he said that I should have a mammogram to investigate an ‘IRREGULARITY’ in my left breast.

AN IRREGULARITY???? REALLY??? What the frickin’ hell does that mean in real language? He reassured me it was ‘unlikely’ to be anything serious, but it was worth checking out.

Years of working under stressful situations as a newsreader or on the road as a journalist in terrifying situations have at least stood me in good stead in one regard. I’m well-trained  at not panicking. Staying cool, calm and collected.  On the outside.

On the inside, it’s a different matter. Nodding to Dr Steve and smiling, I said I was sure it would be fine, thanked him for being so thorough and left. Inside my head, thought patterns were going crazy at a million miles an hour.

There’s lots of questions you have to deal with internally. Should you tell anyone? It’s only an irregularity anyway and you don’t want family or friends to be alarmed for no reason. So I didn’t even tell Fletch for two days. I preferred trying to ignore the whole business. The timing was difficult too. I’d seen Dr Steve on a Friday and wasn’t able to have a mammogram till the following Wednesday. That meant FIVE full days of torturous ‘WHAT IF’ lines running through my brain like a broken record.

Mammogram machine

Mammogram machine


Having the actual mammogram was better than I’d expected. The sweet young girl putting me through my paces at the Cabrini Hospital in Brighton was warm and sympathetic and explained the process well. It still didn’t stop me feeling affronted when she did what she had to do – squeezing my boobs into place in the steel machine. Very unsexy. She then forewarned me not to be upset if she needed to ask for a second opinion, as that was quite common after the pictures had been taken.


Despite her explanation, of course I feared the worst when she frowned slightly and said in an over-bright voice, ‘Just going to check with the doctor. I’ll be back in a jiffy!’ It was a very long jiffy. One that I felt sure would seal my fate as a cancer victim.

After the mammogram, there was an ultrasound with another doctor. This would be the third person to manhandle my breasts. You really do start to feel like it’s open slather on your boobs. I thought about walking down the hospital corridor with an open shirt, calling on anyone who wanted to cop a feel, to go ahead.

For the ultrasound, a male doctor rubbed gel over my breasts before using a cold steel probe to circulate and look for what those ‘irregularities’ really meant. He ummed and ahhed, but said it seemed the patch under concern seemed to be showing a couple of tiny cysts that were nothing to worry about. I started to feel relieved but also wished he could try sounding a little more positive.

When all was done, I was sent on my way after being told I was ‘probably’ in the clear. For me, ‘probably’ was good, but not good enough. I was keen to hear the final verdict from Dr Steve. That meant waiting another day until he received the results from the hospital.

The upshot is this. Dr Steve thinks that I’m probably okay. God, I hate that word. But he does want me to see another breast specialist. Really, I said? I mean, if the mammogram is clear, then I’m okay, right? Why do I need yet ANOTHER doctor to be groping my frickin’ breasts? Well, it will make ME feel okay, he said. Great. So I’m off to ANOTHER boob man in two weeks. That’s how long it takes to get in to see a specialist.

So that’s why I haven’t been blogging so much lately. I’ve busy hanging out with my boobs. I’m sure we’ll be okay, but I will let you know, hopefully FOR SURE, in a couple of weeks.








Actor Samuel Johnson – facing the ride of his life as his sister battles breast cancer


Me with Samuel Johnson

Me with Samuel Johnson

I first met Samuel Johnson last year, after enrolling in the Howard Fine Acting Studio master class. World-renowned teacher Howard Fine was himself visiting Australia to teach this course and it seemed like an incredible opportunity to hone my rather limited acting skills. Sam was assigned as my ‘scene partner’ and knowing his enormous talent from watching him for years on the hit TV show ‘The Secret Life of Us’, I was a tad daunted at the prospect of working with him.


Luckily for me, Sam has an extremely generous spirit, and was patient and encouraging with my lack of expertise. It was an absolute delight working with him and I’ll be forever grateful for his support. Getting up in front of an audience, knowing your performance is to be critiqued shortly afterwards, is terrifying and I was reassured that Sam also found the experience, not only rewarding, but nerve-wracking.

But if you think that sounds challenging, wait till you hear about Sam’s next project. It is truly inspirational.

Tragically, Sam’s sister Connie is dying of breast cancer. In a bid to raise awareness and ONE MILLION DOLLARS for the Garvan Institute to conduct research, Sam is going to set a new world record – riding around Australia on a unicycle. You’d think riding a bike alone would be tough enough – but on such an ungainly contraption? Sam’s aim is to break the Guinness Book of Records world record for the longest distance covered on a unicycle.

Sam with his sister, Connie

Sam with his sister, Connie

The launch is going to be massive and you’re all invited. It’s kicking off just after midday in Federation Square in Melbourne, on Friday, February 15th. Put it in your diary now! Sam wants as many people as possible to turn up, to form a human corridor for him to ride through and cheer him on his way for the start of his epic journey.

Sam on his unicycle

Sam on his unicycle

It will be a stirring event, with a 40-strong drumming band from Mornington High School beating out their support as well as other entertainment. And while the drums beat louder and louder and the cheering from the crowds reaches a crescendo, Sam will ride off the stage, through the human corridor, to begin a ride that may take the entire year.

Channel Ten’s The Project is also supporting Sam’s ride and will be covering the launch with a feature piece that evening, as well as stories during the course of Sam’s ride. Sam’s thrilled to have the program’s backing, knowing how important it is to raise national awareness for his mission to be a success.


There’ll also be a one-hour program on Network Ten, documenting his ride when he finishes. Sam’s first port of call is Melton, before heading off to Adelaide and then Darwin.

It’s taken a long time for the ride to become a reality. Much planning and sponsorship sourcing has been taking place, ever since Sam and Connie came up with the idea.

Sam and Connie

Sam and Connie

‘My sister, Connie, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago,’ he said. ‘As often happens, this brought us all closer and we were keen to find a way to turn the negative into a positive. In facing her own mortality, my sister was forced to confront the issue of her legacy. She’s determined to leave a large one. And she’s desperate to prevent even just one other young mother from befalling the same fate.’


Connie has two young boys – Willoughby and Hamilton – aged five and six years old.

‘Not being able to see that through is obviously a cause of great pain and sorrow for her,’ said Sam. ‘In a way, this event we’ve hatched together serves as a way to show the kids the kind of spirit she encompasses. It’s not just something to keep her ‘up’ as she goes down… It’s not just an appeal for every woman in the land to be breast aware. It’s a chance for us to prove together to our families that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. No matter how bad the situation is.’

I was curious as to why Sam chose a unicycle as his form of transport. Turns out he’s already taken a long trip on a unicycle – riding from Sydney to Melbourne to raise money for the children’s cancer charity, Canteen, which helped Connie in her early years. Connie is not only battling breast cancer now – she survived two earlier bouts of cancer when a child. On that ride alone, Sam raised half a million dollars.

Sam in training

Sam in training

‘Obviously, with her diagnosis being so grim, we needed a concept that gave us the best way to remind every mum in the land to be breast aware. One of the best ways we could think of to do that was to go around the country and engage directly with communities.’

For Sam, the unicycle gives him a point of difference and attracts a lot of media interest. ‘I had to find something that hadn’t been done before,’ he said. ‘Otherwise I’m just another charity gig.’



The unicycle itself poses many difficult challenges. It’s much slower than a regular bike, so Sam will be in the saddle for up to EIGHT HOURS A DAY. Sam admits he prefers riding a bicycle but is willing to do it tough if it makes his mission a success. ‘There’s a greater margin for error with a unicycle and it requires an enormous amount of concentration and physical aptitude,’ he said.

A good point, I thought. So what happens when the going gets rough – when he’s faced with rocky dirt roads – and God knows, there are plenty of those circling our sunburnt country. Sam just smiled.’ Well of course they’ll hurt the ball-ios a bit more. And it sounds strange, but you get used to the pain.’

Ouch. Doesn’t sound like fun… I’m just starting to get a sense of how physically testing this journey is actually going to be. Sam though, is well aware of what he’s in for. ‘It’s going to be extremely painful and painfully extreme,’ he said. ‘But I won’t be enduring half of what my sister is going through.’

Sam at Riva restaurant, St Kilda

Sam at Riva restaurant, St Kilda

Sam’s training schedule has been arduous. He’s had to achieve an almost professional level of fitness to be able to conduct the ride over the distance he’s planning. ‘It sounds incredibly simple, but in amongst all the madness of putting my life on hold to organise this event, I’ve got to constantly remind myself that fitness is paramount. I cannot condition my body enough for this task. But I’ve got to be sure that on Day One, I’m the fittest I can be. As well, psychologically it’s going to be an amazing test.’



For this purpose, Sam gave up smoking and drinking several months ago, and says he’s enjoying his fitter lifestyle. Lunching at Riva, there wasn’t a ciggie in sight, nor did a drop of alcohol pass his lips.

I asked Sam if he’d miss acting while taking a year off and would he return to it when the ride was done. ‘Who knows what I’ll want at the end of this crazy thing?’ he said. ‘I imagine I’ll essentially stay the same person. After all, I don’t know how to do anything else, so I don’t know what else I’d go back to. But I can only think of the bike ride right now.’

So is he confident he’ll actually make it around Australia? Does he hold any doubts? ‘Healthy doubt, yes. True doubt – no,’ he said firmly. I believe him.

It’s a delicate question, but I asked Sam if time is of essence – given Connie’s condition. ‘I’d like Connie to be there at the finish line,’ he said.’The fantasy for me is that I cross the finish line in to her arms and she’s crying with pride and she’s still alive. As most people if professional sport will tell you, fairytales rarely happen, and I certainly don’t expect her to be there at the finish line, but we can hope.’

Sam’s hope stems from the fact that Connie has already defied medical predictions for her health. ‘But once she goes downhill, I suspect it will happen within weeks. Should she die while I’m doing the ride, I’d fly back for her funeral then fly straight back to continue on the road an push even harder. We’ve talked about that. Either way, she knows I’ll finish it.’

As I said, Sam’s mission and attitude are truly inspirational. I know I’ll be there cheering him on when he heads off from Federation Square. I’ll hope you’ll join me.


If you’d like to donate to support Sam, visit his website, Love Your Sister at http://loveyoursister.org

And to keep up-to-date with all the news about Sam’s epic journey, check his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/loveyoursister

Rachael’s story about genetic testing for breast cancer – a blessing or a curse?


In case you’ve been living in a hole, October is BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH. I know – you knew that, didn’t you? How could you miss it? There’s been a spike in activity among fund-raising groups and it’s fantastic to see so many people getting involved and being supportive. But a few weeks ago, I over-heard some disappointing comments from a few people who have been infected with the dreaded Charity-Fatigue-Syndrome. (CFS) Yes, it’s easy to become blasé and say, ‘Oh no, not another event…’ when those invitations land on your desk, but now is NOT the time for complacency. Whereas breast cancer used to have a strike rate of one in fourteen women in Australia, it’s now risen to one in nine. Horrifying. ONE IN NINE!!!


Rachael Joiner

Rachael Joiner


For anyone complaining about CFS, I challenge you to listen to 36-year-old Rachael Joiner and still say you’re too tired to put your hand in your pocket. Rachael’s story is particularly moving because it highlights what she had to deal with even BEFORE she discovered she had breast cancer. I heard Rachael speak at a THINK PINK fund-raising lunch at the magnificent Circa restaurant in St Kilda last week. How confronting it must be, standing up in front of a large, social crowd and talking about your traumatic experience with cancer… yet Rachael, who is still recovering from her treatments and is in what she describes as ‘chemo shock’ was keen to support the THINK PINK cause.


So the CFS crew is having a bad-hair day and finding it tough to get to a function? Well, think about Rachael. She’s still unwell and a frequent visitor to the Peter MacCallum Institute. She is suffering from ovarian failure and is having issues with her thyroid not functioning properly as a result of chemotherapy treatments. Yet still she came.

Rachael was introduced by two-time breast cancer survivor Irene Hendel. Also the Chair and Founder of the Think Pink Living Centre, Irene and her husband David joined the Think Pink team twelve years ago. Irene’s greatest hope – to open a Living Centre for cancer patients in Melbourne – was realised in 2010.

Irene and David Hendel

Irene and David Hendel

The Centre gives people a place to go for support – both physical and psychological. On offer, there’s a bit of much-needed pampering – facials, free make-up and massages – or, if you like, meditation advice, pilates classes and even a wig library. For others, particularly younger women, there’s social opportunities and a chance to meet others their own age.

‘I was introduced to the Living Centre when I did the Day of Indulgence,’ said Rachael, as as she spoke to the packed venue. ‘This was prior to my chemo commencing. I checked out the wig library – just in case I needed it. But then going back to the Living Centre when I was bald was very hard. But I received very gentle and respectful support from everyone there in choosing my first wig, which I called the Russian Spy because it was a stylish black bob. I hadn’t really realised at the time how much the organisation could help me on every level.’

Rachael’s hair has now grown back, although she was surprised to find her new tresses darker and curly. She explained this is quite common among chemo patients. But chemo is tough. She said that after treatments, she’d look in the mirror and see a ghost of her former self. However, it was at the beginning of her experience that the THINK PINK Living Centre really made a difference.

‘The Living Centre supported me emotionally by connecting me to other women, especially other women of my own age that were in the same situation. They also offered me counselling and mediation. This provided me with the first feeling of calmness since my diagnosis.’

After her speech, I chatted with Rachael and was surprised to learn it was the first time she had spoken publicly. What a brilliant job she did! Not a shred of nerves in sight: a moving story told with humour, warmth and dignity.

I was also intruiged to learn that Rachael had taken the brave step of under-going genetic testing at the age of twenty-five – knowing there was a history of breast-cancer in her family. Genetic testing for breast cancer has been available in Melbourne since 2000. This meant she lived with the knowledge she may be diagnosed with the life-threatening disease at any moment. Ten years on and she was diagnosed at thirty-five.

The thought of living under such a threat makes me question the value of scientific knowledge. On one hand, of course it makes sense to know, but how does this impact on the way you live your day-to-day life? What is the price of knowledge? Would Rachael now recommend such testing to other young women?

‘It’s a big decision,’ she said. ‘I think it’s a very emotional and taxing journey.’

But ultimately, it’s what has saved her?

Rachael Joiner and nurse, Kathryn Wallace

Rachael Joiner and nurse, Kathryn Wallace

‘Yes, because they were monitoring me,’ said Rachael. ‘But it is a significant psychological burden to be carrying all that time, knowing that you’re likely to have cancer in the near future. And the trauma of going in for those observations on a regular basis.’ Rachael was first contacted about the THINK PINK Living Centre by nurse Kathryn Wallace, who also came to the lunch.

She admits it was almost a relief when the diagnosis came through. ‘It’s kind of like, I can stop worrying about WHEN it’s going to arrive and just deal with it.’ Rachael had a double mastectomy and reconstruction all at the same time. ‘It’s a massive operation and I’m still healing,’ she said. Yes, she was sad to lose her breasts, but knowing they were responsible for her illness made her, in one way, be glad to be rid of them.

The most important way THINK PINK has helped, is to introudce Rachael to other young women who have become close friends.

‘Oh yes, I have some amazing friends,’ she said. ‘We have very different issues to women who have gone through menopause. A lot of women haven’t had kids so fertility is a massive issue. The treatment is very hard for us, so it’s good to have other women to talk to and not feel so isolated and alone.’

‘We’ve started a monthly young women’s morning tea and I still go along to that. It’s open to anyone who wants to come along.’

Rachael has a partner who she says has been brilliant throughout, but says her new friends at THINK PINK also find relief in sharing stories about the strain cancer puts on most relationships. ‘It’s all challenging. Your world really does turn upside down and those that are there with you really are a part of that journey, so it’s a test of character strength and loyalty. I’m still in the process of recovery.’

Employed as a town planner, Rachael is working limited hours until she regains her full strength. Again, she credits THINK PINK with helping ease the pressures. ‘They’ve given me free massages. That really did help with the stress of it all, when I was very ill. And they’re just so welcoming.’

Dr Sally Cockburn and myself thanked the sponsors!

Dr Sally Cockburn thanked the sponsors!


The lunch was appropriately hosted by a doctor – one with a good sense of humour and persistence in rallying the crowd for funds. Known as Dr Feelgood on her 3AW radio spot, Dr Sally Cockburn says this is a regular gig for her. The Melbourne Pub Group generously donated the food; the superb champagne provided by Laurent-Perrier. And yes, I’m more than happy to give them a plug in return for their generosity.


If you haven’t done anything yet for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now’s the time. You can help THINK PINK to help other cancer patients (as they do so brilliantly) – by making a donation on-line at http://www.thinkpink.org.au/how-you-can-help/make-donation

Go on – you can do it!!!

The THINK PINK Living Centre Car

The THINK PINK Living Centre Car