Dialog Box

How having friends with cancer has kept me strong

Sarah Tidey is a freelance writer and former lawyer who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2015. She is currently having her fourth line of chemotherapy. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and three children aged 20, 18 and 16.

Nearly five years on from my diagnosis, I truly believe I’m still alive because of a cocktail of encouragement, love and support from friends, family and my medical team (and, of course, thirty odd doses of chemo). 

Whilst my ‘crew’ (as I call them) are a constant source of support, having cancer can still feel lonely. It has always been important to me to speak to other people who have this disease and understand both the physical and emotional side of living with cancer.

When I was first diagnosed, the only person I knew with ovarian cancer was J, a beautiful friend of my parents. She sent me a lovely encouraging email with various tips, including a recommendation for an acupuncturist (who has been wonderful). She was upbeat and positive, and is still defying the odds more than ten years post-diagnosis. She has been an inspiration without ever glossing over how tough it can be.

When I met L, we were a similar age, and both working in HR consulting. I was encouraged to hear that she was back at work, but I was shocked when I learned she had gone into palliative care. Soon after, she died. I was rattled—it was proof of how cruel this disease can be. It was also a sad lesson that meeting and befriending other people with this disease came with the distinct risk of losing them. 

It was also a sad lesson that meeting and befriending other people with this disease came with the distinct risk of losing them.

I met D at the Royal Melbourne hospital before I started chemo. She was there with her sister, who was in the midst of treatment for breast cancer. I was struck by how positive the two of them were, despite so much cancer in their family. D and I live opposite sides of the city and our lives are very different–her kids are adults and have moved out of home, she is living alone, and she is still working full time. Every time I text her or call her, I can’t wait to hear how she is doing, as though that may somehow affect my own outcome. She’s doing well so far. 

Through the OCRF I met Leane Flynn. She is a vibrant voice in ovarian cancer advocacy and her kind nature, bravery and candour gave me the courage to get involved. She has a family a similar age to mine and we share the same hope and positive outlook and determination to live ‘in the moment’. Recently she has been such a wonderful source of advice about treatments and we have spoken about everything from the side effects of certain drugs to how to talk to our kids about cancer.

OCRF ambassador, Leane Flynn

I’ve met many different women through the Survivors Teaching Students program, which teaches medical students about the lived reality of ovarian cancer. Two of my co presenters are in their twenties, just starting their lives, juggling study, work and relationships as they deal with this cancer. Others are in retirement, frustrated that the life that they were looking forward to has turned out so differently.

It gave me perspective that though dealing with this disease is tough, I am lucky to have the support I do.

I also joined a Facebook group for people with ovarian cancer. I was amazed that there were so many people, all over Australia, a range of ages and backgrounds, having such similar experiences to me. It was sobering to hear the challenges of people in remote places who have to travel to get treatment, or those whose family or financial circumstances make the diagnosis especially hard. It gave me perspective that though dealing with this disease is tough, I am lucky to have the support I do.

Finally, Dr Maree Bilandzic is a researcher at the Hudson Research Institute. We met at an OCRF function and have stayed in contact ever since. She is young, smart and passionate about improving ovarian cancer outcomes. Knowing there are people like her working to find an early detection test and better treatment options and even a cure gives me hope.

Read more about Dr Bilandzic’s research here

At times I’ve reflected with these friends that whilst it’s been lovely to meet, we wish it was under different circumstances.  Each new diagnosis or death makes me sad and frustrated and underlines the importance of research like Maree’s and the need for more research funding.

Sarah Tidey is a regular contributor for the OCRF. If you'd like to keep in touch with the OCRF community, sign up for our monthly newsletter.

16 July 2020
Category: Blog