Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Australian Women's Weekly High Tea Tour

My showbag contents and flowers from the event
Today I had the great privilege to speak in my role as Ambassador for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation at a high tea hosted by The Australian Women's Weekly and sponsored by L'Oréal, Dilmah Tea and AAP Tours. They have been hosting them around the country raising money and awareness for the OCRF.

It was a fantastic event. We learned about how we should be drinking tea - black - and how to make it into cocktails! We got some amazing insights into the Australian Women's Weekly from Helen McCabe and we all left with fabulous showbags full of L'Oréal and Dilmah products.

The following is my speech from the event. I hope it gives you an insight into the day.

Thank you. It is a real honour to be asked to speak today, not only because it gives me an opportunity to talk about the great work of the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation but also because the Australian Women’s Weekly has always been a part of my life. We are one of those families that are probably terrible for the circulation figures because one copy gets shared around the lot of us. It has kept us up to date with the latest celebrity news and fashion trends. It taught us how to put on makeup, and particularly importantly how to cook.

My Mum is a great cook. Her mother was not such a great cook and was generally limited to quite old fashioned recipes from her German background. So Mum taught herself to cook from the Australian Women’s Weekly and their fantastic triple tested cookbooks. Mum passed that love of cooking onto me, along with a whole shelf of the cookbooks and the kitchen is most definitely the centre of my home. And in the centre of my kitchen, in pride of place, is a beautiful grey and white marble rolling pin. It is a lovely object, with wooden handles and its own wooden cradle to rest in. And it is as useful as it is beautiful because making pastry is one of my favourite things to do, so it is a cherished possession.

But as much as it is cherished, I wish I did not own it. If there was anything in my life I could return its owner would be that rolling pin. You see, the reason I own it is that it was passed to me following the death of our beloved family friend Aunty Sue from ovarian cancer.

Before Sue’s diagnosis I didn’t know much about ovarian cancer, but since then I’ve become all too aware that while it may not be the most common cancer in women, it remains the leading cause of death of all the gynaecological cancers with a lower survival rate than both breast and cervical cancer. In fact, every 10 hours a woman dies from ovarian cancer in Australia.

Sue’s story is typical of so many women affected by ovarian cancer. She dismissed her symptoms as stress, gaining weight, menopause, the aches and pains that come with being the primary carer to someone in a wheelchair. Like so many women, she just soldiered on. I don’t think that I knew it was possible to have a terminal illness and not know before Sue’s diagnosis.

So let me tell you a little about the wonderful woman who was my Aunty Sue. Sue Gane was one of those genuinely lovely people. She was a volunteer in her local community. She worked with children with disabilities. She was a passionate quilter. For me, Sue was my Mum’s best friend, but she was as much an Aunt to me as my blood relations and she was there for every major life milestone. It was following one of those milestones, my sister’s wedding, that Sue was diagnosed.

Sue didn’t have children of her own so she was as excited about the wedding as any of us. She spent about twice as much on her outfit as my Mum did on her mother of the bride one. She got ready with all of us, having her hair and makeup done and she sat in the front pew, holding my Mum’s hand as Dad walked my sister down the aisle.  

One of my absolute lasting memories of Sue will be her burning up the dance floor at the reception long after us young ones had grown tired.

Fast forward couple of weeks and Mum and Sue had a girls week away at the coast to recover from all the wedding excitement. It was then that Mum discovered Sue was having some abdominal pain and when she had a massage the masseuse suggested she get her ovaries checked out. It didn’t seem right, so Mum insisted Sue go to the doctor.

Doctor’s appointments followed. On the 6th of July Sue had a scan which showed metastatic masses in both ovaries. By 13 July we found out that she had tumours on her liver and in her stomach. On the 2nd of August she was admitted to hospital for surgery. She never went home, she never ate another meal. After several weeks in the hospital and some very difficult decisions about what treatment to have or not have, Sue was moved to the hospice Claire Holland House.

Sue died on the 17th of September 2010. Just two months after she was diagnosed.  She was laid to rest in the dress that she had worn to my sister’s wedding and danced the night away in without a care in the world just four months earlier.

The fact that Sue died just 2 months after she was diagnosed wasn’t because the cancer spread rapidly it was just that with symptoms like back pain and weight gain, Sue literally didn’t know she was dying until it was too late. And this is the story of ovarian cancer.

There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer. Contrary to popular belief a pap smear does not detect it. If detected and treated early, 80-100% of women will survive beyond 5 years compared with only 20-30% when diagnosed at a late stage which is the majority of women.

The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation is Australia’s leading independent body dedicated to national ovarian cancer research. The ultimate aim of the foundation is to develop a test that is non-invasive and cost effective so that it becomes a habitual part of every woman’s regular health check-up regime along with mammograms and pap smears.

The OCRF receives no government funding and relies on the financial support of corporate Australia and the broader community. Everyone in this room today is supporting the OCRF and I would encourage you all to continue to find ways to support their important research. 

The next major fundraiser coming up is Frocktober, where all October you will be able to be sponsored for wearing a frock. I wear a frock every day of the month, but you could have a frock party, wear frocks on Fridays, really it is up to you and all the details will be on the website frocktober.org very shortly. I will also be hosting another high tea in October if today has got you interested so see me after for the details.

It has been 5 years since Sue’s death and it still seems completely surreal that she is not here with us. Recently I was looking for family photos and my first thought was the Sue would have some great ones, I just can’t get used to the idea that she isn’t here with us. Each time I speak about her, I know that I keep her memory alive and if her memory can help raise the awareness of ovarian cancer  and funds that will find an early detection test for it, then she will continue to be the positive influence on the community that she was in life.

Ovarian cancer affects women of all ages. It could be your mother, wife, sister, aunt, friend or even your daughter. You don’t have to be scientist to make a difference, all of us have the opportunity to support the work of the ovarian cancer research foundation and find that early detection test which will keep wonderful women like Sue, here among us.

Thank you.

If you would like to know more about ovarian cancer, the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation or want to make a donation visit: http://ocrf.com.au/

And if you wish you had been there, I'm hosting a high tea for the OCRF in October! All the details are at: https://spring-high-tea.eventbrite.com.au

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