by Ramona Freedman04/12/2018

Yes, you are important. That's why you should accept the help of others.

My Breast Cancer diagnosis was a life crashing moment. I wish I could sugar-coat this one and make it sweet like the jam-filled Hanukah doughnuts I keep eating at a rapid rate at this time of year! But I can’t. And the irony is, I’m a person who (I‘ve always liked to think,) has always had my priorities in, pretty much, the right order. Even so: it was wild.

If I wash the most recent doughnut down (it’s a problem) with a nice cuppa and reflect for just a few moments, I can clearly see that the primary reason it radically affected my world, revolves around the fact that the space I inhabit is not merely all-about-me. My reality extends beyond just my body, my soul, myself. It also directly involves my husband, Oliver, and on Day One, it directly impacted my then young children aged six, three and two. Oh, and I was also pregnant with a fourth to compound the instant cracking headache … 

Initially, you have to be smart. I mean practically smart. There are moments of absolute astonishment, bewilderment, fear and raw anxiety. For me, they welled up during the long nights while my three kids, Leila, Asher and Samara, were sleeping. Suddenly, there is a lot more to juggle. And this is not the great debate over Ikea furniture or which tennis camp to sign up for. This is your Life with a capital ‘L’! And the thing is, when kids are little, our day-to-day reality is often so busy, we don’t have moments to ruminate and ponder on the direction we are taking. It’s more about dinner tonight. Lost shoe (eventually found impressively thrown over neighbour’s fence.) Preschool meltdown.

Decisions need to be made and fast. Now, I’m a clever cookie, I’ve always prided myself on conducting a ‘due diligence’ process: to research, to delve, to understand. And with cancer as the topic-du-jour, that’s very difficult if you’re not in a medical family. My father-in-law is an Orthodox rabbi – so we can tap into that Old Testament quicker than you can say, “Cue Moses to part that Red Sea ASAP.” And yet, we needed to put together ‘Ramona’s Medical Team’ with speed. And somehow, we did. Oncologist, breast surgeon, the list went on.

My resolve as a parent through my forced termination, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone treatment, surgeries and beyond, has always been to be as present as possible. The mind is a wondrous thing. I determined to be hands-on with my kids each morning, afternoon and evening to continue it all as normal (I hate the word ‘normal’ but you know what I mean.) I was up from sunrise, I made breakfast and three little lunchboxes (which left me feeling like a veritable Nobel laureate,) and after school was present for bath time, story time, kiss good nights and the rest. And I remember as I finally closed their bedroom doors, I stood for about one minute each night, only then allowing my shoulders to round a little and my eyebrows to knit in concentration. There was so much going on physically and psychologically.

The younger two were too little to comprehend, but I needed to tell my oldest, who already possessed wisdom beyond her years. I’ll just recount it in the third person: “Mummy has a spot under her skin that the doctors need to take away. Mummy will need very strong medicine. And that medicine will make her hair weak, very weak. Because of this, sometimes mummy will wear a wig to cover her head.” Of course, had my kids been older, this would’ve been a vastly different scenario.

And when there were things I couldn’t do, for example, enter the day care or preschool during chemotherapy for risk of infection ... well, I uncharacteristically acquiesced. Firstly, because I had to. And also, because I kept repeating the same mantra to myself: This Is Temporary.

I also listened to my husband when he sat me down and said, “You’re so capable, you’ve never really needed help. Our family needs it now. Accept the offers for meals and lifts for the kids.”

I did and I have been choosing to pay-it-forward ever since!

One thing that stands out to me is that cancer, without being invited, tends to dump a tremendous amount of … shall we say … detritus … in your proverbial lap. And it causes chaos and clutter. So if possible, minimise the mess in your physical world. I honestly found that somehow, when my house was more in order, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed! Now, of course, there’s no rational link to your health prognosis and your clean kitchen. I know that … and yet … one of the most memorable gifts I ever received, was when a friend sent a cleaner over – she knew I was in danger of being engulfed by it all. This broad-shouldered Brazilian walked in and systematically cleaned until midnight. And when I woke up, I felt better. Okay, perhaps only marginally. Perhaps that was short-lived. Well, if you have clutter lying around that you’ve tripped over too many times - Box it. Store it. Remove it (or get a darling family member to do it!)

Flash forward: Once I had regrouped (and it took a while,) I was subsequently invited to speak to over 500 people for the McGrath Foundation; Prince of Wales Hospital; Volunteer Week; Pink Breakfasts and more. My kids are now older, all in high school. I’m the proud mum who runs a little business and has the flexibility to attend every known school event on planet Earth. I am sure whenever the kids are on stage, they are sick of seeing me enthusiastically wave to them, all teary-eyed, seated (close to the front) in the school’s auditorium. And guess what? It’s my privilege, it’s my blessing and it’s why I didn’t give a minute’s thought to vanity or anything else. And that oldest of mine, well, she was just elected Vice Captain for Year 12!

When I walked into my first specialist appointment, I held a photo of myself, taken one month prior to That Day. In the photo, I was holding hands with my three kids. We were linked. My eyes were open wide and I earnestly said to him, “Professor, I am important. I am here to be a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Do whatever you have to do to me to make that happen.”

And he did. And I am here.

Ramona's partner, Oliver, tells his story HERE.