There are so many fun runs across Australia and the world now days, and as a result it has become a great way for charities to use them as ways to fundraise. The Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic (MDC) is one of those – in aid of breast cancer research.
I’ve run the MDC a few times but won’t be able to run this year. I was however approached by them to help them raise awareness of the event which has so far raised $27.4m for research into Breast Cancer, and my post today is sharing the testimony of the event’s co-founder Louise Davidson.
I am very fortunate to have not had anyone close to me suffer with breast cancer. It’s a terrible disease so very important we keep supporting charities that are researching a cure. You can enter the MDC by going to their website, alternatively if you are unable to attend then why not donate anyway!
> Louise co-founded the event in 1998 when she lost her mother to breast cancer – as she wanted to make Mother’s Day meaningful. She founded the event with with fellow superannuation executive, the late Mavis Robertson.
> She was awarded Victoria’s Australian of the Year Local hero Award in recognition of founding the event.
> The event is this year in 100-plus locations across Australia, and has grown to involve more than 130,000 Australians. Last year was Louise’s 18th year at the MDC but her first as a breast cancer survivor.
Louise found the 2015 Mother’s Day Classic, her first since her own diagnosis with breast cancer, incredibly moving.
“I wasn’t sure how I’d react. I’ve participated every other year as an organiser, and as a daughter who lost her mum to the disease, and each year draws out feelings of sadness for my own loss and empathy for others’ loss… but last year it was more emotional.
“My diagnosis gave me a different perspective, it was much more personal,” according to the 47-year-old CEO of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors.
1 in 8 Australian women are affected by breast cancer
While some may see a sense of irony that she should face the disease Mother’s Day Classic fights against, there’s no reason her long-term and close involvement with the event would make her immune to a disease that affects one in 8 Australian women.
She confesses to being surprised at just how shocked she was at her diagnosis: “even knowing the statistics, co-founding Mother’s Day Classic and having Mum with the disease, I really didn’t expect to get breast cancer”.
A mother’s influence
Louise Davidson’s motivation for starting the event was seeing firsthand the impact of breast cancer – Louise was very close to her mum, Kaye, and was her primary carer through her two-year battle with breast cancer before Kaye died at age 52.
In the 20 years since Kaye’s death, Louise has found Mother’s Day Classic a positive way to spend what had been a sad day without her Mum.
Just two months after the 2014 event, Louise became one of the (on average) 40 Australian women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each day.
“Because of Mum, I’ve always had regular checkups. As always I looked at the mammogram film before my appointment – not that I really know what I’m looking at. There was a blurry spot that really stood out to me, and worried me.
“The doctor noticed the blurry spot too and sent me for a biopsy. A few days later he rang at 7.30 at night and said you’re not going to like the news, you’ve got breast cancer.”
“At the better end of breast cancer”
Louise was quickly booked for surgery for a small lump that doctors described as being caught early and “at the better end of breast cancer”. She had an anxious wait for pathology which dictates how aggressive the cancer is and whether there is any spread. On a scale of 1-3 grades, with three being the most serious, hers was a grade 2.
“Having been involved in MDC for almost two decades, and having been carer for my Mum when she went through her treatment, it was interesting to see what the reality of being a breast cancer patient was like,” she says.
“While so much progress has been made, you still see things that could be done better (for me I would like to see patients not have to be permanently tattooed for radiation treatment).
“Mum was diagnosed at 50, I’m 47 now. There’s never been anything selfish about my involvement with Mother’s Day Classic but it turns out now that my involvement has been beneficial to me – like every other patient or every woman who could be diagnosed in the future, it’s research that we rely on to make sure we get better outcomes,” Louise says.
The reason for research
She had a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. NBCF-supported research found that sentinel lymph node biopsy is just as effective as traditional and more invasive surgery in predicting and controlling the spread of breast cancer. (Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy (SLNB) was introduced as an option for some women as part of breast surgery. The sentinel node is the first lymph node to which breast cancer cells are likely to spread. If the sentinel node is cancer free, there is no need to remove further lymph nodes – reducing the risk of debilitating lymphoedema.)
She is happy to have dodged the need for chemotherapy, requiring six weeks of radiotherapy.
She takes the drug Tamoxifen, a necessity for 5-10 years to decrease her risk of recurrence. (Tamoxifen is used to prevent and treat breast cancers that test positive for estrogen receptors. It lowers the chance that breast cancer will grow, by blocking the effects estrogen has on cancer cells).
Again this highlights the importance of funding research – there are currently trials underway to see if survivors get better results by taking Tamoxifen for 5 or 10 years.
“Research has made a significant difference to outcomes for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Earlier diagnosis, much more precise imaging and surgery and big leaps forward in the drug treatments available have all contributed,” Louise says.
Living in “the new normal”
The familiarity of constantly being around breast cancer via Mother’s Day Classic didn’t make the process any easier when she faced her own diagnosis- in fact, Louise feels it made things “much scarier”.
“I understand that Mum’s cancer was a lot more advanced, so the prognosis was not good. She developed secondary cancers and died, which to me makes it very real that this might not be the end of it for me,” Louise says.
“Although since being diagnosed, lots of people in my circle have shared their stories of having had breast cancer when they were younger – and I’d had no idea. So it is positive that all these years later they are alive.”
The hardest part of the process was telling her three daughters – Kaye (named after her Mum), 15, and twins Lily and Rosie, 13.
“I have been the daughter hearing the diagnosis and dealing with my fears for my Mum. It was tough to see my own daughters in that same position.
“My girls never met my Mum but through Mother’s Day Classic they know her story. I’ve emphasized to the girls that my cancer was caught early, and that it’s very different to my Mum’s case. But it’s hard knowing the worry this causes.”
The experience has changed Louise’s perspective on life.
“I don’t know if this change will be permanent, but for now I definitely have a different outlook. There’s a heightened sense that I shouldn’t put off anything that I want to do, things can change so quickly. There’s a very strong sense of ensuring I spend more time with the people I love – and spending more time with my girls during treatment was something I really valued.
“I’m definitely conscious that my response to my breast cancer has made me think more deeply about Mum’s experience and in a way I’ve gone through a whole new grieving process for Mum.
“I have more understanding of how she must have been feeling. She was single, and even though I cared for her, it must’ve been tough to have no partner to give her a hug and be there for her – there’s always the sense of a parent trying to shield a child from the full brunt of anything painful. I have a renewed empathy for her.”
Making Mother’s Day meaningful
Co-founders Mavis Robertson and Louise, having never participated in a fun run, organised the first Mother’s Day Classic in 1998 with a few thousand superannuation colleagues in Sydney and Melbourne.
“I’d had the experience with my mother and we knew a lot of other women who were being diagnosed. At that time breast cancer wasn’t receiving its fair share of the funding pie, so through women in super we set up some volunteer committees in Melbourne and Sydney,” Louise says.
One of the most satisfying things for Louise has been witnessing the event become a positive outlet for those fighting breast cancer, and for those who have lost loved ones, giving a real purpose to what could be a sad day (Mother’s Day without your Mum).
In 2010, inspired by those she had met at the event over many years, Louise ran her first Mother’s Day Classic. Being out on the course instead of in the “control centre” gave her new insights into how important the event was to those battling breast cancer.
“It is a celebration of the lives of those who have breast cancer and others we’ve lost to the disease. It’s emotional but not depressing. There is solidarity in seeing so many people wearing placards on their backs to remember or support someone with breast cancer,” she says.
“Personally, it has been a really powerful way for me to use the strong grief I had for the loss of my mother. For participants, our sadness has been channeled into a fantastic outcome.
“It continues to grow because it is much more than just a fundraising event. I’ve heard of instances where people attend the Classic and are prompted to go to a breast examination the next day. They discover a lump, go to their doctor and detect breast cancer earlier than they would have if they had not been prompted by the event. So if we save one life that way, it makes everything we have done worthwhile.”
“My three girls weren’t even born when we started the event. They have grown up with the Mother’s Day Classic as the only Mother’s Day they know. When they were really little they used to write me Mother’s Day cards that said “happy Mother’s Day Classic”.”
“I hope that fundraising through events like the Mother’s Day Classic will mean my girls don’t have to worry about breast cancer when they get older.”
There’s progress, but at what pace?
Like most patients, Louise found going to the hospital daily and being a patient a very draining experience.
“People around you, whether they are family, friends or work colleagues, want you to be able to assure them that the cancer has gone – and you just don’t get that sort of all clear with breast cancer. Psychologically, it’s always there and always will be,” she says.
With successful research over the past few decades has come increased survival rates – and learning how to successfully navigate survival (and the thought always at the back of one’s mind: will the cancer come back?).
Louise is investigating whether any of the known breast cancer genes are involved in her case – information that could be vital for her three girls when they reach adulthood. This knowledge can also impact on different treatment paths. Her genetic material would be stored, and as new genes are discovered checked against her material.
Like all with the disease, her hope is that by the time her girls are adults breast cancer will not exist.
She knows that while research has made many advances, it doesn’t pay to be complacent.
“In 1993 I went with Mum to see her breast surgeon and Mum asked him about the risks for me of getting breast cancer. He said ‘by the time Louise reaches an age where this could affect her, breast cancer might not exist, or if it does the diagnostic and treatment advances may mean it’s no longer such a major issue’.
“So unfortunately, we have not moved as fast as we might have hoped or imagined…,” Louise says.
To register or for more information go to http://www.mothersdayclassic.com.au
Ways you can help:
Put together a team – http://www.mothersdayclassic.com.au/teams/about-teams/become-a-team-captain/
Start a local event – http://www.mothersdayclassic.com.au/event-info/start-your-own-mdc-event/
For tips on running for charity have a look at a blog post I wrote for RunStopShop last year on where to start.