I was standing waiting for a coffee at my favourite local cafe Barefoot this morning, so I started absently flipping through a newspaper on the counter. A ‘tribute’ from Rove McManus to Jane McGrath caught my eye, and as the realisation slowly dawned on me that she’d died, I just teared up on the spot. Strange the things that’ll do that to you, but it just seemed inestimably sad to me that this woman, wife and mother, who has done so much to raise cancer awareness and raise funds for the on-going fight against this insidious bloody disease, had lost the fight. I rushed out of Barefoot genuinely upset. And I bet I’m not the only Aussie girl feeling this way today.
I’m not a big cricketing fan or anything like that. Naturally I know Jane McGrath’s husband is Australian bowling great Glenn McGrath, but cricket’s really got nothing to do with it. It’s just a really basic, every-woman kind of solidarity, if I can even say that of someone I didn’t know. I think we’re all pretty terrified of breast cancer, but it also still seems remote, something that happens off stage to someone else. If you’re anything like me, a known hyperchondriac, you might regularly clutch at your breasts in the shower, and clumsily push skin around when you’re lying in bed, and poke around under your arm as you’re getting dressed, and break out in the occasional icy sweat just thinking that that pre-menstrual glandular lump might be something more, but you don’t ever quite believe it could really happen to you. I don’t, anyway. It’s too frightening, so I keep my very worst fears subdued even as I have them. It’s like a constant argument in my head:
“What’s that lumpy bit?? Or that? Jesus Christ, what about that???”
“Nothing, that’s what, you pathetic hypochondriac. It’s nothing.”
“But what if it is something? Shouldn’t I ask my doctor what she thinks?”
“I can tell you what she thinks. She thinks you’re a hypochondriac. You can’t ask her again. It’s nothing. It’s never anything. Stop obsessing about it.”
“But should it feel like this? What should it feel like? And anyway, what does cancer feel like?”
“How should I know? I’ve never had it. Stop your whining, you’re starting to freak me out.”
I’m torn between worrying too much and worrying too little. They say early detection is key to catching it in time, but I’m actually embarrassed to bring it up with my doctor again. I think partly it’s because I don’t really know what I’m looking for. Bodies throw up all sorts of perfectly normal and benign lumpy bits – how the hell would I know what a suspicious lump feels like when I already feel like my body’s full of them?? And yet of course I don’t want to miss it if it’s there. So back to square one I go, and the looping conversation in my head begins again.
And then Jane McGrath dies, and my heart just breaks for her family. Her kids. She was 42 years old with a lot of life to live. By all accounts, she was one of life’s beautiful people. The lady demonstrated throughout her cancer battle a grace under fire that humbles the rest of us and goes some way toward explaining why Australian women all over the country are probably feeling pretty sad today. It’s a story with the very worst ending, but there’s no question Jane McGrath would want some good to come of it, so I’m going to keep getting over my embarrassment, and keep on asking my doctor when I’m there if she wouldn’t mind just having a quick prod too, and I’m going to suggest that you do the same. Just to be on the safe side, because I don’t really know what it is I’m looking for, the difference between a normal lump and an abnormal lump, but my doctor does, and so does yours.