MCC treasurer Michael Happell has spoken of his family's experience with breast cancer at a launch breakfast for the 2014 Field of Women event, which will be held at the MCG on Saturday May 10.
The breakfast, in the Members Dining Room on April 1, coincided with tickets going on sale to the Field of Women event, which aims to raise awareness and funds for Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).
Around 15,000 people will stand together on the MCG in the shape of the iconic Pink Lady before the Melbourne v Western Bulldogs match on May 10 to show their support for the growing number of Australians personally affected by breast cancer.
Happell, who is also a BCNA board member, spoke passionately and emotionally about the challenges presented to his family when his wife, Tatty, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Here is an edited extract of Mr Happell's speech at the breakfast:
“In my young-thirties, I had a mole removed from my neck, which proved to be a melanoma. Unlike the great Jim Stynes, I was very lucky.
Reasonably early detection and five years of trial drugs no doubt helped, and fortunately for me a secondary cancer never developed.
What I didn’t notice nearly enough at the time was the fantastic support role that my wife, Tatty, played from the time of my diagnosis right through my journey.
Around 12 years later, Tatty was diagnosed with breast cancer. Our roles were reversed.
Tatty was the patient and I played the role of supporting loved one, as Tatty’s diagnosis was followed by chemotherapy, radio, tamoxifen and the challenging side effects of all three.
Towards the end of this journey, we reflected on the role of the supporting partner. It will sound strange, but from a purely emotional perspective we both found the support role just as challenging as being the patient. That may just be us, but I suspect not.
A supporting partner plays a number of critical roles in the cancer journey.
Initially they’re supporting their partner through the shock of the diagnosis and the inevitable waiting game to fully understand what the prognosis is. You have your own fears, but you really have to keep those to yourself. You do feel that you need to be strong to be supportive.
As treatment evolves, the percentages and treatment choices are digested and decisions are made. The supporting partner plays a very strong role in this process as well.
Then there’s what I call the protection role. We were so grateful for the fantastic support all our friends offered us. However, while they always had the very best intentions, they often didn’t appreciate that the questions they were asking on the telephone were exactly the same questions that the previous person on the phone five minutes ago had asked.
And this became a pretty relentless process, and there was a very strong feeling when you are supporting someone with cancer that you need to protect them when they’re going through treatments with lots of side effects, particularly if you’ve got young children, as we did.
This can be very rewarding and you can strengthen your relationship with your children, but it’s very challenging, particularly if you end up taking on too much, as a lot of partners do as they try to juggle their own life as well as playing the support role.
Through the journey, Tatty coped pretty well when I was the patient. But she later admitted that she had her challenges. In true male style, I gave the appearance of coping well, but frankly I fell into a pretty big hole about a month after Tatty’s radio finished and certainly needed a bit of support myself.
One of the great things for me about Field of Women is that it does give survivors the opportunity to stand on the field with their partners and their broader support crew – their family and friends who have helped them through the journey.
Tatty and I certainly did this at the last Field of Women event. It was an emotional and uplifting experience for both of us, as well as our three gorgeous daughters who were with us. You could see when you were on the field that when you looked at all the people around you that a lot of people were going through very much the same experience.
I want to salute the great work that the BCNA does, ensuring all Australians affected by breast cancer receive the very best support, information, treatment and care. I am very proud to play a small role in this.”
For more information, or to purchase Field of Women tickets, click HERE.