AUSTRALIAN BREAST CANCER DAY 2015 – a time for reflection

It’s 18 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and today, on ABC Day (26th October 2015), it’s time for reflecting on how fortunate I am. My life was turned upside down by my diagnosis and forever changed. Changed in so many positive ways. SO if you’re newly diagnosed and reading this, it might sound weird, but believe me with time, you’ll probably come to think in a similar way.

ABC DAY 2015Over the last 18 years I have had amazing experiences and opportunities. There have been lots of highs and many sad times when good women that I have known have lost their battle. Today, I fondly recall Sandy Smith (Canada), Orlanda Capelli (Rome), Deb Read, Christine Barker and Jenny Petterson all from Sydney together with Gayle Creed (Brisbane), and from Darwin there is  Tere Jaensch (my fiesty Mexican friend), Jill Parker, Jenny Scott, Gaelene Henderson and Joan Whitworth. There are many others too, but these particular ladies popped into my head today.

Awareness, treatments and research have changed so much since my diagnosis. It comes down to the voices of consumers making themselves heard.

Back in my day (gosh, I sound ancient!), there was no NBCF. No breast nurses except in Victoria. No McGrath Foundation. No BCNA and no Dragons Abreast. There was, however a group of passionate women who were all determined to make their voices heard. Women like Lyn Swinburn AM (Vic) who started BCNA, Susan Tulley (NT), Penny LaSette (NT) and Tere Jaensch (NT – dec), Sally Crossin AM (NSW) and Anna Wellings Booth OAM (ACT – dec) who became the very first group of consumer advocates trained by the NHMRC. There are also other women like Jan Skorich (ACT), Janelle Gamble & Leonie Young (QLD), Veronica Macauley-Cross (QLD –dec), who all made wonderful contributions to breast cancer advocacy. They were the vanguard and should never be forgotten for their amazing contributions. There were others too, like Pat Matthews (TAS – dec), Carol Bishop (WA), Gerda Evans (Vic) and a host more have followed in these footsteps.

Together we all advocated for change and it’s pleasing to see so many wonderful improvements in treatment for those diagnosed. It’s also great to see all the support breast cancer receives globally, BUT advocates are still needed. Not just people telling their stories, but trained advocates who know how to present their arguments, when and how to push to best present the breast cancer cause, not for those who are already diagnosed but for those who will inevitably follow. There are still too many people being diagnosed.

Ellie, Alexa and Sasha
Ellie, Alexa (age 14) and Sasha (age 21)

My daughter Sasha (now 21) was 3 years old when I was diagnosed and my son was 12. It had a huge impact on both their lives. More than we initially realised.

My two young nieces are both 14 years old. I sincerely hope a cure for this insidious disease can be found sooner rather than later. It is for my daughter and my nieces that I have always been an advocate – for them and others that follow us on the breast cancer journey. I am fortunate to have had wonderful training by the NHMRC, mentors and support on my journey as an advocate.  As the Founder of Dragons Abreast in Australia, I am forever grateful to Sandy Smith (dec) and Professor Don McKenzie from Abreast In A Boat,  Jon Taylor (dec) then President AusDBF, Alan Culbertson my first coach, and Melanie Cantwell (ex DBNSW) who so readily supported my vision for breast cancer survivors in Australia to have the positivity of the sport of dragon boat racing.

I was lucky. My treatment (a mastectomy and chemotherapy) has allowed me to survive for 18 years. I never say I am cured, because I also know far too many who have experienced a recurrence many, many years later. I go for my annual check ups, I look after my health as best I can and am always grateful for each day I am blessed with.


“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” ― Erma Bombeck

Reflections of 2014

I’m currently sitting at home, in Darwin, outside by the pool but under the cover of the roof as the first day of 2015 has begun with a wonderful tropical rainstorm. The dogs, Janie and Mollie, are curled up close to me, one at my feet and the other on the outside couch. We are all enjoying the coolness that the beautiful rains have brought this morning, the grass is almost growing right before my eyes and the pool is overflowing.

If you’ve never experienced a Darwin wet season it is indeed something very special. The senses come alive as you inhale the unique smell of fresh, tropical rain, the humidity seems to disappear and the chorus of frogs sing their joy at the arrival of the rains.

2014 has be10410992_10152931194254551_6878165051114676969_nen an incredible year and New Years’ Day is a time to reflect on how blessed I have been. 2014 was the year that included Sasha graduating in February from Bond University. We used the time to have a family catch up and all booked into the Sofitel at Broadbeach for 3 nights which was just lovely as precious time was spent with Mum, Dad, my sister Yvonne, niece Ellie and of course Sasha. The graduation itself was a very proud moment for everyone.

In June, my Uncle Harry, the eldest of the Van Buerle clan, passed away suddenly but peacefully in Perth which was a very sad but his funeral was a family occasion which allowed a reunion and reconnection with distant family members and the Van Buerle connections all over the globe were strengthened.

July saw me relinquish my role as CEO of Lifeline Top End as the time had come for me to concentrate my energies on other areas which included, hopefully, living in Europe for a year.

August was the biggest change of all as this was when I left Australia for the World Club Crews Dragon Boat championships in Ravenna with the Waterfront Warriors team. After the championships I remained in Europe catching up with former collegues and friends in Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels.

I ended up basing myself in Spain which has allowed me to have precious me time to take a well-earned rest from the last three and a half very hectic years in which so many things have changed in my life.

It’s been wonderful to be at home for the Christmas holidays, fantastic to see Sasha and Wayne again who’ve done a wonderful job of looking after the house. I’ve also really enjoyed spending my birthday with family and friends, Christmas Day with my cousins, and now having my brother Robert here from the UK.

Myself with Wayne and Sasha – my two beautiful adult children

I’m very fortunate to have two wonderful children who are always supportive of each other and our family, great parents, a wonderful brother and sister and 2 fantastic nieces.  Although we might not all live close by, or even in the same country we are always there for one other and in a time of crisis can be by one others side very quickly. This is the gift that was given to us by my parents – a strong family unit.

May 2015 be another year of wonderful opportunities for everyone and I look forward to sharing many more adventures, making special memories and helping many of you achieve your maximum potential over the next 12 months.


Quick Update – Italy

Just a very quick update for benefit of those not on Facebook.  Been pretty flat out since arriving in beautiful Ravenna – home of amazing mosaics. Days that are not occupied with dragon boating are spent exploring and job hunting. Two interviews so far and one job offer but I won’t decide anything till after my trip to Paris.


Been lovely to catch up with dragon boat pals from all over and Australia has a very large presence here as bith paddlers and officials. I was roped in to sweep Florence Dragon Ladies for finals each day – always a pleasure to catch up and a challenge to get my Italian boat commands right in race conditions!

Happy Father’s Day to all in Australia. 


Apologies if this comes out crooked as posting via phone from race site.

Networks – funny how things work out

I was woken this morning (Sunday) by the ringing of my mobile phone. I have a special ring tone for family so knew it had to be either my son or daughter, so I sit bold upright and grab the phone. “Where have the Aurora’s gone?” says my daughter with a tone of distress in her voice “I’m down at Tallebudgera and no one is here”.

Sasha – Journalism Student

Sasha, my daughter, is a journalism student at Bond University, she’s doing a unit called Broadcast Journalism and decided to film the Aurora’s at their dragon boat boot camp. She’d already been down on Friday to do interviews and today was to her final filming. Time was of the essence with an added priority that filming needed to be completed early in the day as there was a friends birthday that needed to be celebrated.

Janelle Gamble, who came into the sport of dragon boat racing through Dragons Abreast, had arranged all the access for Sasha but was not answering her phone. I reassured Sasha that Janelle was more than likely on the water sweeping a boat so unable to get to her phone.  Being the magic Mummy, that my daughter clearly thinks I am,  I made calls to my dragon boat contacts to try and seek out the location of the vanishing Aurora’s  whilst  advising Sasha to start walking up the creek for a look around.

I hung up the phone after speaking to several dragonboaters in Queensland and before I had a chance to call Sasha she rang me saying excitedly “Ï’ve found my paddlers”. Her choice of the word ‘my’ reinforces that dragon boat is a special kind of family. Sasha told me on Friday she had met Joanne Petterson again, it had taken each of them a few moments to place each other,  they had first met when she was 8 years old and we went to the Breast Cancer Regatta in Auckland as part of a Dragons Abreast team.

Sasha has been around dragon boat racing since she was 3 years old due to my involvement and has just recently turned 18. Who would ever have imagined that all these years later, she would be filming dragon boats for a University assignment? Her logic in choosing to cover the Aurora’s stems from the fact that she knows the sport is highly visual so ideal for television. She recognises the Aurora’s are something special for Australia as they represent the pinnacle of our sport and are the team who have the honour of wearing the Green and Gold complete with Coat of Arms on their uniforms. Sasha knows this because last year, as she was going through Year 12 preparations, I had the honour of presenting the race uniforms to the Aurora’s down at the Tallebudgera camp just before they flew to Tampa, Florida. I thought that this year I was well out of the picture – but no, thanks to my daughter I was back in the thick of it this morning – abeit through telephone conversations.

When I first started paddling in Cullen Bay back in 1997 who would ever have thought that my own daughter would be filming dragon boat as part of her journalism studies. The value of our networks should never be underestimated and Sasha knows from first hand experience the value of creating and maximising opportunities as taught by her mother and associates at Dragon Sisters.

Thanks to all my dragon boater network for being so wonderful!

Aurora’s – Grand Masters Women in Action 2011