Unexpected Twist in Cancer Battle

6 April 2013

Former Victorian State MP Maxine Morand, 54, found out she had breast cancer the day before being offered the chance to head up a breast cancer charity.

"When I didn't get re-elected to Parliament in 2010, I sent out my CV to a number of recruitment companies.

"It had been two years since my last mammogram, so I decided to get it out the way before starting a new job. I wasn't nervous. I just thought of it as something I should do.

"But I went in for a 30-minute appointment and came out three hours later.

"I have a nursing background so I could tell something wasn't right when the radiologist started taking extra photos. I asked her if there was a problem, and she told me the doctor would be in to speak with me, so I thought, ‘Yep, there's definitely a problem.'

"I was surprisingly calm. I saw a surgeon an hour later. He couldn't feel anything but there was clearly something on the mammogram.

"I had a biopsy. It was a Friday and I had to wait over the weekend for the results. I was told there was only a 10 to 15 per cent chance it was something nasty - but it was cancer.

"The thing is I felt fine, so when they told me the bad news there was a sense of disbelief.

"The next day there was a message from a recruitment agency asking me if I'd be interested in becoming the CEO of the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA).

+ Big decisions

"Initially I was ambivalent about putting myself forward for the role as there was just so much to take on board. The former CEO, Lyn Swinburne, a breast-cancer survivor herself, was leaving at the end of the year [2011], so the recruitment process was to take place over several months.

"I had surgery between making the appointment and my first interview. When the interviewer explained it was really important the successful applicant had a good understanding of breast cancer, I said, ‘Well, you can tick that box.'

"It was pretty weird. Normally I don't think things happen for a reason but I couldn't help thinking it was a sign. It was just too much of a coincidence receiving the phone call the day after being diagnosed.

+ Family matters

"My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 80s but my surgeon says it wasn't relevant given her age. I have two children: a son, James, who's 22, and a daughter, Maddy, who's 20. She's statistically at a higher risk, but she is not worried about the future.

"My breast cancer, which was nearly two centimetres in size, was on the less-aggressive end of the scale and slow growing. I had the lump and my main lymph node removed. Luckily the cancer hadn't spread.

"I had radiation five days a week for six weeks. It made me tired and I had some skin burns, but it isn't frightening. People go from their appointment to work.

"I had doubts whether I should be running a breast-cancer organisation when I had just gone through it myself. On the other hand, it gave me an insight that could make a difference.

"The BCNA is a charity which supports and provides information to women with breast cancer.

"If you are unlucky enough to get breast cancer, then you are lucky to be diagnosed in Australia. Generally our system is excellent; our clinicians and surgeons are the world's best.

+ Moving forward

"I feel good but it will be 10 years before I'm free of the fear of recurrence. My type of cancer can take longer to come back.

"Cancer has given me a new appreciation of the fact that you can't take your health for granted. Instead of making lists of things to do, I just do them.

"We went skiing in Switzerland last year. We went up to the highest point the cable car could take us. It was so beautiful. I thought, ‘There is so much of life to enjoy.'"

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