A friendship forged over a cup of tea has shaped the course of Tracy Bevan’s life and helped over 100,000 families affected by breast cancer. But when Tracy, now 56, first met fellow cricket wife Jane McGrath at an airport cafe in 1996, she never could have guessed the impact of that relationship.
“Jane called me the sister she never had and I’d remind her I was the younger sister because she was three months older than me,” Tracy laughs to Woman’s Day.
“We clicked instantly. We were both from England and had married Aussie cricketers [Glenn McGrath and Michael Bevan] and with the boys being away so much we became really close and relied on each other.”
This became harrowingly evident just a year into their friendship when, on an Ashes tour in the UK, Jane asked Tracy’s opinion on a lump she’d found on her breast.
“I knew Jane’s mum had had breast cancer and I knew Jane was begging me to say I couldn’t feel anything but there was a pea-shaped lump. It was like a soccer-punch in the face,” Tracy says.
Jane, just 31, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
“You’d never have guessed,” Tracy says. “She always looked beautiful and life didn’t change. She got on with it.”
It was an attitude that stuck over the following years which included the highs of remission and the birth of Jane and Glenn’s children, James and Holly, and then the lowest of lows when Jane was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in her bones and then, in 2006, in her brain.
“Death was never an option for Jane. We never talked about it because she always said she had so many reasons to live,” Tracy said.
Besides her family, one of those reasons was the McGrath Foundation she and Tracy set up in 2002.
Jane was lucky enough to have a breast care nurse to support her and the idea behind her Foundation was to provid one to every Australian woman diagnosed.
“It started at my house on a laptop,” Tracy says. “We wanted to have fun and help people at the same time but then we got a $1 million donation from MasterFoods and that’s when it got serious. We joked we better get some business cards printed!”
By June 2008 Jane’s health had deteriorated to the point she needed round-the-clock care. Tracy was by her side in her final days, still laughing and finding fun because the inseparable pair didn’t realise the end was so close.
“She looked me in the eye and said ‘don’t give up on me,’ and I told her I’d never give up on her,” Tracy says. “When Jane died I needed the Foundation. I had to make it work because, when we meet again, I want to be able to tell her I kept my promise.”
Tracy has succeeded: the Foundation has gone on to fund 185 breast care nurses and is on track for its goal of 250 nurses by 2025.
“I talk to her every day,” Tracy says. “I hear her saying ‘Bloody hell, Trace, can you believe it?’ She’d be so surprised at how big it’s got and so proud and honoured to have this legacy.”
Tracy says her friend would also feel enormous pride for her children.
James, now 22, and Holly, 20, were eight and six when she died and one of Jane’s biggest worries was they’d forget her. With godmother Trace around there seems little chance of that.
“Holly and James both have membership of the board. The Foundation is part of their DNA. The only thing Jane would be shattered by is that James isn’t likely to marry one of my girls [Liv or Amelia]! We always had plans to make that happen so we could be proper family.”
Tracy, who is happily single after an amicable divorce from hubby Michael eight years ago, will be celebrating Jane’s legacy for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.
“I miss her every single day,” she sighs. “But there are still one in five women going without a breast care nurse and I hear Jane telling me: ‘get your sleeves rolled up madam’ and that’s what we’ll do.”