There aren’t many two-word terms loaded with the same stomach-lurching, life-halting force that the words “breast cancer” can illicit.
That's because, despite researchers’ best efforts, breast cancer, is still responsible for the deaths of eight women in Australia each day.
Not only that, but the survival rate for women with metastatic breast cancer (advanced, secondary or stage 4) is alarmingly low, with only one in four likely to to be alive five years after initially being diagnosed.
With each diagnosis, no matter the stage the cancer is categorised into, the painful weight of the disease has the potential to not only cruelly spread within those diagnosed with it, but it, too, can metastasise into the lives of the people watching their loved one suffering.
Such is the heartbreaking story of Mark Wood and his daughter Laura, who tragically lost their wife and mother, Anni, to breast cancer.
And, as Mark tells us, if he could do anything more to prevent this from happening to any other wife, mother, sister or daughter, it would begin with telling Anni’s story – and how, perhaps, he could’ve stopped the cancer before it was too late…
First, it was physical attraction; Anni had such a beautiful face. I noticed it straight away.
But that wasn’t all that was attractive about Anni. She loved people – she loved listening to people.
She also had a wonderful memory for names and events; people could have told her things years ago and she still would’ve remembered it.
Whenever she entered a room, it would just light up. That’s because after people spent time with her, they would always feel better. She had time for, and cared about, everyone.
We moved to Brisbane in 2000, having no friends or family here, and yet she had over 300 people at her funeral. It just showed what an attractive person she was in every way.
Anni was having a shower when she found a lump in her breast.
It was just before Christmas; the GP had made it pretty clear about what he thought this lump was – he didn’t pull any punches.
By that stage, our daughter Laura was five; she didn’t really understand what was going on and we didn’t really tell her all of it, partly because we didn’t quite know ourselves...
Anni had surgery in early January, followed by nine months of chemo and radiotherapy, and then nearly five years of remission.
This is a BIG milestone for anyone who has had breast cancer, so Anni was planning a party, but I was a bit dubious of that; I hate tempting fate.
Unfortunately a month before that milestone, Anni had a bit of backache. After a few scans, her doctors confirmed the worst: they had found both bone and liver cancer.
I ended up spending the next two years driving Anni around to appointments. I had a lot of different roles during that time – two of them were appointment secretary and driver. Anni had been diagnosed with brain cancer as well, and she’d had a couple of seizures, which stopped her from driving.
I always think about how Anni may have got a death sentence, but Laura got a life sentence with not having a mum for all those special times in her life. We’ve come to learn that the happy times are as difficult as the sad times.
The sad times including one that Laura and I were talking about this morning: Mother’s Day.
My message for husbands is to, well… nag. Nag your wife or partner to check themselves regularly. If someone thinks their body is changing, get checked!
All men should take the proactive step that I wish I had done – that is to nag Anni to get checked, or to get a mammogram, or to check herself.
Having felt that I was bulletproof and that I could fix any problem in the world, and then realising that I couldn’t - it was heartbreaking.
Laura used to have a little saying: “Daddy, sort it out.” I remember her saying that to me about Anni before she really understood what was happening.
“Daddy, sort it out.”
But... I couldn’t.