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Real Life

Winners of Take 5's Best Friend competition share the secret to staying close for decades

It's a friendship like no other.

By Mitchell Jordan

Pat Lewis, 61, from Sydney, NSW shares her heart-warming story:

Mustering every ounce of strength I had, I threw the javelin and watched it sail through the air.
I'd done well, but my best friend Joanne stole the show and won first place, while I came in fourth.
"Maybe one day we'll get to share the podium together," I smiled, congratulating her on another gold medal.
We'd met at six years old in primary school and had been inseparable ever since.
Sport was our passion and we spent every spare minute practising javelin and discus.
Joanne became an Australian champion in javelin while a knee injury at 21 meant I had to stop competing.
I was happy to watch and cheer Jo on.
We both married and became mums and although our lives were busier than ever, we still made time to see each other each week.
I'd just fallen pregnant with my second child when my husband, Mark, a Navy officer, learned that he'd have to travel to Iraq as part of the Gulf War.
Although I knew the risks of a job like his, I felt incredibly anxious and worried about him going away – especially when our son, Bradley, was only three.
"I'll be fine," Mark assured me.
We met at school. Joanne is in the back row, I'm on the second row from the back. (Image: Supplied)
Each day, Joanne would check up on me.
She was also pregnant, so we could compare stories.
With Bradley, I'd had Mark to help with my pregnancy so I welcomed my best friend's company more than ever.
As months passed and my belly grew, I feared the worst might happen.
Sure enough, Mark had to stay longer in Iraq and wouldn't be back for the birth of our bub.
"Don't worry, I'll be there with you," Joanne said.
And when I gave birth to our gorgeous girl Kate, my best mate was by my side.
"Would you be her Godmother?" I asked her.
"Of course," she smiled.
Not long after, she had a girl of her own named Nicole.
Luckily, Mark returned to Australia not long after.
"Let me mind the kids," Joanne insisted, making sure Mark and I could have some time together.
Our two families were so close that my kids all referred to her as Aunty Jo.
During my pregnancy with Kate (Image: Supplied)
Joanne was still competing in sport and collecting medals, which made me happy.
While I'd love to have been out there on the field with her, I was thrilled that she was still doing what she loved.
Then, one day, I was watching The Midday Show when I saw an interview with an athlete from the Australian Masters Games, a sporting event for older sports people.
Suddenly, I had an idea.
If those athletes could be out there competing, perhaps I could too?
I called Joanne.
"There's something I want to do – and I don't want to do it alone," I began.
Joanne listened to me attentively and agreed.
We travelled to Brisbane and competed in the next Australian Masters Games.
Joanne won gold in the javelin and discus while I scored silver in the shot put and a bronze in discus.
"At last, we're on the podium together!" I cried.
We continued to do everything together, no matter how small.
Us at the Javelin Australian Masters in Brisbane, 1999. Joanne (middle) won a gold medal. (Image: Supplied)
But when it was time for my routine mammogram, I went alone, thinking it would be the same as every other year.
This time, the doctor found a tiny spot and insisted on more tests.
"I'm sorry," the doctor began.
I was shocked to learn that, at age 53, I had triple-negative breast cancer.
Fear gripped me as I remembered my aunty, who'd died from cancer in her forties.
I'm a goner, I thought, fearing leaving my family behind.
As soon as I was home, I called Joanne.
I'd planned to tell her gently, but hearing her sweet voice on the other end was enough for me to burst into tears and cry uncontrollably.
"Pat, we'll get through this," she soothed, offering to take me to chemo.
"And if any of your appointments fall on a day I'm working, I'll take the day off!"
I was hesitant.
In hospital after cancer treatment. (Image: Supplied)
Chemo was traumatic and I didn't want Joanne to suffer watching that.
"No way," she insisted. "We're going through this together."
For the next 18 weeks, she took me to every appointment and wouldn't leave the house until she was sure I was comfortable.
Thankfully, a year later, I learned the breast cancer had gone but my body was so ravaged from the treatment that I'd developed blood cancer, liver problems and neurological conditions.
I might only have 10 years left, but I wasn't going to dwell on it.
Kate and I participated in a fun run to raise money for breast cancer research and afterwards I felt pain down my left side.
Next thing, an ambulance was arriving.
"You've had a heart attack," a doctor advised.
I was in hospital for days but Joanne, along with Mark and the kids, never left my side.
Me, Joanne and family at a celebration to mark surviving my heart attack. (Image: supplied)
Now, 55 years after we first met, Jo and I are still as close as ever and have never had a single argument.
We grew up together and now our kids will too.
So when I saw Take 5's Best Friend competition, I knew I had to enter her.
I could have fainted when I discovered we'd won!
Joanne's taught me that no matter what life has in store for me, I can count on her to be there for me.
She's got a heart of gold and I can't think of a better best friend to be rewarded for their kindness.
My best friend, Jo (left), and I. (Photo: Are Media Syndications/Phillip Castleton)

Joanne tells Take 5:

Pat's been through so much all her life, but she's a very strong girl who's made me strong ... stronger than I would ever be!
Most people in her condition would just sit back but she insists on doing everything for everyone.
It's been a lovely friendship.

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