Everyone finds their own way of working through a cancer journey. For Kate, there were two: writing and Relaying.
These helped Kate make it through two of the most difficult periods of her life.
In 2008, Kate was a healthy mum of two young daughters and working as a hairdresser. Apart from sadly losing an uncle to cancer when she was a child, her life had largely been free from the disease’s devastating impacts.
Then one day, when she was cutting the hair of a client who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, Kate was prompted to check herself for any lumps.
She found one.
“It just steamrolled from there,” Kate said. At 27 years old, with daughters aged one and three, Kate was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
Kate during treatment, pictured with her two daughters Gemma and Bree.
“When you actually hear the words, ‘You’ve got cancer’, the world does completely stop.”
With her only personal experience of cancer being from the uncle who had passed away, Kate’s immediate thoughts turned to the worst.
“I thought, ‘Oh God, I’m going to die and I’ve got two daughters, I’m going to leave my husband alone,’” she said.
“I was angry. I was scared.”
Kate carried those emotions with her through a mastectomy, six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, as well as further treatments of Herceptin.
This was not an easy time. Kate relied on the support of her husband – as well as Cancer Council Victoria’s support services which people like you make possible. But Kate also turned to her diary.
“I wrote the entire time,” she said. “That was very much my therapy. I felt such a burden on others, and I didn’t want to be sooky or whiny, so I put it down on paper.”
While writing became Kate’s personal therapy, she found another, more public one through a friend: Relay For Life – a community-led event where teams fundraise and walk the Relay track all day to celebrate, remember and fight back against cancer.
“My chemo buddy and her family were doing it, so I went along to my first one,” Kate said.
“We walked all night and it’s just taken off from there. The committees, everyone at Relay For Life just wrap themselves around you and help you out. It’s a community.”
With all this support on her side Kate made it through more than 18 months of treatment to become cancer free. But knowing just how important Relay For Life is to people who have been affected by cancer, she continued walking the Relay track, at both her local Ballarat event and one in Gippsland, where she grew up.
“I always say ‘by doing something as simple as walking – you can make such a big difference’,” Kate said.
“It’s worth all the blisters. Some people don’t get the chance to keep walking, so that’s a tiny little thing that we can do.”
Her writing also extended far beyond what she had expected. A chance meeting with a publisher at a hairdressing convention led to Kate becoming an author, launching her first book, ‘The Breast is Yet to Come’, in 2012.
But the full importance of her writing and Relaying would only return when her husband Bob was diagnosed with renal cancer, five years after Kate’s diagnosis.
Kate and her husband, Bob.
“We got on the rollercoaster again,” Kate said. “When Bob was diagnosed, I curled up into a ball straight away – I couldn’t believe we were doing this again."
“But then it just flipped. I knew he was there for me the first time around; he was my rock, and I had to be his rock this time.”
She did so, once more turning to writing to work through her thoughts and emotions. The story of her second experience with cancer turned into a sequel to her first book, the newly released ‘Thanks for the Mammaries’.
Once again, writing, Relay and supporting each other saw Bob get through his diagnosis. “He’s now minus a kidney, but he’s all good,” Kate says.
While Kate’s writing is so far largely confined to her cancer experiences, she continues to Relay in Ballarat. After COVID-19 interrupted their 2020 event, she can’t wait to get back on the track to raise money for cancer research this year.
“Research for me is key,” she said. “I hope in my lifetime I get to hear them say that we’ve found a cure, but treatment is just getting better every day, so research is a big thing for me. I’m going to make a difference!”
Find your nearest Relay For Life event and learn more about this incredible community event!
Visit the Relay For Life website
Get your copy of ‘Thanks for the Mammaries’ and read more about Kate’s amazing journey at kategaleauthor.com.