Return to Memory Box

Five ladies sit in a small room. Two walls are taken up by crowded bookshelves, and two by windows closed against the noise of traffic from the busy intersection outside.

Two of these ladies are professionals; one is a social worker, the other a psychologist. There is a device on the coffee table in the centre of the group from which, with the aid of Telstra, come the voices of two other ladies. One is not well enough to travel and the other lives in another town. That’s seven ladies altogether. They all have a bond and that bond is advanced breast cancer.

The purpose of the group meeting, for one hour each week, is to discuss the day-to-day experiences of living with this stage of the disease; to discuss various treatments, doctors, family and financial concerns and, on occasion, our fears of dying.

Kerry, a group member who lived in a rural area west of Brisbane, was always able to fill any awkward silences with interesting tidbits about her life. Like the time she and her husband won a weekend for two on the Gold Coast. Yes, we heard some juicy details.

Early on, Kerry told us of her ex-fiance who had died of cancer. At his funeral a white dove was released. A white feather floated down from the flying dove and landed on Kerry’s breast. The following week she learned she had cancer in that breast.

She told us she believed in animal ‘signs’. She said that the three dragonflies she had watched that morning buzzing at her kitchen window signified change coming.

One of the ladies listening in the room thought that this was all just a bit too fanciful for her, until the following day when she was presented with a gift for being a guest speaker at an unrelated breast cancer function. The gift was a dragonfly brooch.

Kerry inspired us for months with stories of her and her husband’s struggle to raise money to fit out a bus so that she could experience her fream of travelling around Australia before she died. Many people helped, notably her local member of parliament and the entrepreneur, Dick Smith.

Several of us travelled to an open day at Kerry and Brian’s home, aptly named Dragon’s Hollow. The walls of their lounge room were adorned with photos of their mediaeval-style wedding and certificates attesting to courses they had taken in mediaeval arts. We inspected the refit of the bus they had acquired through a local bus company. Brian had done all the work with some assistance from Kerry, and they were both very proud.

We then enjoyed a sausage sizzle as Kerry and Brian cut a cake decorated with a bus on an open road, and we wished them bon voyage. The local paper ran the story and included a photo of the neighbours, friends, family and the local MP all grouped in front of the bus which was emblazoned with the name ‘Dragon’s Express’. A south-east Queensland television program also took up the story. Kerry was no shrinking violet and obviously enjoyed the attention.

During out weekly sessions, Kerry phoned in to give us a glimpse of where they were and where they had been. She told us of her difficulties obtaining her prescription painkiller interstate and we pondered ways to get around this problem. It was probably the same for other people, we thought. This could be an issue that needs action.

Unfortunately, the trip was much shorter than Kerry and Brian had hoped. Kerry has since taken another journey to a place where she can’t phone us. She does send messages though.

The lady who had earlier been presented with the dragonfly brooch was travelling to Kerry’s funeral, running late and stressing that she was not on the right road. As she waited at the lights of an intersection, a car towing a boat pulled alongside. Being a bit of a boatie she looked it over. The name of the bow? ‘Dragonfly’. ‘All right Kerry’, she laughed. ‘I’ll calm down. This must be the right way!’

I have since seen a Kevin Costner movie that tells of a woman desperately trying to send a message to her husband from ‘beyond’. The name of the movie? You guessed it. Dragonfly.

This has been reproduced with persmission from the author and publisher. Taken from the book Armed with Chocolate Frogs – Living with advanced breast cancer. Kate Carey Productions