Rosemarie Hawke says that having a brain cancer diagnosis led her to question the way she was living her life, and to make some difficult decisions.
“Being diagnosed with brain cancer improved my life. Too many people don’t make the most of their life,” she believes. Now, she is more motivated than ever to help others out: through her participation in the Erina Brain Tumour Support Group, and by leaving a gift in her will to Cancer Council NSW.
Rosemarie’s life changed while overseas in 2010 when she experienced what would much later be explained as a complex partial seizure. Family members noticed Rosemarie became unaware of her surroundings for some moments. While her family thought she might have suffered a stroke, Rosemarie felt completely fine. Local doctors ruled out a stroke, but advised that more investigation was needed. Whilst hoping nothing was wrong, Rosemarie decided that any further investigations would be conducted in Australia. Permission to fly home was given once seizure medication was prescribed.
When Rosemarie returned to Australia, she went straight to hospital and the results of an MRI and discussions with a neurosurgeon shocked her. Despite feeling so well and having maintained a healthy and active lifestyle for 59 years, she was told that she had brain cancer and required surgery immediately.
Fortunately, the surgery went well, and the pathology identified the cancer as Grade II, which meant that no further treatment was required: just regular MRI reviews.
To cope with her diagnosis and surgery, Rosemarie did a lot of writing about how she was thinking and feeling. “It affected everything in my life,” she says and, as a result, she decided to make some major changes.
Rosemarie realised that to prioritise her health, she needed to resign from her job as a public servant in the ACT. She also made the difficult decision to separate from her husband, as they had been growing apart for some time. She then moved from Canberra to the Central Coast, to be closer to her parents and siblings.
After about a year, Rosemarie found that Cancer Council NSW ran a Brain Tumour Support Group in the Central Coast. She attended a meeting and found the forum was helpful for sharing experiences about diagnosis, surgery and medication, as well as strategies for living with brain cancer. She still attends their monthly meetings to “help others with some of the strategies I used to get me by” and because she enjoys being there for others and helping them to feel hopeful.
In August 2015, five years after the initial diagnosis, the cancer recurred. This time, the surgery was more extensive, and the pathology established that the cancer had evolved to a Grade lll, so follow-up treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy was required. Despite everything, Rosemarie remained optimistic. Following surgery, she wrote: “Living with uncertainty – that’s what we all do– always! … Accept the facts – I have brain cancer; at present, there is no cure; it has changed my life. I have so much to be thankful for.
When speaking about her experience, Rosemarie says, “Life is good. I learned that I needed to spend my time with people I wanted to be with, doing things I wanted to do.” Her cancer experience taught her to prioritise “me time”, eating well, and doing sports she enjoys. She has also become stronger, and learnt to stand up for herself and do what she wants without needing permission from others. “If I want to go and see my grandchildren, I should see my grandchildren,” she says. She shares an endless joy in learning, watching, seeing and doing what she loves with her grandkids, who are a source of inspiration for her to stay curious about the world.
Reflecting on her good fortune, Rosemarie is in a position where she “can do something for others”. She wants to continue to assist others into the future in as practical a way as possible. Rosemarie has found her support group to be of great help to her and others. That’s why she has decided to make a valuable contribution to ensuring such support is available to people in the future, by leaving a gift in her will to Cancer Council NSW. “It doesn’t make sense having flowers at a funeral. It is better doing something practical,” she believes. “Size doesn’t matter. It all adds up.”