When Michelle Beattie’s hair began to fall out, she asked her five-year-old son Jackson if he would like to help her cut off the rest.
“I started chemotherapy and I explained to Jackson that I was going to lose my hair,” Michelle said.
“As soon as my hair fell out, I asked him if he wanted to cut it – it was a fun thing for him, but of course I was crying on the inside.”
It’s a snapshot of just one of many heartbreaking moments that Michelle and her family faced when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2016.
At the time, the 41-year-old mother of one was focused on working long hours, spending time with family and friends and trying to fit in as much travel as possible.
Michelle’s cancer story
When Michelle’s father died, she decided to leave a job that made her unhappy and accepted a position with Suncorp as a senior business analyst.
“When I got the job at Suncorp, I wanted to increase my insurance and the underwriters asked me to do a full medical,” Michelle said.
“I had an ultrasound and a mammogram, and right then and there they told me that I had breast cancer. They could tell because it had gone into my lymph nodes.”
The news caught Michelle by surprise, and she struggled with the uncertainty it brought.
“I can’t tell you the anxiety and the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis. You think you’re going to die,” she said.
Michelle underwent a mastectomy in March 2016, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
Although she continued to work as much as possible, Michelle needed to take time off to recover from her surgery.
“I’d just started my new position at Suncorp, I had no sick leave and I had no income coming in for six months,” Michelle said.
“We were just living off my husband’s wage – while that was doable, it was a bit tight.”
Michelle was able to access Cancer Council’s one-off, emergency financial assistance, which paid for some household bills.
“Getting that assistance from Cancer Council was a great help at the time – your financial position is a big thing to focus on when you should be able to just focus on getting better,” Michelle said.
Suncorp supporting people affected by cancer
Now four years on from her diagnosis, Michelle is back working full-time at with Suncorp. She is also a passionate member of the Brighter Futures Committee, which encourages and supports Suncorp employees to get involved with charity partners.
Suncorp has renewed its support for Cancer Council for the third year.
Michelle said supporting people affected by cancer is a cause many people at Suncorp are passionate about.
“We survey internally to decide what causes are close to people, and the charity partners are picked by the staff,” Michelle said.
“Cancer is one of the things where everyone knows someone that’s had cancer, it touches us all.
“It means a lot to me – I’m very passionate about Cancer Council and I’m so grateful that Suncorp allows me to be part of this.”
The partnership allows staff to take part in fundraising events like Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea and Daffodil Day, as well as workplace giving through the company’s payroll, with Suncorp generously dollar matching staff donations.
“Cancer Council is a great organisation to support – we all have someone we know whose been diagnosed with cancer, it’s such a devastating disease,” Michelle said.
Michelle is looking forward to marking five years since her diagnosis in 2021. In the meantime, she’s spending as much time as possible with her family and travelling to new places.
“Since the cancer, I’ve made a promise to myself to only go somewhere I’ve never been before because I want to see the world,” Michelle said.
“I have a great appreciation for being able to see the world, and things in general. I don’t work the crazy hours anymore – family comes first. When you’re faced with your own mortality you don’t sweat the small stuff anymore!”
She urged everyone to be aware of any changes to their breasts.
“If you have any lumps, bumps or dimpling in your breasts, get it checked,” she said.