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Newcastle Relay for Life ‘first without mum’ for brave Georgia

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In 2009, Georgia’s mum made her a promise that she’d live long enough to watch her graduate from high school. 

At the time, the Valentine youngster had barely started primary and life consisted of little more than chocolate milk, the school playground, Saturday netball and playing the piano.  

But, then her mum Cathy was diagnosed with Stage 4 (metastatic) breast cancer. 

The disease they’d thought was just a small lump in her breast, had in fact already spread into her hips, shoulders, back, skull, and worst of all, her bones. 

“Mum often described this to people like a gun was being held at her head and she had no idea when the trigger would be pulled,” says Georgia. 

“At the time of her diagnosis, I remember my parents sat me down in the living room and told me that they found the lump and that mummy has been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“This meant nothing to me as an eight-year-old girl, but I knew it sounded serious.” 

The first steps to tackling the cancer soon began, with Cathy undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstruction, and removal of her lymph nodes. 

“Mum now has massive scars over her breasts, which was when the real shock hit me,” says Georgia. 

And, it wasn’t just her mum’s appearance that changed. 

“I remember my dad, and mum’s closest friends, having to come and pick me up from primary school, taking me to get chocolate milk and then taking me to the hospital to visit my mum after school when most kids would go to after school sports or play-dates,” Georgia recalls. 

“My life became very different to the kids I was surrounded by, and this was hard for me to understand.”  

To those outside her world, however, the cancer was almost invisible, with her mum continuing to work long hours as an insurance broker, attend boxing classes at the gym, and take walks when she could. 

“I remember whenever I would tell people that my mum had cancer for the first time, they would respond with something along the lines of ‘wow she looks amazing’ or ‘holy moly she doesn’t look like she’s got cancer,” Georgia told the Newcastle Weekly

“I guess that was the scary part for me growing up – she never looked sick. 

“The only real change was her plethora of doctors and oncology appointments, scans, surgeries, naturopathy appointments and a massive change in her diet.” 

After her parents separated, and she reached her tweens, Georgia remembers becoming even closer to her mum. 

Georgia had her Year 12 graduation photos taken with her mum Cathy in the hospital as she neared the end of her battle with cancer.

While her dad continued to be the first person to check on her mum after surgeries, driving her to and from appointments and regularly checking in on her, the maternal bond between Georgia and Cathy continued to strengthen. 

“I was an only child, she became my best friend, we did everything together,” she said.

“From girls’ weekends in Sydney to see musicals, shopping dates, or even just playing Just Dance on the Wii every night. 

“Sure, we had our arguments as every mother-daughter duo does, but we would always get over them very quickly because we loved each other too much not to and couldn’t live without talking for over 10 minutes.” 

But, by 2019, as Georgia reached her final year of high school, Cathy was growing weary. 

The chemotherapy, radiotherapy, multiple surgeries, hair loss and weight loss were taking their toll on her body. 

“Mum always ‘had’ cancer, but it never really hit us until 2019,” says Georgia. 

“She spent more time in the hospital then she spent at home that year.” 

It was also the year Cathy’s sister Sue was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

So, while “the family’s world turned upside down”, Georgia completed her HSC, graduating with a score that would allow her to study physiotherapy at the University of Newcastle.

To mark the end of high school she was to embark on an overseas trip to Vanuatu with friends. 

“I was tossing up whether to go or not as mum was deteriorating quickly,” she recalls. 

“Mum, being her usual self, forced me to go and have a good time.  

“We were in and out of reception for the first five days of the trip and I was checking in with her whenever I could. 

“She always told me she was doing well, although I knew she wasn’t. 

“She wanted the best for me and nothing less, and was not letting her sickness stop me from enjoying my end of school trip.” 

Within days however Georgia got a phone call she says she’ll never forget. 

“Her best friend told me that mum had been transferred into ICU and that although I still had a over a week left of my trip, I needed to come home,” she said. 

She caught the plane home to Valentine the following day. 

“From here things went very downhill,” she says. 

“I got my formal pictures with mum in the hospital because by this stage she was too unwell to ever leave the hospital again. 

“About a week after this we lost my Auntie to brain cancer and mum couldn’t attend the funeral so had to watch it via live stream in hospital. 

“That was her own sister.” 

cancer
Relay for Life is an opportunity to honour those affected by cancer, like Georgia’s mum Cathy (above).

Then, on Christmas Day 2019 Cathy lost her 10-year battle with breast cancer. 

“She was finally out of pain,” Georgia says. 

“I remember almost praying that it wouldn’t happen on Christmas Day and by about midday I was hopeful. 

“’Any day but Christmas Day’ I kept thinking to myself. 

But, by 4pm she was holding her mum’s hand as she took her final breath. 

“She kept her promise to me and everyone around her – to see me graduate high school. 

“She was the strongest woman I have ever met, and the most kind-hearted, loving and supportive mother and best friend in the entire world.” 

Honouring her mother’s life and the strength with which she fought her 10-year battle with cancer is what continues to drive Georgia to participate in the Cancer Council NSW Newcastle Relay for Life.

The event has been a staple on the calendar every May since Cathy’s colleagues at Markey Insurance Brokers first formed a team more than a decade ago.

“Mum’s workmates have been taking part in ‘Walk for Cathy’ since I was a little girl,” says Georgia.

“That’s probably why this event is so special to me, it reminds me of mum.”

This year the 22-year-old will join a group walking for 24 hours around Glendale’s Hunter Sports Centre on Friday 4 and Saturday 5 May. 

The annual pilgrimage is a fun and moving experience that raises vital funds for the Cancer Council’s research, prevention and support services. 

It also offers a chance for the community to recognise and celebrate local cancer survivors, those going through a cancer experience and their carers. 

“It’s not about walking for 24 hours, it’s about spending time together remembering those affected by cancer.”

This year it’s hoped the 2024 Newcastle Relay for Life event will help raise $70,000 for Cancer Council.

For Georgia this year’s event is a deeply personal one.

“This will be the first one without mum,” she explains.

“The last few have been cancelled because of COVID, and then bushfire smoke, so this one is extra special to me.

“I’ll be picturing her there, and I’m sure a lot of other people will be thinking of people that were special to them, too.”

Newcastle Relay for Life will take place in Glendale on Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 May.

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