Gillian, 68

Mother, international dragon boat racer & breast cancer survivor, CANBERRA

After losing her mother to breast cancer when a child, and her adult sister, Mary, to the same disease, Gillian was diagnosed with grade one tubular carcinoma in 2009, then aged 62.   

Before her diagnosis, Gillian had joined the Dragons Abreast Australia community to support her sister throughout her breast cancer treatment.

Despite her strong family history of breast cancer, Gillian was shocked to learn she was living with breast cancer, but adamant to fight the disease with all her might.

Her passion for dragon boating, coupled with unswerving support from her husband, motivated her to have an immediate mastectomy.

Now six years post- diagnosis, Gillian has competed in four world championship dragon boat races and is a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness.

This is Gillian’s story.

“I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was 12 years of age,” said Gillian.

“My younger sister, Mary, also passed away at age 62, after battling the disease for 13 years.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I kind of felt like it was my turn, given my strong family history of the disease,” Gillian said.

“I also felt numb and shocked, because I was the eldest daughter in our family, and had given birth to my own daughter at age 33.”

Nonetheless, Gillian considers herself fortunate to have received an early breast cancer diagnosis, due to having regular mammograms at her GP’s recommendation.

“Unlike my sister, I received an early diagnosis.

“Mary didn’t deal with her cancer very well, and denied the disease until a very late stage,” said Gillian. 

“I thought my sister was foolish for not dealing with her cancer, so when I received my diagnosis, I chose to simply get on with it.”    

Gillian subsequently elected to undergo an immediate mastectomy and continued to have five years of daily hormone therapy treatment.                                                 

“I didn’t give much thought to my mastectomy on a day-to-day basis because I was fortunate enough to be fit.

“So as soon as I could, I jumped back on my dragon boat and headed to the world championships,” Gillian said.

Before she learned she was living with breast cancer, Gillian joined Dragons Abreast Australia to support Mary in her battle through cancer.

“Although Mary was never well enough to be on a dragon boat, just being by the water was important to her, as we grew up by the water, and that’s where she went to meditate. 

“Dragons Abreast Australia is an organisation linked to BCNA. It was established with the aim of encouraging women post breast cancer treatment, to do something positive for their wellbeing, to benefit women in a holistic way,” said Gillian.

Gillian also regards For Benefit Medicines – Australia’s first ‘for-profit’ pharmaceutical company – as an important initiative for the breast cancer community.

“For Benefit Medicines is a great initiative that deserves the local breast cancer community’s full support.

“After my surgery, I was placed on daily hormone therapy medication for five years. This is a treatment many people follow and it’s important to know that the profits from this medication will be directed back into cancer,” Gillian said.  

“By choosing a FBM product, people will be investing in local patient support programs today, and medical research for tomorrow.”