Tuesday, 4 October 2011


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I received an email from my favourite cousin N yesterday, which has me reflecting on the concept of bravery. N and I are only 4 months apart in age, and are consequently very close. While my sister and I are quite close in age, N’s siblings are quite a bit older than her. As we were growing up we frequently spent our school holidays staying with each other’s families. The bond between us has continued into our adulthood, despite the widely diverging life paths we have each followed.

Two years ago, events transpired that changed both of us forever. For me, it was my father’s diagnosis with an aggressive brain tumour. For N, it was her own diagnosis with lymphoma. As events would have it, the end stage of my father’s illness coincided with N’s own period of investigation and diagnosis.

And it is from this standpoint that N’s truly remarkable story comes into its own. Firstly, I cannot even begin to comprehend how one faces, adjusts to and accepts this type of diagnosis when one is the mother of 3 young children – one of whom has a life-defining illness which has already meant an unanticipated journey as a family. I can only imagine that it is one thing to try and come to terms with one’s own mortality – but how much more difficult does that become when it is overlaid with the need to consider what the outcomes might be for your children if your treatment is unsuccessful? Secondly, how can one possibly find a way to continue on with the same optimism and vitality that is so much an inherent part of your personality?

Which brings me back to the concept of bravery – whilst N did not complete any of those treacherous or amazing feats that our society usually classifies as brave, what she did was much more subtle and enduring. She remained true to herself. Be that being wife to J, mum to her three children, loved daughter, distance university student, and available support to me during the end-stage of my father’s illness, the essence of N never waivered. I know that there were dreadfully hard times which she and J faced throughout her treatment process. But I also know the immense effort that she put in continually over many months to show that smiling face to the world.

So, here we are nearly 2 years on, and happily N is in remission. Having continued with her studies throughout her treatment, N has recently added a Graduate Diploma in teaching to her original degree in communications. I had enough trouble fitting study into my life successfully – I can’t even begin to imagine how one balances a study load with rounds of chemotherapy, blocks of prac-teaching and trying to retain a semblance of normal family life. She is also now well on the way to completing a Masters degree in teaching. Taking to her new profession like a duck to water, work offers are now flooding in for her.

N said to me in her email, “After all I have been through I appreciate and get excited about the smallest things. It has been a humbling few years I must say”.

Well, I appreciate and get excited about the times ahead for my cousin and her family. It is her bravery that has been humbling and inspiring for me…

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