Given only a short time, how do you impart a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, advice, and love to your children, family and friends?
When Anne Clifton’s friend Jenny died last January (2015) after a decade-long battle with breast cancer, her heart broke.
The pair had been friends since they met at nursing school in 1990 and together they had shared laughter and tears; none more so than on a Sunday in July 2005 when both women had life-changing news to share.
“I told her I was pregnant with my second child and she told me she had breast cancer,” Anne said.
Anne was blindsided.
“When Jenny told me she had Grade 4 Inflammatory breast cancer, we both swore a bit; I knew that diagnosis meant you had three or four years if you were lucky.”
Jenny was adamant that she would beat her cancer and her friends, including Anne, rallied around her.
“Once diagnosed, we started going for girls’ weekends at the beach every three or six months and if we couldn’t get away we’d go for long, long lunches. It was a chance for us to just be us, we didn’t talk about cancer, we just talked about normal things,” Anne said.
After a mastectomy and intensive treatment program, Jenny went into remission.
“We had a big celebration; we celebrated life and our kids, getting back to normal for a while and getting hair on one’s head!”
Back at work, Jenny took on a role working as a breast care nurse at Mater where she offered care and support to other women diagnosed with breast cancer.
She celebrated their milestones and held their hands through each setback.
Tracy Bevan on how she has kept Jane McGrath's memory alive for her kids. (Post continues after audio.)
But Jenny’s battle wasn’t over and four years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors gave the mother-of-two the news she feared most; the cancer had spread to her liver and bones.
At this time, Jenny had the chance to work with counsellor Judith Gordon to make a memory box for her family and friends.
Judith, a creative arts therapist, offers guidance and support to women with terminal breast cancer at Mater, by helping them to create special memory boxes to pass on memories, mementos, cards and letters to their loved ones.
For these women, preparing to say goodbye is difficult, especially for those who will have to say goodbye to their children.
“Grief is not about forgetting the person who has died; it's about finding ways to remember them and take their memory forward,” Judith said.
“It can be difficult for children to hold on to their memories, so by putting together a memory box, mums can leave their children with stories, photos, much-loved items and reminders of their life together which they can keep forever.”