Vanessa Juresic was known for always needing to have the last word.
Which is why when the 36-year-old Sydney woman felt her stage four triple negative breast cancer was about to claim her life, she wrote a letter to be read aloud at her funeral.
It was a heartbreaking yet inspiring letter, filled with her own regrets as well as the four biggest “learnings” she wished to pass on to her family and friends. Following her death on May 11, her family have chosen to share the letter online.
In the letter, which was read by her friend Lisa Mayoh, Vanessa said that not even in her “worst nightmares” had she dreamed that she’d be leaving the world so soon.
“I wanted to be the miracle kid on the front cover of National Geographic but that wasn’t meant to be. Someone up there must need me more for some reason. To look over you all.”
In a tribute to her partner, Patrick, who she described as "love of my life", she beautifully wrote that their souls would always have each other and that "real love stories never end."
"I dreamt of a big beautiful family with you, to grow old with you and I hate that this insidious disease ripped our dreams away from us."
Vanessa said apart from missing out on having children, she regretted that she was not able to do more to "make a difference". She was diagnosed with far-progressed cancer in 2017 and died 15 months later.
And although she said she wished she'd had more time to "appreciate every Christmas, birthday, Olympics, election, glass of fine wine, bowl of pasta and serve of apple crumble" - her message to her family was not to live like they were dying.
"Terminal or not you should be reaching for the stars, taking advantage of the amazing life you’ve been handed. Not because you might die!"
"Dying is easy. Life is hard..but ridiculously rewarding. Challenge yourself."
Following Vanessa's diagnosis, a GoFundMe page was set up so she could go on one last "adventure". The money raised - so far more than $33,000 - will now go to The Garvin Institute for research.
You can read Vanessa's full letter, which ends with a poem by Jim Howard:
"If you knew me, you know I always wanted to have the last word. I’m sure in most circumstances this was an exceptionally annoying trait, but I’m hoping at times, endearing?
Today is no different.
Life is so fragile and so beautiful. Never in my worst nightmares would I have ever imagined I would be taken so soon — ripped away from every single beautiful person here.
I wanted to be the miracle kid on the front cover of National Geographic, but that wasn’t meant to be. Someone up there must need me more for some reason — to look over you all.
I had so much more to do. I wanted to join boards, write more policy and change the world for the better, fundraise more, mentor and ‘make a difference’ as they say.
So I’m going to give it a go here instead and give you my learnings from my short life.
What would I have told my pre-cancer self if I knew my end was so near? What would I have appreciated more? What advice would I give to my loved ones?
If you want something, go get it, now — trust me, you don’t want to be writing this letter. Stop procrastinating.
There are three rules:
• If you do not go after what you want, you will never have it.
• If you do not ask, the answer will always be no.
• If you do not step forward, you will remain in the same place.
And most importantly, my golden rule:
In a world where you can be anything ... be kind. And don’t let anyone make you cruel. No matter how badly you want to give the world a taste of its own bitter medicine, it is never worth losing yourself.
You never know what struggle someone is going through in their own lives.
In the past year, I learnt that more than ever. Trivial things which bothered people paled into insignificance while fighting cancer. It made me want to shake people and say, ‘if it won’t matter in five years, don’t waste five more minutes on it’ … but it’s all about perspective and finding my inner kind and understanding got me through that struggle.
In a weird way I consider myself lucky despite some serious struggles in the past decade. Everything was a lesson and everything made me stronger ... more understanding of people and appreciation of what I do have.
The love and support I got while sick was gobsmacking. The gifts, the money raising, the calls, texts and overall lovefest really helped me get through the journey. I had no idea so many people cared — about me, and my family.
My appreciation will never be able to be put into words but know each act of kindness touched my soul.
We’re all impeccably lucky here. We have all had a world-class education, upbringing and opportunity — so much opportunity. We’re in the minority.
I said at my grandmother’s funeral that we don’t realise it. She had my father in a refugee camp. No fancy private hospital doctors or drugs. In the ’40s you were lucky to graduate from Year 3. I picked my degree out of a glossy mag — the vast gap and obvious opportunity I’ve been handed is just unreal comparably.
I ate the best food, travelled to the four corners of the world, surrounded myself with some of the best humans to ever grace this earth and thrived on a challenging career — what more could a girl want?
Yes I wanted a family of my own, a long healthy life with the love of my life, Patrick.
More travel, more time to appreciate every Christmas, birthday, Olympics, election, glass of fine wine, bowl of pasta and serve of apple crumble.
But I’m not going to say to you to appreciate all these things in case you die. That’s too predictable. Instead I say don’t over analyse life and fear a horrible fate. Just live your full, wonderful lives and don’t give mortality a second thought.
I was unlucky, but you are not.
Terminal or not you should be reaching for the stars, taking advantage of the amazing life you’ve been handed. Not because you might die!
Dying is easy. Life is hard … but ridiculously rewarding. Challenge yourself.
Do that gym session you think you can’t do, or run that half marathon.
Travel to that random country, challenge your boss.
Girls, smash that glass ceiling and stop trying to fit into glass slippers.
Go for that job — eat that Christmas pudding and enjoy it. Over indulge in happiness — because you’re alive, not because you might die.
Don’t settle. At work, in that relationship — with anything. Keep fighting to get what you want. The best decisions I made in life weren’t easy, but they were the ones where I found the strength to not settle.
And the happiness and sense of achievement I got in return was worth the pain.
I only wish I’d figured this out earlier in life. God always opened up a window when I knew shutting the door was the right thing to do, so trust and this will happen for you too. Don’t be scared. Life is short.
I loved people. There are so many extraordinary and complex amazing people to absorb and discover in the world. Notice them.
I hope even today — a day which is traditionally supposed to be a sad day — that I can provide a link, for everyone here.
Be with each other.
Find comfort in each other.
Reach out and touch somebody today. For me. Remember me.
I would have loved nothing more than to be with you all with a cold glass of wine in hand, celebrating life.
Introduce yourself and hug my Mum, Dad, brother and sister, then go home and hug your family — say hello to someone you don’t know today. I guarantee every person here is an amazing individual.
To my family, I was who I was because of you. The love I was afforded was second to none and if only every child was given that kind of stable love, this world would be a better place.
Continue to love each other just as much as I loved every single one of you.
Organise all those annoying dinners I would insist on and remember that family always comes first. At birth, and all the way through to death. We’re one.
You’ve done everything for me. Now focus on you and your lives! We’ve never seen tragedy like this. Make your bond stronger through it!
Patrick — you made me the happiest I have ever been. You changed my life.
I dreamt of a big beautiful family with you, to grow old with you and I hate that this insidious disease ripped our dreams away from us.
I’ll always be in your soul and you in mine. Nothing can ever take that away from us.
Real love stories never end.
To every other single person in this room — each and every one of you touched my life in some special way, and I hope I touched yours too.
Don’t forget those moments and notice future moments with each other — they’re important. Trust me.
Duncan Gay, a former Nationals politician and my old boss, was a man I looked up to. A man who believed in me and mentored me. On his exit from Parliament recently, he quoted Winnie the Pooh, and I couldn’t agree more with what he said:
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Thank you for coming today. I hope I’m here in spirit. If there is a way I can look over all of you and give a good word to the big fella I will, particularly when it comes to the Tigers or Man United winning a season.
I love you all and miss you already.
This isn’t goodbye though — it’s ‘see you soon’.
Until we meet again
Where I have gone I am not so small, my soul is as wide as the world is tall.
I have gone to answer the call, the call of the One who takes care of us all.
Wherever you look, you will find me there, in the heart of a rose, in the heart of a prayer.
On butterflies' wings, on wings of my own, to you, I'm gone but I'm never alone. I am home.