''I'm still alive,'' Jennie Colacino would shout, sometimes rather feebly, from her front verandah at Stanwell Park overlooking the blue expanse of the Tasman Sea.
The daily ritual was an affirmation of life and sometimes, a cry of defiance against the forces ravaging her body. It was heard by few, except herself and husband Leigh.
The simple-yet-powerful phrase became a mindset that would help Jennie navigate her way through years of cancer treatment, recovery and setbacks. The positive outlook was shared by Leigh, who put his career as an artist on hold to take up the challenging role of full-time carer.
Today Jennie is indeed still alive, after surviving cancer in her colon, liver, peritoneum and lungs, all of which required a total of 22 surgical procedures on her body.
Since Jennie regained her health, although some medical problems persist, the Colacinos have actively given back to the medical system that helped saved her life. They also provide support to others with cancer, promoting their positive message of never giving up.
The Colacinos' world changed when Jennie, a former deputy principal of Helensburgh Public School, first noticed symptoms of being unwell in 2004. She was otherwise a healthy 51-year-old.
"I was just feeling tired and my husband was telling me I looked a little bit yellow," she recalls.
"I went to the doctor. I actually wasn't feeling very well but I didn't recognise it because I hadn't been feeling well for a long time. I would come home, have dinner and then fall asleep."
She had a colonoscopy, thinking the outcome would be no more serious than being advised to take a dose of vitamins and some rest. If only the news had been that good.
"Two hours later, I was in shock," she says.
"The doctor came out and told me that he had found a tumour and that I had cancer. I thought it was OK because it was a colorectal tumour and it probably hadn't gone to my liver and if they cut it out, I would be OK.
"I had to come home and tell our children, who were 16 [Jessica] and 21 [Peter] at the time and that was very, very hard to tell them I had cancer."
The following day, more testing revealed she had a large tumour on her liver.
"So then I had to go home and tell my children that it was probably not going to be OK because, by then, two doctors had told me I only had weeks to live."
Yet it was then that Jennie and Leigh decided they would approach her illness in a positive way, refusing to accept the prognosis that she would die.
"I wasn't really upset, I saw it as a challenge," she says. "I thought to myself: 'OK, they have told me but it's not going to happen because I have a wonderful husband, two great children and a job that I love'."
With the help of family GP Dr Annette Beaufils, the Colacinos went in search of a surgeon who could help them with what had been described as inoperable tumours.
They found Professor David Morris, the Professor of Surgery at the University of NSW and at St George Hospital Kogarah.
"We got the scans together and went to see this doctor," she says.
"He was either going to say to me: 'You will die, you've got a couple of weeks to live or maybe I can do something.'
"Anyway, luckily, he looked at the scans and he just went: 'Oh yes, I think I'll give this a go'."
Jennie leapt up and kissed him with joy.
The surgery was lengthy and substantial. While Jennie was on the operating table it was discovered she also had peritoneal cancer, which hadn't previously shown up on the scans.
Prof Morris, a leading surgeon and researcher in cancer treatment, was at the time the only specialist in the country who could perform the complex 20-hour peritonectomy surgery that could potentially save Jennie's life. Jennie also underwent a liver resection, in addition to colon and peritoneal surgery.
Afterwards, an oncologist told the Colacinos that Jennie had three months to live.
"I said to him: 'I don't believe you'," she says.
"He said to me that I would have to tell my husband. And I replied: 'I don't intend telling him that because that's not my plan. You will have to tell him that'."
Upon hearing the grim news, Leigh immediately went to see to Prof Morris, who said there was hope for Jennie because she had undergone the peritonectomy procedure yet there were doubts about the future of the costly surgery in NSW due to government funding problems.
"Leigh saw that as a bit of a challenge and he said to David: 'This isn't fair that my wife has had this operation and other people won't be able to have it so I'm going to get you funding for the unit.
"How much money do you need?'."
Jennie weighed a fragile 38 kilograms and was very unwell after she left hospital. She couldn't walk. She couldn't eat. Chemotherapy was soon to begin.
"Leigh looked after me like I was a baby," she recalls. "He had to feed me, wash me and carry me around. He did that for several years because I kept getting new tumours in my lungs."
Prof Morris treated Jennie's nine lung tumours using radiofrequency ablation. He even invented the probe, which is used widely today, that creates radiofrequency energy to produce heat and destroy the tumour tissue.
Jennie was one of the first patients upon whom Prof Morris trialled the new treatment, performed by a radiologist under general anaesthetic, which was designed for lung cancer patients with secondary tumours and little chance of survival.
"I said to him: 'By this stage you can do whatever you like to me. I trust you. You have always saved my life'," she recalls.
"In fact I said to him from the very beginning that I was happy to be a guinea pig. Being a teacher, I was interested in education and research. I was happy for him to do whatever he thought would save me. I would do anything to be alive. And I did."
Jennie would spend a lot of time in a hospital bed in the fight to remain alive. She had a second liver resection, gallbladder removal, several procedures to have chemotherapy ports inserted and there were some complications with the lung treatment.
Yet, when she started to feel better, her instinct to help others started to kick in. She began part-time administrative work in Prof Morris's office at the public St George Hospital, remaining in that job for six years.
"I didn't want to be a teacher any more because I couldn't physically do it," she says.
"It was too demanding and David [Prof Morris] and the people in his office were understanding of my ongoing medical problems."
This gave her the opportunity to talk to other cancer patients and show them that there was hope after a chronic illness diagnosis.
"Working for David was so good for me because I was able to help other patients," she says.
"They were able to say to me: 'What will happen when this is done to me?' and 'What will it feel like?' Because I had had it all, I was able to tell them."
The Colacinos became close to Prof Morris and now regard him as family.
"He is like an uncle in the family to our kids," she says. "He and his wife are very good friends of ours. I really admire what he does. He saves people's lives every day and I was happy to be a small cog in the wheel."
For the past couple of months, Jennie has taken up a new challenge working in theatre administration at St George Hospital. She regularly sees Prof Morris, who built the hospital's peritonectomy unit to an international standing, as he continues to operate there two days a week.
"David is coming to Jennie's 60th in March," adds Leigh. "I spoke to him and I said: 'You understand there is our children and then you'. That's how highly we regard him."
The past nine years have also been tough on Leigh, elected to Wollongong City Council as a Liberal councillor in September 2011, as he remained by his wife's side throughout her illness, never missing a hospital appointment with her.
Tough, he says, because he had to watch his best friend - the Colacinos have been together for 39 years and married for 37 years - endure so much pain and not know what the next day would hold.
During one of the darkest days, Jennie suffered anaphylaxis in hospital after her body reacted to chemotherapy medication. The episode has left her with impaired hearing in one ear, balance problems and nerve damage in her fingers and toes.
"There's no use worrying about it, I'm alive," says Jennie. "I'm alive, I could be dead. I'm about to turn 60. But I couldn't have done it without Leigh."
Every day the couple has spent together has been viewed as precious and celebratory.
When Jennie was well enough, they flew to Paris for a reprieve from medical appointments and then headed across to Newcastle upon Tyne in England for a Van Morrison concert. They were seated fourth row from the front, in the middle.
When the singer played Moondance, which the Colacinos have adopted as their song, the couple got out of their seats and started dancing, which is not the usual concert etiquette at a Van Morrison performance, such was their joie de vivre.
"When we sat down, the whole band on stage turned around and nodded to us," recalls Leigh.
Jennie also believes there was a purpose to emerge from her suffering.
"I think I got sick so that Leigh could get that money for David to help other people."
Shortly after Jennie's major surgery was performed, Prof Morris told Leigh that the future of the peritonectomy program at St George Hospital was in doubt because he was struggling to get funding from the state and federal governments for the specialist surgery.
"I said I would see what I could do and that I would fight for the unit," Leigh says.
Leigh was not an expert on cancer, nor was he experienced in politics. Yet Leigh met with health bureaucrats and politicians.
The life-saving procedure costs $100,000 per patient.
By 2008, after three years of Leigh's lobbying, the unit had received $12 million of government funding. Leigh estimates that amount is now standing at around $54 million and 100 patients a year are now given the opportunity to survive.