Michelle Cavanagh hasn’t known a life without cancer.
Successfully treated for a brain tumour at four years old the Shellharbour resident then lost her best friend in primary school, Owen, to cancer.
Through her involvement with cancer charities and fundraising events like Relay for Life, she’s since met – and lost – many others with cancer.
Then two years ago her mother Cathy Herbert, a registered nurse, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was pretty scary,” Mrs Cavanagh, a learning support teacher, said. “As a result of me being sick so young, I’ve been involved with Camp Quality and CanTeen throughout my life and lost a lot of the friends I’ve made to cancer.”
She helped care for her mother while undergoing treatment – just like her mother had done for her almost three decades earlier.
Now the pair will help raise awareness and share their message of hope as ambassadors for this year’s Wollongong Relay for Life – which is just five weeks away.
“Michelle was diagnosed at the age of four with a brain tumour called cerebellar astrocytoma,” Mrs Herbert said.
“She was rushed to Sydney children’s hospital and after the six-hour surgery the surgeon told me that the tumour they took out was between the size of a passionfruit and a tennis ball.
“We were told that after surgery that she could be blind, or could have severe development delays or even die – but we were blessed and she had no side effects and needed no further treatment.
“I was diagnosed in 2016 aged 55 by the same doctor, our family GP, with a three centimetre tumour on my left breast, and had a lumpectomy and then chemo and radiotherapy – and Michelle helped me a lot.
“I got the results from my last mammogram and ultrasound last week and everything was normal. However we don’t take anything for granted – and we have a special celebration of being well every year.”
For the mother and daughter it’s always been important to give back – by raising funds for research and by being there to support others on their cancer journeys.
“Michelle will need to be checked for the rest of her life as we were told the type of tumour she had is erratic with a history of regrowth – and that it could come back in six months, two years, six years, 25 years,” Mrs Herbert said.
”Cancer does not discriminate. Anybody could get that phone call from their doctor. And we have lost many beautiful friends to cancer so understand the need for more awareness and funding – to get early diagnoses and even better treatments.”
The women also want people to know that “cancer isn’t always a death sentence” and will be proud to walk as ambassadors and survivors at the Wollongong relay event on September 15-16.
The event is in its 18th year, and organisers are hoping to attract 1500 participants and raise $250,000 for cancer services and support in the region.
Cancer Council NSW southern region representative Caitlyn Zalewski said the theme this year was ‘colour for a cure’.
“The theme reflects the many coloured ribbons designed to raise awareness of different cancers,” she said.
“It’s also a reminder for us that while there’s so many different types of cancer it’s important for us all to band together to support each other and fight for a cure.”
Registrations can be made on the day however Ms Zalewski encouraged people to register online to give organisers a good idea of numbers ahead of time.
To register or for details visit www.relayforlife.com.au or ring 4223 0200.