Gillian Marks

 

"I learnt I had breast cancer after a routine mammogram that was squeezed into a relaxing shopping excursion with my identical twin sister, Gayle. We had a lovely evening, went shopping, had some food, caught up and got checked together.  

When the clinic called to say I needed to come back, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t have any lumps and I didn’t think I showed any symptoms – cancer hadn’t really crossed my mind.

Initially I was told I had grade one tumour that would likely be removed simply, but after surgery I was told it was bigger than expected – 2.8cm. I was then told I would need chemotherapy – that’s when it really hit me. I was shocked. Gayle and I are really close and she was also devastated.

I vowed to fight, but then I was hit with the news that my partner’s niece passed away from breast cancer while I was still undergoing treatment. It was a massive blow and one of the toughest parts of my experience. That’s when I started using the counselling services provided by Cancer Council. It was a really dark time for me and having that support had a huge impact on my ability to cope. The counselling wasn’t the only thing that helped. Through Cancer Council’s groups I also found some life-long friends who were going through the same thing – I still talk to them regularly today.

My family were also amazing – particularly my partner and sister. Tony proposed to me after my diagnosis and was amazingly dedicated throughout my treatment and still is today. My daughter Holly was tough on the outside but I could see the impact my illness was having on everyone – it’s hard not to. When she headed off on her first solo overseas trip to Europe after completing her HSC, I couldn’t see her off at the airport like other mothers – I said goodbye from a hospital bed.

Whilst I feel lucky that my treatment worked, I still cope every day with the ongoing side-effects. I experience ongoing chronic pain and migraines, I’ve developed an auto-immune disease, and as a consequence of these, depression. But you have to get on with things – it is what it is.

I’d been working as a property administrator at Goodman Group, a global industrial property company for a year before my treatment. But because of the impact of my treatment, I needed two years off work.

I’m very lucky that Goodman has been amazingly supportive throughout my cancer journey. The income insurance that the company provided as a part of my salary package, allowed me to return to work part time, once I was able to. I was also offered a new role that I’m truly passionate about, working with the Goodman Foundation. My new job allows me to work four days a week including one day from home. Work has been so flexible in accommodating my needs, but not everyone who has had cancer is so lucky.

Working when you experience ongoing pain is a challenge – but when you have the opportunity to give back, it is possible to stay motivated and push through the hard times.

This year my employer, Goodman joined with our neighbours at 60 Castlereagh Street, Shaw and Partners, and with the support of our building manager Dexus, hosted our first Biggest Morning Tea to raise money for Cancer Council. Both Goodman and Shaw and Partners committed to donating $25,000 each to the cause and we raised over $55,000 - an amazing effort!  

Putting on a morning tea for 500 – 600 people is no small task, but people within the office, including others who have experienced cancer first hand, all worked together and it was a great success. A lot of companies have individual morning teas, but sharing one throughout the building created a great sense of community.

I feel truly lucky to work for a company that has not only allowed me to return to the workplace after cancer treatment, but has also found ways that I can work with my colleagues to give back to a cause that supported me when I really needed it. Cancer Council was there with me during my cancer experience and I am always happy to share my story to help others in a similar situation know that the Cancer Council is there for them too!

We are hoping our Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea will continue to grow each year – and it’s a great thing to be able to say it is now part of my job."