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Sisters Amy and Tracy took part in their first joint Marilyn Jetty Swim in 2018 donning an iconic Marilyn Monroe getup with hundreds of other women to raise vital funds and awareness for Cancer Council SA. Amy opens up about the personal reasons behind her decision to become a Marilyn.

When mum was first diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) back in August of 2016, we knew virtually nothing about the disease—she didn’t ask a lot of questions. All we knew was that it was advanced.

A few weeks later, she was undergoing what is known as the Whipple procedure, an operation which removes the gallbladder, bile duct, and parts of the pancreas and small intestine. It was a success, and we were told that they had got it all. She would be going on six months of chemo as a precaution, just to make sure all of the cancer cells were gone.

It was really difficult to watch mum deteriorate through her treatment that was meant to be helping her get healthy. At first we had assumed that this was an expected side effect of the drug, but a month after her treatment finished, she was still getting sicker.

There’s always the niggling thought in the back of your mind that the cancer might have returned, but you tell yourself to stay positive. She eventually went in for tests, and we were faced with the news that the cancer had returned—Stage 4.

Mum was told that she would have 12 months to live if she had treatment, and only half of that without it. Naturally, she opted for the treatment, but it didn’t work. At that stage, her best case scenario dropped to just three months. She’d lost so much weight, and it had turned life upside down for all of us.

It was during this time that I first reached out to Cancer Council SA. I spoke with a nurse about how I didn’t know what to say to mum, and I wanted to be able to help her in any way that I could. I was just finding it really hard to cope, and having that support over the phone helped immensely. I also had a counsellor come and visit to talk me through some strategies.

One of the most valuable takeaways for me was the tips for making the most of these last days together. I found ways to make her smile. I was encouraged to do legacy work, running through the questions that you would ask to write a eulogy. It was so special to have those memories, and to hear her express her life story. They gave me pointers on questions that would jog her memory. This was information that I would have otherwise never known. It also helped her to reflect, and she even told me, ‘Amy, I’ve had a pretty good life’. If I hadn’t connected with Cancer Council SA, these are the little things that I would have missed.

I decided to take part in the Marilyn Jetty Swim after mum passed away because I needed to feel like I was actively doing something that would help all the people going through cancer. It’s a combination of fun and emotion, I can’t quite describe it. On the one hand, everyone is coming together, looking slightly ridiculous and having a laugh. But on the other hand, you know so many of these women are here because they’ve seen someone close to them go through it.

The actual swim is only half of the Marilyn experience. It’s being a part of the community of women in the lead-up, supporting each other to fundraise, that’s so inspiring. I’m already reaching out to friends and family to get them to join me next year.

We raised over $800 last year, just through spreading the word on Facebook, and offering a raffle prize to one donor. I chatted about it to everyone, and even got my hairdresser and insurance broker on board!

Any help that I can give is important, whether it’s funding a cab fare for someone to get to an appointment, or paying for someone to have their house cleaned while they’re going through chemo. When you think about the people on the receiving end of the money, it motivates you to work harder.

Cancer is now a cause that has become close to my heart because I’ve seen how much it can tear a family apart. I want to make my mum proud, and turn this challenging experience into a positive. The Marilyn Jetty Swim brings out the best in everyone. I’m so glad I did it, and I’ll be encouraging everyone to join me next year.

You can join the sisterhood and register for the 2021 Marilyn Jetty Swim, taking place in February 2021 during the Brighton Jetty Classic. You can also make a donation.