Raelene's story

“I’d really encourage women living in regional areas to make the time to get your checks done, because the sooner you go, the less invasive your treatment if you have cancer.” 

Rae Brown and hubby Andy Watson are going to Graceland. Spiritual home of the one and only, Elvis Presley, “the King of rock and roll”. 

Their bucket-list trip to the US and Japan will also include visits to Nashville and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. 

More significantly, it will enable this inseparable married couple to celebrate an important milestone, as Rae’s breast cancer battle lessens, and she begins to look towards the next phase of her cancer journey with optimism. 

This March, as she joins the ‘Sea of Pink’ set to paint Mackay and its region pink for Fun Run, Rae will receive her six-monthly check-up. Prior to October, having undergone chemotherapy, mastectomy surgery and radiation treatment, she was required every three months. 

While her journey is ongoing, Rae is passionate about shining a spotlight on the power of regional women being able to receive local treatment, the importance of early detection, and the impact placed on the loved ones of a cancer patient. 

Working together in the mines in their hometown of Mt Isa, Rae and Andy met in 2010, moved to Moranbah and were married at Airlie Beach in 2012. In April, they will mark a decade in Mackay, where they have built their family home. The pair work for Hastings Deering, proud long-term supporter of Mater Chicks in Pink. 

In August 2020, Rae booked in to a visiting breast screen truck, having noticed changes to the size of her breast. A follow-up biopsy revealed she had aggressive, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. 

“It was quite advanced really, I ended up having a tumour that was six centimetres by 10 centimetres, plus when they actually did the mastectomy, I ended up having 11 tumours all up,” Rae said. 

“I’d really encourage women living in regional areas to make the time to get your checks done, because the sooner you go, the less invasive your treatment if you have cancer. 

“Everything was done here (in Mackay). We didn't have to travel, which is just is a godsend, right? You don't have to jump in a car for four or five hours. I don’t know how people travel and then try to drive home for hours trying to deal with it, because especially once you got to your third treatment, there was no way in the world it was going to go anywhere far.” 

Earlier this year, two years on from Rae’s diagnosis, their rescue greyhound, Sasha, sadly passed. But not before using a sixth sense to guide Rae through the toughest of her chemotherapy and radiation treatment.  

“The day Rae got sick, Sasha just changed, she got so protective,” Andy said. “She a very timid dog, we’d have visitors who work remotely come and stay, day and night, and she was fine. But as soon as she got sick, it was like she knew, and she wouldn't let anyone near Rae.” 

Rae adds: “She was so, so protective. She never growled at people, but one day we had a guy come around to fix the screens on the door, and she just barked and barked. I had to tie her up, and I've never had to do that with her. 

“It didn't matter where I went, Sasha was there. Because I'd sleep a lot more, if I was asleep on the bed, she'd sleep on the bed beside me or at my feet or wherever I was. It's just amazing, the intuition and the sense, they've got to know.” 

Rae was blanketed by protection. Andy describes as “helpless” his feelings of watching his wife go through her gruelling treatments. 

“It's brutal to watch, the first session of chemo Rae walked away feeling pretty good, a bit of nausea but she wasn't too bad. But then, to see you go through the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, sixth, it's like just a downhill drive. It's just brutal.” 

“It's hard because you can't do anything, right? That's probably the hardest thing. All you can do is make sure you do what's needed to be there and make sure you make life as comfortable as possible and try and make a joke when you need to.” 

Although Rae’s check-ups are now bi-annual, she admits she won’t feel real peace of mind until her port-a-catheter is removed. Incredibly stoic, she is feeling strong about the number of challenges still on the horizon. 

“I'm excited about not having to go quite so often, besides the fact that I'm not allowed to remove my port-a-cath yet,” Rae said. “I have to get that flushed every six weeks, with an inch and a half needle in my chest to access that. But other than that, it's a daily tablet, which I'll probably be on for 10 years to try to stop all my hormones. 

“A hysterectomy is probably likely, but they just want to deal with one thing at a time and check how it goes because these drugs give you all the side effects, and it can develop cervical cancer. It brings out all your arthritis. I now have big, knobby bits on my knuckles on my fingers from arthritis and I get burning, real burning sensation in my legs.”  

“I think deep down, I’ll have a good peace of mind the day I can get my port-a-cath out. Then, I'll feel like I've accomplished something.” 

While Rae’s journey is not yet complete, the couple have adopted a new perspective—to stop putting off ‘bucket list’ items and to live more for each day.  

They took on the “Shitbox Rally” in support of cancer research, raising an incredible $19,600. Next up, Graceland. 

Just in time for Fun Run, the pair will touch down on in early March with new boots in tow… though they’ll stick with a trusty pair of sneakers to join Mackay’s ‘Sea of Pink’. 

Both Hastings Deering, and International Women’s Day Fun Run’s presenting partner, Queensland X-Ray, are behind plans to create waves in Mackay for women, like Rae, fighting breast cancer.  

Mater Chicks in Pink was created so no woman goes through breast cancer alone. 

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