Mark Trayner

Challenge South Australia

My Activity Tracking

1,202
kms

2023: The Year that Cancer took my Mum

Since 2017, I've been telling a slowly evolving story about "Why I Ride". This year, it became more personal than ever before. In 2023, Cancer finally won its battle against my dearest Mum, Christine.

 

When I was "roped in" to riding with Smiling for Smiddy back in late 2016 (riding full stop, that is, given I was NOT a cyclist!), there was at least a decent reason why I should.

At that point in my life, cancer had affected my family more than my fair share…

1.           lung cancer took my Father when I was 13

2.           melanoma took my Grandfather when I was 25

3.           pancreatic cancer took my step-Father (my Mum's partner) three years after that; then

4.           in 2015, the mother of all shocks came - my dearest Mum shocked me by telling me that she had Stage 4 Breast Cancer.

 

My Mum had always been “new age”. She wasn’t a fan of going to the doctor – so much so that I barely knew what a doctor was when I was a kid; I vividly remember waking up one morning with chickenpox, aged about 10, and being completely shocked that Mum was going to actually let me stay home sick. But I still didn’t get taken to the doctor. She gave me some homeopathic drops, an overload of vitamin C, so much carrot juice I just about turned into an Oompa Loompa. The only times I can remember going to the doctor as a kid, was because of something legitimately needing a needle, like getting a tetanus shot after I stepped on a rusty nail. Doctors bad, homeopathy and Chinese herbal medicine good.

Mum called me the day before NYE, just as I was preparing to party. She sounded very average, and she was lost in her words trying to tell me something. Then she spat it out – “listen darling, I need you to come down to Canberra… today… I have cancer and I feel like I’m on my way out in the next few weeks”.

Completely confused, wondering how she could be dropping off a cliff out of nowhere. Then comes the admission…

“I probably knew I had a breast cancer about a year ago, but I didn’t want to bother you. And I have only just now been to the doctor and they’ve given me a stage 4 diagnosis – the tumour is the size of a grapefruit, and it has metastases.”

What? Hang on, did you just say you’ve known for a year, but didn’t go to the doctor til now??

“Well, listen I know that might sound silly to you, but you know I don’t like western doctors. I haven’t been doing nothing about it – I’ve been taking lots of herbal treatments, mushrooms, lots of vitamin C. And of course lots of meditations”.

What would your response be to that?

Heaven knows what you’re thinking – you might think “sounds like her”, or of course you may well be thinking “how bat shit crazy was that?!”. I was thinking both.

Anyway, enough of the shock – on the next plane to Canberra I was. Thankfully, the “I think I’m on death’s door” turned out to just be a summer cold that faded in a few days. Feeling better, appointments ensued with real doctors and oncologists, the ones with actual qualifications. No surprise, chemo was on the cards, along with a bunch of pretty brutal western drugs with long names that obviously mean they’re poison. But to give her credit, she did agree – albeit there were more than a few times in Mum’s cancer journey that I had to remind her “these drugs might not be organic and they might not be very good for you, but I’m pretty sure being dead from cancer is even less good for you, isn’t it?”. You’ll be glad to hear that she always agreed – albeit sometimes with a “but”.

 

Now I come back to “why I ride” – why I make the effort each year to be part of this great cause that raises funds for cancer research. This research is NOT for nothing, and my Mum is the perfect proof…

 

With her Stage 4 diagnosis, with a grapefruit-sized tumour in her breast, with metastases in multiple vital organs, she SHOULD have been dead within a few months. Had it been not even one year earlier, it is just about a 100% chance that she WOULD have been dead within a few months.

But as luck would have it, Mum’s assigned oncologist was a Professor who was rather keen on experimental medicine; and I guess what better candidate than a woman facing certain imminent death – what was there to lose. After only a few treatments, Mum was back for test results; as she told me, she sat there in the oncologist’s room with him looking at the scans in quiet shock. Without saying anything about what he was seeing, he asks whether she minds if he asks another doctor to look at the results. Then a third. Then a fourth. With a room full of doctors reviewing these scans and results, Mum started getting a wee bit agitated what all the fuss was about – “come on, just tell me, I’m a big girl”. Cancer gone. Not a trace. Impossible. Literally SHOULD be impossible.

 

But it wasn’t impossible. Somehow it had happened. Albeit, Mum did actually suggest that the fact she continued with the mushrooms must have helped. Trusty ol’ chemo wouldn’t have done this. It was because of a new experimental treatment. One that only existed because of tireless researchers, pushing the boundaries of medical science to develop new treatments. Which only happened thanks to a lot of funding.

 

Unfortunately, the fact I’m here today to tell a story about having lost my Mum to cancer, means that the story doesn’t end with a miraculous perfect recovery.

 

Stage 4 is, after all, Stage 4; that step too far.

 

I’ll fast-forward over the ensuing 7 or so years, suffice to say it was a roller-coaster. I lost count of how many different types of treatments Mum went on. The cancer of course did come back – and that first miracle drug, well, thanks to some utter bullshit government funding rule about “experimental” only being able to be tried once on public patients, they weren’t allowed to put her on that one again. So they tried something else – and somehow, all of Mum’s karma she’d built up by looking after everyone else in her life ahead of herself, did pay off. Time after time, treatments were just about miraculous.

Not to say there wasn’t pain and struggle. The first heavy round of chemo made her lose all her hair – her whole life, Mum had told off Nan (her Mum) for being so vain, always needing to be a prim & proper lady – yet now here she was having to admit her own vanity, embarrassed to be seen bald in public.

Later, one drug sapped her of so much energy and buggered with her heart, to the point she came close to having heart failure; so the choice with that one was “die next month of a heart attack, or next year of cancer”. At least that was an easy lose-lose choice.

Yet amidst these trials, Mum never put herself first. You see, her Mum, who lived down the road, was getting into her mid-90’s, living alone having lost her husband of 40-something years to melanoma some 10 years back. Mum would come by every day to help, eventually getting to the point of moving in to look after her full-time. Until, at the age of 95, Nan was running out of puff – too stubborn, with too much depression-era and World War 2 toughness to just waddle off to the heavens in her sleep, at 95, in 2008, she somehow gets lung cancer (even though she gave up smoking in the 1980s!). Rather than peacefully floating off in her dreams, Nan had to endure discomfort of difficult breathing, with an oxygen tank constantly in tow, drowning in her lungs. Fucking Cancer.

 

After Nan passed away, COVID was the next challenge. The tumours were back – and this time they decided to head north – to Mum’s brain. With the state borders closed, as you’re no doubt aware having heard countless stories, heartless politicians and idiotic public servants cared not for anyone’s personal issues – quite happy to let humans suffer and even die alone. The good news was that it was operable – Mum needed to go in straight away to get brain surgery to remove the tumour. At that point in time, I could have travelled to NSW. But I wouldn’t have been allowed home to Qld. With our business STAC Capital still being in its infancy, that would have been a challenge, but it would have been do-able. But no point, said Mum – “you might as well stay home because I’ll be in hospital for a few weeks, and they won’t let any visitors come to the hospital anyway, even if it doesn’t go to plan and I’m dying in ICU”. So, as so many countless families had to endure, I just had to wish her well from afar and hope for the best. Thankfully, that tough Mum of mine made it through without any problems, no stress. Must have been the mushrooms and vitamin C.

 

COVID changed Mum’s life plans. She never thought she would even consider moving to Queensland, but having gone for a stretch as long as 9 months without being able to see her only son, in 2021 she decided to buy a retirement village unit up here on the Sunshine Coast. Notwithstanding, at first it was a bit of an emotional hurdle to admit that she may perhaps be old enough to consider an “old person’s home” – albeit she definitely had a spirit and attitude much younger than anyone else in that village! Having no idea when the cancer would come back next, nor where that journey might lead, at least she could be close to her son, for however short or long her remaining life might be. Notwithstanding, always very resilient, she was by this point perhaps a little too confident in the potential for stage 4 cancer to no longer be terminal – perhaps she might not make it to 95 like her Mum did, but maybe she could get a shot at her 80s at least.

 

Alas, that was not to be. 2023 came around, and the C-bomb was starting to rear its ugly head again. Laura and I had a 5 week overseas trip booked for June, including seeing her family in Finland, as well as Mum’s brother in California. But Mum said she was feeling fine, no reason for us to not go away; after all, she was still driving herself around town, still going for walks on the beach, out to lunch with friends – all pretty normal, albeit some days with a bit less energy.

But when we got back, our first visit was a bit of a shock. Her face was puffed up like a balloon, and she seemed to waddle like a little old lady to the front door. Finally she admits that maybe she’s not actually feeling so great – but of course, nothing to worry about, she continues putting on a brave face and doesn’t want to make a fuss about anything.

 

That was the first week of July that we got back from the US. Within only 2 to 3 weeks, I started being a little more forceful as her energy levels seemed to be slipping quickly, her appetite falling off to just one piece of toast a day – “Mum, I can stay here with you, I really can work from here, I don’t need to be in Brisbane”. She relented, and with that came an admission of a sigh of relief that I would stay with her until the end.

Being such a practical realist, she tells me she’s already been organising Palliative Care – so I can take her down to visit the nice doctor there for a check-in. Only a few days after that, still at home, Mum’s energy levels were down so much that going to the bathroom was becoming too much of an effort. Finally, one morning, she looks up from her lazy-boy chair and says “ok darling, I think it’s time for you to take me in to Palliative Care, I need to be there now’.

Only a few days later, as the sun rose on the 24th August, after I had been sleeping in her room that night, a metre away from her, barely a wink of sleep all night as I listened to every struggled short breath, wondering if the next one would be the last… suddenly the gaps between the breaths were that tiny bit longer… I jumped up and lay on the bed with Mum, cuddling up to her to hold her, I whispered in her ear “it’s ok Mum, I love you so much, you’re the best Mum ever, you can go now, I love you Mum” – and with that, she let out her last breath. Silence, then the eerie sound of the oxygen coming through the tubes creating bubbles in the saliva in her mouth.

 

Oddly, the hardest next thing to do was to call my partner Laura – to have to actually say the words “Mum just died”. I can’t really remember what she said, but 5 minutes later when she got there, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of the shock and heart-wrenching pain on her face when she saw Mum lying there – the realisation that, although she had been watching her get closer to death every day of the last week, that the ever-strong woman she had come to love so much, could actually be gone.

 

Fuck cancer.

 

But what I must be immensely thankful for, is the 7 or so extra years I got to spend with my beautiful Mum, that would not have been possible were it not for the extraordinary efforts that medical research scientists put into improving treatments. Mum should have died within a few months of when she told me about the cancer; had she been diagnosed only a year or two earlier, she would have almost definitely been dead within months. But she got an extra 7 years. I got an extra 7 years with her. Countless more memories together. Phone calls about nothing special, walks on the beach, lunch at nowhere special talking about nothing in particular, looking at old photos and hearing her stories of years gone by; all the things we do with our loved ones and so often take for granted.

 

In Australia alone, it’s estimated that there would have been about 165,000 new cancer diagnoses in 2023 alone. Read that number again.

Cancer now accounts for 3 in every 10 deaths in Australia. How many family members and friends do you have? Now think about the fact that 3 in 10 of those people will probably die from Cancer.

If cancer hasn’t already affect at least one person in your family, count yourself extremely lucky. Almost unbelievable lucky, actually. In my small family, I’m now up to 5 people (by far the majority of deaths).

It is currently estimated that an Australian has a 1 in 7 chance of dying from cancer by the age of 85. Read that again. 1 in 7. Will it be you, or your partner? Or your parent, or even your child? This shit is real, unfortunately.

 

So. That sucks. Cancer sucks. But, what the fuck can any of us actually do about it anyway?

 

Well, plenty, it turns out. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How did you afford to buy your first home? It started with saving what seems an inconsequential amount of money, then some more, and so on.

And so it goes for cancer research. Developing new treatments that gives cancer sufferers, like my mum, more time – more quality time on earth – costs millions upon millions upon millions.

Maybe you can’t afford to donate all those millions. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference. After all, whilst one grain of sand may not make a desert, a desert cannot exist without every single grain of sand.

How much would it mean to you, to get to spend an extra 7 years with your Mum? An extra 7 years with your husband or wife? An extra 7 years with your child?

Although you won’t get to see an immediate result from parting with some cash today, can I be bold enough to dare to ask you to think about the value  you place on money spent on other things… How much do you spend on a single dinner at a restaurant? How much do you spend to get a more comfortable seat on a plane? How much have you spent every month for years on end, to have that bigger house in that nicer suburb, which was probably more a “nice to have” than absolute necessity?

 

I’m as guilty as the next person on all of these things – so with that in mind, I choose to also donate thousands of dollars a year to this great cause.

 

How much are you willing to invest today, to strive for more priceless quality time with your loved ones, when that fucked up C-bomb eventually becomes personal?

Will you support my fundraising?

In March, I’ll be joining the Challenge South Australia.

Why am I taking on this challenge?

Because I’m committed to making a real impact for cancer research at Mater.

As part of the challenge I’m aiming to raise valuable funds to support the work of Mater Research—Mater’s world-class research institute that’s investing in some game-changing work into the causes, treatment and prevention of cancer.

And this is where I need your help.

Together, we can help to give more families more time together; to make more memories. 

Will you support my fundraising by making a donation to my fundraising page today?

My Achievements

Thank you to my Sponsors

$52.75

Jesse O’sullivan

Killer effort mate! 634kms in 5 days is absolutely nuts!

$211

Sparke

Well done mate, Steller effort.

$500

Darren Timms

Total respect for your commitment to the cause Mark and happy to provide my support.

$105.50

Leigh Blain

$263.75

Dorado Property

$100

Danielle Nicholas

$500

Chris Davis

Lord Trayner, love your work and commitment to strength. Pumped about your efforts here. Cheers, cdog

$131

Luisa Fearnside

For your lovely mum.

$500

Blake Lanham

Enormous respect for you doing this mate, love your work

$100

Cherie Kingsley

$68.58

Anonymous

$100

Huw Feeney

$520

Range Capital

Good luck mate, a great cause to ride for. We'll be cheering you on.

$520

Kate Unsworth

$313.50

The Urban Developer

$52.75

David Skeen

Good stuff Hollywood!

$200

Wongy

This one is for your Mum and you, Hollywood. Great speech at the Russells / Mac Bank do. So sad and from the heart. xx

$130

Eric Haddrick

Onya mate!! Another great effort! 👍 Eric, Suz and Ivy xo