‘Ride Like A Girl’ and my cancer journey

The following review of ‘Ride Like a Girl’, a movie about Michelle Payne’s challenge as a female jockey to ride in the Melbourne Cup horse race, was written by Jeanette Lau Gooey. Jeanette was diagnosed with Breast cancer in 2010 and then in 2013 with Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumour (GIST).

Donate to GI cancer research

I have to admit that when I decided to go to the Mt Himlung Gutsy Challenge fundraiser for gastro-intestinal (GI) cancer research, I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie ‘Ride Like A Girl’. Horse racing isn’t my thing.  The only time I’m interested is when the Melbourne Cup comes around on the first Tuesday in November & I have a ticket in a sweep.

I went to the Movie Night fundraiser to support my amazing oncologists Professor John Zalcberg and Associate Professor Lara Lipton who are treating me for Stage 4 GI cancer.   Both are actively involved in the research and community based activities of the GI Cancer Institute.

So I guess you’re wondering why I’m writing about a movie that I wasn’t interested in.

The film is about Michelle Payne’s fight to fulfil her dream and win the Melbourne Cup.

The word “fight” is a word I often use to encourage my family and friends who have been diagnosed with cancer.   However, last year was a horrific year for me and I began to question what the word “fight” really means. For a cancer patient it is the fight to survive.  For the team climbing Mt Himlung, it is that quality that will drive them to reach the peak.

I came to the conclusion that to fight takes courage, determination, perseverance, being proactive and patience.

For me the narrative around Michelle’s journey in Ride Like A Girl is a journey that is similar to mine, a story that intersects in many ways.

 

Courage

Courage is the strength to overcome difficulties, even when you are afraid.

Jockeys regularly face serious injury and after being thrown from a horse during a race, Michelle sustained a fractured skull, bruising to her brain & loss of short term memory.  Her recovery was long & arduous but Michelle’s courage gave her the strength to overcome her injuries and race again.

Cancer treatment can be painful, difficult and frightening.  We face side effects that affect our quality of life.  Since 2010, I have undergone five operations for cancer.  Recovery time was approximately six weeks.  Movement was slow, painful, restricted and exhausting.   It would have been easy to give up but I had to have the courage to keep going under the knife even when it wasn’t appealing.   The end game was and still is to survive.

 

Determination & perseverance

Determination is the drive to achieve something whilst perseverance is the effort required to achieve it despite the difficulties that may be faced.

Michelle faced setbacks from injury and prejudice as a female jockey in a male dominated sport.  Constantly ignored by trainers she would arrive at the track in the early hours of the morning in the hope of being given the chance to ride.  Her ability was finally recognised but only after she led one of the riders to believe she had authority to ride on the horse he was responsible for.  Even then, it would take much more determination and perseverance to fulfil her dream of riding in the Melbourne Cup.

Like Michelle, the journey of a cancer patient can be long and arduous.  It is nine years since I started my cancer journey and there is still a long way to go.  Something drives our determination and the will to persevere.  Michelle’s goal was to win the Melbourne Cup.  My motivation is to survive and live to continue to make lasting memories with my family and friends.  These are the people that love and support me through the good and bad times.  As in Michelle’s story these are the people who also suffered greatly, helplessly watching as we went through sometimes agonising treatment.

 

Proactive

Being proactive is taking control and making things happen rather than waiting for things to come to us.

Michelle could have stayed on her father’s farm to ride for him.  Much to his dismay she left the family farm at the age of 15 to pursue her dream.  There are many examples of Michelle being proactive but my favourite was Michelle sitting in her car somewhere in the middle of nowhere mapping out the quickest routes to various race tracks to maximise her rides in a limited amount of time and still make it to her sister’s wedding.

My oncologists actively monitor my cancer with blood tests and scans.  They use various treatments to manage my cancer but treatment is a two way street.   A simple way I can be proactive is by eating sensibly and exercising in an effort to maximise the effectiveness of my treatment.  For me, it is also about taking an active interest in my cancer by making sure that my oncologists are aware of any problems that have occurred between appointments and answering any questions that I have.  Keeping a diary and writing notes to take to appointments ensures that what I want to discuss is covered. Hopefully this assists in a better understanding of how to treat my cancer.

 

Patience

Patience is the ability to endure difficult circumstances over a prolonged period.

This is something Paddy, Michelle’s father, tried to instil in her.  To win a race you need to be patient and wait for the right opportunity.  Patience was a key element to her winning ride in the 2015 Melbourne Cup.

This is the biggest lesson I have had to learn in my cancer journey.  During 2010, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer and to date this has not returned.  However, in 2013, I was diagnosed with a GIST (gastro intestinal stromal tumour).  Until 2018, treatment was a combination of drugs and surgery.  However, in July of last year the drugs I had been taking ceased working and surgery was not an option.  There were two other drugs used for treating GIST but by mid-December the remaining drugs had failed.   It would have been a bleak Christmas had I not been granted access to a new trial drug.

When diagnosed with cancer, we want to see immediate results.   From my experience, it may take at least three months for the treatment to take effect.  The progress of treatment is monitored through regular scans.  However the wait between scans can cause stress and anxiety so learning patience can help overcome this issue.

For me, the need for patience is heightened as it takes time to stabilise the cancer even though I have been on the trial drug since the beginning of this year. This is something that I cannot control so remaining patient has now become a way of life for me.

But I am still here and have a good quality of life.  I honestly didn’t expect to be here, going to the movies to raise funds for research and telling my story. I owe a lot to my medical team, Professor Zalcberg and Associate Professor Lipton and their commitment to my care.   Thank you so much.

If you would like to help people like me and support GI cancer research, please make a donation to my doctor, Lara Lipton. Lara is climbing Mt Himlung in the Himalayas in 2020. She is undertaking a GI Cancer Institute Gutsy Challenge to raise funds for research. The fact that she is willing to put her life on the line to help her patients demonstrates the dedication of the oncologists and clinicians who are part of the GI Cancer Institute.

Donate to GI cancer research

Share