Helen McDonald, Mary-Jane Cook and Rhonda Eather shared their personal stories of battles with cancer at the Women of Warwick breakfast.
Helen McDonald, Mary-Jane Cook and Rhonda Eather shared their personal stories of battles with cancer at the Women of Warwick breakfast. Jayden Brown

How cancer changed the lives of three Warwick women

FOR three Warwick women, a brush with cancer has unleashed the winds of change in their lives.

Helen McDonald, Rhonda Eather and Mary-Jane Cook shared their emotional, personal journeys with cancer at the Women of Warwick breakfast yesterday.

The six and half in one million girl is how Helen refers to herself.

The Bunnings Warehouse worker and dog lover was diagnosed with a very rare and incurable cancer, NETs, in November last year.

NETs affects just six and half people in every one million, and is so rare that Helen was the first patient at the Condamine Medical Centre.

Helen McDonald talks about her rare form of cancer: Warwick women Helen McDonald talks about her NETs diagnosis, a rare form of cancer that affects 6.5 in every one million Australians.
Helen McDonald talks about her rare form of cancer: Warwick women Helen McDonald talks about her NETs diagnosis, a rare form of cancer that affects 6.5 in every one million Australians.

One day she was a fit, healthy 51-year-old and the next she was facing the toughest challenge of her life.

"Cancer I was told by the doctors, without a doubt this was the most demoralising word ever conveyed to me," she said.

"I never write cancer with a capital c, because it doesn't deserve to be a proper noun."

"Indeed a fright word to swallow and an anxious challenge to absorb it's proper understanding and what it really meant to my life."

Within weeks Helen endured a marathon six hour surgery.

She spent 12 days in hospital, didn't eat for five days, lost 15kg and had to teach herself how to walk again.

Mary-Jane Cook's cancer story: Mary-Jane Cook shares the story of her brush with cancer at the Women of Warwick breakfast.
Mary-Jane Cook's cancer story: Mary-Jane Cook shares the story of her brush with cancer at the Women of Warwick breakfast.

When Mary-Jane Cook was 42, she went for a mammogram with her elderly mother, not expecting it would change her life for ever.

Follow-up appointments and eight biopsies later, Mary-Jane knew something wasn't right.

She was told she would need to have a full mastectomy.

"It was six guns at dawn, I got really aggressive I think if I could have stripped every bit of tissue off my body and been a walking skeleton," she said.

In the end she opted to have a double mastectomy, a decision she knew she needed to make.

"Everybody's journey is different you might have exactly the same diagnosis as somebody else but feel different about the way you would prefer it to be treated," she said.

"There is no such thing as a wrong decision when you are going through the process of treatment, you need to carve your own path."

Rhonda's cancer journey: Rhonda Eather shares her journey through cancer at the Women of Warwick breakfast.
Rhonda's cancer journey: Rhonda Eather shares her journey through cancer at the Women of Warwick breakfast.

Rhonda Eather always knew she would face cancer one day.

Her grandmother, her mother and her brother all died of cancer, and her sister recently finished radiation for breast cancer.

Two-and-half years ago Rhonda had a 5.5kg tumour removed from her abdomen.

The very rare liposarcoma tumour led to the removal of her left kidney, adrenal gland, ovary, fallopian tube and part of her colon and diaphragm.

"I really thought I was going to die and when I didn't I wasn't prepared for what now," she said.

Each of the three women told the breakfast of their positive outlook after their journey through cancer.

Helen said while she was still recovering, she was well enough to be confident and optimistic about her future.

"This journey has been a life altering experience that has taught me to be positive no matter what is thrown at me," she said.

Rhonda's cancer battle led to a complete shift in her health and wellbeing.

"I'm focused on my body and how I feel and I can tell if something's not right," she said.

"I'm kinder to myself."

For Mary-Jane, the positivity at the end of her journey has been bittersweet.

On Easter Saturday she lost a close friend to cancer.

"I feel that I really owe it to every woman that's really battling against this heinous disease in all it's various forms to never look back and to feel really really grateful," she said.

"We need a little bit of hypercondria girls, keeping up with your testing is something we all should do."