Daffodil Day: finding the good in a life changed by cancer

For 47-year-old Vanessa Eylward, cancer has become a way of life.

The Mandurah mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in September last year, and since then – like any other person going through cancer treatment – chemotherapy, fatigue and loneliness, things the obviously strong-willed woman did not have to deal with previously, have become daily standards.

But through it all, Ms Eylward has found a level of support and compassion in the local area she hopes to advocate for this Daffodil Day.

She has become something of a spokesperson for Dot’s Place, Mandurah’s Cancer Council Support Centre, as her honesty and emotion have framed a powerful story.

“My diagnosis was bizarre, actually,” Ms Eylward said.

“On the Friday night prior, the 27th of August, I was in a car accident. It was a split-second decision that stopped me from exiting my vehicle as a tray-back utility hit it and basically took the whole side of my driver's side off.”

This accident, coincidentally enough, had her thinking about mortality for a number of days, when, while going to bed on Sunday night, she discovered a lump on her breast.

“It was a strange feeling. There was all this overwhelming stuff of, 'Oh my God, I'm going to die, here we go',” Ms Eylward said.

“I went to the doctor the next day and got sent off for a mammogram. I'd never had a mammogram before. Within an hour I had gotten a phone call from the doctor, saying, 'You need to come back in'. 

“Everything kind of hit the floor from that point.”

Having worked in the social sector for most of her career, Ms Eylward said she had a very strong ability to read people.

“At times, my life has depended on reading that person in that situation,” she said.

“When I looked at those people, I just knew. I just knew everything had changed in a split second.”

The entire paradigm of Ms Eylward’s life changed when she received the news. Usually the rock of her family, she found herself losing control of everything she had built over her life.

“The next really difficult part was waiting for results,” she said. 

“It was a ten-day waiting period. In that time, you're completely nuts, trying to hold it together, because you're constantly thinking, ‘This might be nothing, I might get away with it, or I might die'.

“That thought really tears you apart form the inside.”

This was overshadowed by what was by far the hardest part of her diagnosis, telling her children.

“I’ve got a couple of young kids, and the first thing I really though was, ‘No way, this isn’t happening to them’,” Ms Eylward said.

“I have gone through some huge challenges in my life, and I've always been able to promise my children and those close to me that I’ve got this.

“But I couldn’t do that. Not being able to do that, not being able to promise my children that I would be there for them, that’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”

Not too long after her diagnosis, Ms Eylward managed to find support through the Cancer Council and Dot’s Place.

The decision to seek support was something Ms Eylward is incredibly glad she did.

“I hadn’t been that exposed to cancer through my entire life, so it was a steep learning curve, and at first I thought I only had myself to rely on,” she said.

“You get these fact sheets from the doctor, and you go home and start researching everything, because you’re trying to understand what’s going on in your body. And it’s hard.

“But as soon as I got in contact with the support staff there, it was like this huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

“All these things I was going through, the fear, the depression, the uncertainty of whether or not I’d be around next year, it was crippling. Some days are just a struggle to get up, get showered and go outside.

“But with Dot’s Place, you’re shown you’re not the only one struggling.”

Ms Eylward is hoping to use this year’s Daffodil Day as a moment of exposure for what she said is necessary work on behalf of Dot’s Place.

“Every little bit that’s donated helps, because I know from first-hand experience that every little bit helps those with cancer,” she said.

“Having cancer changes your whole perspective on things, and makes you realise how important connecting with other people is.

“I always thing that I wouldn’t have met all these people, these amazing people, if my diagnosis hadn’t come.

“And even though it’s not a good thing, and it’s still hard every day, I’m so glad I’ve got them in my corner.”

Daffodil Day is Cancer Council’s annual national fundraiser for cancer research, treatment and support.

It will be held on Friday, August 25, with collection tins and other events throughout the area.

For more information go to daffodilday.com.au/.