Jane McGrath was my best friend, but we didn’t immediately click. It wasn’t until we were waving the boys off on a tour that I looked over at her and thought, “I know how you feel.”
Both from the UK, separately we’d met Australian cricketers overseas and followed these men to the other side of the world.
Almost 10,000 miles from home and with no support system in place, that day at the airport I turned to Jane and asked her if she’d like to go for a cup of tea.
She said she thought I’d never ask. From then on we were firm friends.
In 1997, we were on an Ashes tour and Jane came to my hotel room with a towel wrapped around her.
We were excited because we’d been invited on a boys’ team dinner and I thought she wanted to discuss what we were going to wear.
Instead, she asked me to feel a lump in her breast – it was like a frozen pea was under her skin.
We stood there for what felt like forever, crying. At 32 years old, my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Jane chose to go through her treatment alone. My role became what we called “bra watch”. Jane had a chicken fillet in her bra to fill out the side where she’d had a mastectomy and my job was to let her know when it was peeking out. We had a little wink and everything.
When she was five years into remission, Jane’s cancer came back.
And again, she chose to go through treatment alone, preferring to call Glenn and me afterwards.
One day she called me and said “Hello Darl,” and I thought “She’s not had chemo, that’s not a chemo hello.”
Instead she said to me, “today I met an angel.” I told her to call me back once she’d had a lie down.
She said to me, “no, today I met an angel; her name’s Alison and she’s a breast care nurse. I now know what we need to do with our little charity.”
Jane told me that the breast care nurse helped her understand her treatment, explained the side effects and could help her access services she didn’t even know were available.
She said, “We’re going to raise funds for breast care nurses. I know the difference the nurse makes to my life and I want that for every Australian family.”
When we started, Jane hoped that if by sharing her story she could help one family by providing them access to a McGrath breast care nurse, we would have done a wonderful thing.
Today, the McGrath Foundation supports more than 64,000 families through the work of 120 McGrath breast care nurses.
Even though the idea came from Jane’s personal experience, we’ve only be able to do what we do because of the incredible support we’ve had from communities right across Australia.
This year, we have more than 20 towns taking part to raise funds and awareness for families experiencing breast cancer. It’s a beautiful, tangible way local communities say 'we’re with you, we support you', and I know Jane would love it.
One such community is Mudgee. Thanks to the wonderful work of local real estate agent Hugh Bateman, the town has been fundraising since 2015.
After seeing the wonderful support of the Mudgee community, I suggested to Hugh that he might like to turn Mudgee pink in October (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month).
It was so successful, that this year we asked Hugh if he would be an ambassador for the campaign and pass on his knowledge of what works and what didn’t.
He was thrilled, and the Pink Up Your Town campaign was born.
This year, we have more than 20 towns taking part to raise funds and awareness for families experiencing breast cancer.
It’s a beautiful, tangible way local communities say “we’re with you, we support you”, and I know Jane would love it.
I am so incredibly thankful to all the communities involved.
Without your amazing work and support, we couldn’t continue to work towards Jane’s vision, to place McGrath breast care nurses in communities across Australia.
Tracy Bevan is a McGrath Foundation ambassador and director. For more information on the foundation, visit www.mcgrathfoundation.com.au