Touched By Cancer
When grief becomes you and you approach the biggest fight of your life, having a hand to hold can get a person through their darkest days. A relaxing massage, a splash of bright lipstick and a coffee with the support of strong women can make each day easier.
I will never forget the entry of the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane. I will never forget the smell wafting through the corridors of air freshener and cleaning products. I will never forget the coolness of the air conditioning as goosebumps emerged on every inch of my skin as I sat patiently waiting for my family, hoping everything was going to be okay.
I remember my grandad walking out first and saying he didn’t understand the doctor’s ‘gobbledygook’, then a little later my nana with my dad and aunty returning to the cool, soft leather chair I was perched on. I remember my nana’s face, she was always one to be brave and even in this moment, she certainly lived up to her name, but her eyes gave her fear away. She had leukaemia and her life and her family’s lives would never be the same. Every day, Debbie Clayton, founder of the Beautiful You program hears stories like this and as she described the constant grief she experiences, but also the joy at making a difference, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own family’s cancer experience. Because every one of us has a cancer story of some kind whether it was a family friend or your mother.
“The biggest thing is when they come in they forget about their cancer for those four or five hours.”
In 2012, after many years coming to terms with her own mother, Terry Hefferman’s passing from cancer, Debbie felt she should do something to make a difference. And make a difference she certainly has, starting with holding pampering days for cancer patients to now offering a full support network and running two op shops with the help of a mighty volunteer team.
But Debbie has her sights set on an even bigger picture and after working with the charity for so long, she knows better than anyone that everyone’s lives are touched by cancer in one way or another. To make the lives of patients and families easier, she wants her dream of a women’s retreat on the Coast to be realised to make the whole process that much easier.
“I need to set up a retreat here on the Coast, a place where they can come and stay if they need a break for three or four days and they can be pampered,” explains Debbie.
“But what I need is help with the money and a property. There is nothing like what I want to do here and there is nothing like Beautiful You.”
This has always been a goal for Debbie but she never realised how far the charity would grow. Starting with their first pamper day, with Debbie as a remedial massage therapist, they had one person living with cancer show up and now can expect 25 or more women at one session. The two op shops have merchandise rolling through the doors and the community supports them both in Maroochydore and Point Cartwright Shopping Centre very well.
“I never thought it would get to this level, especially when my husband came home the other night and said, ‘I just saw a woman walking down the street with one of our shirts on’,” says Debbie. “I just went, ‘oh my god’, I thought it would be just the Beautiful You mornings and it would stay like that.”
Looking back, Debbie can’t help but remember what motivated her to make a difference after helping her mother Terry through her illness. Terry was diagnosed with breast cancer and after undergoing surgery and bouts of chemotherapy in their home town in Victoria, Terry then developed secondary cancer when it spread to her liver and kidneys. Debbie was living at Rainbow Beach at the time with her family, but with the drastic change in Terry’s illness, they found themselves back home until she passed nine months later.
“It took me about four to six years before I could even say the word cancer after Mum died,” says Debbie.
“I did a massage course and then we moved back up here (Sunshine Coast) and thought I reckon I could do something now to help other people who are going through it (cancer) and that is how it started.”
Now because of Terry’s legacy, breast cancer patients at Nambour General Hospital will wake from their operations to a gift bag from Beautiful You, offering support and understanding for their difficult journey. In the week Debbie spoke to me, she had already had three phone calls from women who had been recently diagnosed and without a thought, reaches out to them. There have been many women she has supported and loved, but she will always remember her first client.
“Her name was Daphne … she passed away four years ago now,” reflects Debbie.
“On our first day there was myself and two other beauty therapists and she got pampered all morning and we became really, really good friends from then on.
“That is the hardest thing, meeting these women and getting to know them very well and then they pass away.”
Through the difficult and countless hours of grief, Debbie focuses on what her new friends receive from the charity. This is what motivates her each and every day she spends working on Beautiful You. Each month they have Beautiful You days ranging from art, candle making, make-up tips and massages. On top of this, Debbie and her team of volunteers, hold fundraising events to keep supplying the great cause and try and reach their retreat dream.
“The biggest thing is when they come in, they forget about their cancer for those four or five hours,” says Debbie.
“And the other thing is when they make their coffee or tea they get to meet other ladies who are going through the same thing. At Beautiful You they aren’t just a number, they are human beings, they have feelings and some of these women are going to die and they need comfort.”
Each day Debbie grows more passionate about the charity and feels she has the women she has helped and have now died pushing her to keep going. This is what she attributes her dedication to, even though she doesn’t like to take credit for what she and her team have done.
“I honestly don’t know why, but I am a believer that Mum is pushing me and also we lost a beautiful young mum three years ago and I honestly believe that she is pushing me,” says Debbie.
“The last words she said to me before she died was, ‘Debbie you will find your guardian angel and you keep going’. I can feel her right now too pushing me.”
Known as Mother Goose, she will be here for many more families for years to come with a friendly face and a shoulder to cry on. “I have lived it, I have experienced it first hand so I can just let them talk, that’s what they want to do,” says Debbie.
High Tea at 9 Ebony Court, Buderim on Saturday, 24 October from 1.30-4.30pm. $35 per head, BYO cup and saucer.
Dress is funky, fun, fabulous – fascinators, feathers and frills welcome!
Tickets available at Beautiful You op shops and www.beautifulyou.org.au
“At Beautiful You they aren’t just a number, they are human beings.”