Life changing breast cancer diagnosis

THE lives of Margie and Craig Westlake were turned upside down when Ms Westkake was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015.

Five years later, the Hobart couple has now embarked on a journey of discovery aboard the sailing vessel ‘Kalinda’ to the remote islands in the Pacific to understand their culture and health systems and help improve the lives of breast cancer patients.

The couple were inspired to set sail to the islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu following a trip to Fiji in 2017 where they witnessed the toll of breast cancer in the Pacific Islands firsthand.

“I met a lovely young girl in Fiji whose mum had recently died of breast cancer and when we were talking to her about what sort of care there was, there wasn’t any – it was a very sad, awful situation that someone didn’t have to go through,” Ms Westlake said.

“There is a high incidence of deaths in the remote islands and we would like to find out what we can do to improve their systems, but more so what we can do to help with the diagnosis of breast cancer.

“I don’t think the [Pacific Islands] have the abilities like we have here to diagnose early breast cancer, so for us this particular voyage is about finding out about their health care.”

Ms Westlake faced a number of challenges in her own battle with breast cancer and hoped to help others face those same challenges.

“Challenges ranged from the initial diagnosis and coming to terms with that to having a double mastectomy and then learning to live like that as well,” Ms Westlake said.

“In my daily working life in Hobart I wear a prosthetic bra and just look like everyone else, but as soon as we drop those lines and head off on Kalinda, I’ll be packing that away and will be happy and comfortable with who I am.”

Ms Westlake’s breast cancer also had a profound impact on her husband’s life, making him revaluate what was important to him in his supportive role.

“It’s an incredible shock to see a loved one have a life-threatening illness and also have some pretty significant physical and emotional scarring,” Mr Westlake said.

“One of the things I would like to do is talk to some of the husbands of any cancer sufferers and see what they do and how they deal with it in their culture and communities.”

The Westlakes will be supported by charity Heroes Need Heroes, which assists the International Ambulance and Rescue Personnel in South East Asia by redistributing decommissioned ambulance and rescue equipment.

“They’ve donated five medical emergency response kits and extrication equipment that we are transporting up on Kalinda for them and we’re also hoping to take up a CPR mannequin to demonstrate, if they need it, how to do basic CPR,” Mr Westlake said.

The Westlakes hope to inspire people through a blog that will document their journey.

“It’s important to reflect how good we’ve got it and hopefully we might be able to do that and inspire generations that follow to make a difference,” Mr Westlake said.

To follow the Westlakes’ journey, visit www.sv-kalinda.com.

Caption: Margie and Craig Westlake on the sailing vessel ‘Kalinda’ preparing for their voyage of discovery.

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