Sisters survive cancer

THREE sisters who battled and defeated cancer have urged the community to band together - as they did with each other during their time of need - and support this weekend's Shellharbour Relay for Life.

The event raises funds for Cancer Council initiatives.

Siblings Gail Bailey, 65, of Warrawong; Lake Illawarra's Susan Ellem, 61, and Albion Park's Lynda Klein, 59, have all survived breast cancer.

The trio (out of nine children) were diagnosed at different times; Mrs Bailey at 39, Mrs Ellem at 52 and Mrs Klein was 41.

Mrs Bailey also had kidney and bladder cancer seven years ago.

All three have had both breasts removed, and reconstructive surgery has not been feasible.

Mrs Bailey also lost a kidney.

"They assume that we inherited it," Mrs Bailey said of breast cancer.

"I did, and Lynda did, but Sue didn't [have the gene].

"Our mother doesn't have it, and no-one on our father's side.

"I was first to get it, and I thought only old people got it, as it wasn't as out there and known at the time.

"When Lynda got it, she rang me. I helped her and we supported each other . . . When Susan got it, we were all there for her as well."

Mrs Ellem said the family had never played the "why us?" game.

"[When diagnosed] I was told to seek a support person - so I rang these two," she said, glancing at her sisters.

"It's brought us a lot closer together. You can look at it as a test, and you've survived.

"Not a day goes by where we don't speak to each other.

"All three of us know what we've been through, and appreciate each other more."

However, Mrs Ellem was saddened by friends who had died from the disease.

"Everyone you speak to knows someone, or a relative battling cancer of some kind," she said.

The trio has not been involved in Relay for Life previously, but have taken part in fund-raisers in aid of cancer research and support groups.

"I used to visit other women who have had a breast removed in hospital," Mrs Bailey said.

"It upset me to know someone in their early 20s or younger could lose a breast, and after chemo knowing they may never be able to have children."

The trio urged the community to get involved in Relay for Life.

Mrs Bailey said she hoped the gene would not be inherited by her children or grandchildren.

"Passing it on to my relatives is a worry. But it can hit any woman or man at any time.

"Raising this money could help a lot of research into what can be done, and early detection," Mrs Ellem said.

"Especially as mammograms are not a precise way of detecting, as it missed the lump I had," Mrs Klein said.

Shellharbour Relay for Life will take place at the Albion Park Showground on March 22-23.

Anyone can register or donate by visiting or phoning 4223 0200.

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