Going into bat for Cate as she faces new battle
CATE Walsh, a local mother of two, went to the Women's Health Centre for a routine pap smear.
She got a call back.
"I remember hearing the words 'it looks like cancer', it was so sudden," Cate said.
For a moment her world, and that of her husband and children, stood still. But then her practical, "just deal with it" nature kicked in.
The diagnosis was cervical cancer.
"I live by the motto 'build a bridge, get over it, move on', so that's what I did," Cate said.
"Next thing I'm in Sydney being bombarded with statistics and survival rates. I'd caught it early. I count myself lucky; I already had my two beautiful daughters so I had a hysterectomy."
That was 2013, and for the past four years Cate has been flying to Sydney for six-monthly check-ups and getting the "all clear" each time.
Cate is part of the Coffs Coast theatre scene, performing with CHMCC in Hairspray, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and, most recently, Wicked.
"We were bumping in at the theatre getting ready for Wicked the same week I had to go to Sydney for the usual tests. I went, got the all clear and came home," she said.
"A few days later my workmates at Comm Bank noticed my leg was swollen and urged me to get it checked.
"At Coffs' emergency department I remember the doctor's words, 'it's a storm in a tea-cup'. I had an ultrasound. It showed swollen lymph nodes in my groin. Then it all imploded."
In the following days it was further blood tests and a CT scan.
"On the Friday morning I left my doctor's surgery to go to a singing lesson. At 9.30am I received a call to come back to the surgery."
Cate's husband, Gerard, a senior constable with Coffs Clarence police, also received a phone call.
Cate and Gerard were told she had "several masses". Again, their world was turned upside down. Again, she drew on her resilient nature and asked the doctor, "define several".
"I admit, it was a rough couple of weeks," Cate said.
After a biopsy she was back at the doctor's surgery to hear the news.
"My doctor told me the cervical cancer was back. He was dumbfounded, lost for words," she said.
"He'd seen me every six months and seen the test results, neither of us thought it would be recurring cervical cancer. He said I'm a bit of a rare case. Most patients with recurring cervical cancer see it return within 18 months, not later. I had been clear for almost four years."
The only time you see a crack in Cate's armour, or hear a crack in her voice, is when she's speaking about her two young daughters.
"The girls know I have cancer and that I'm having chemotherapy. We have an honesty policy in this household and I made a list of my symptoms and we went thought it. The other day when I had a bloody nose my six-year-old said, 'don't worry mum, that's just one of the symptoms on your list'."
Cate, Gerard and the girls have another list. Of supporters, friends and colleagues.
"The mums at St Augustine's primary school organised a list, well it's a spreadsheet actually, of who can help when and where if we need it, with food or school pick-ups or anything else," Cate said.
"I'd also like to give a big shout out to the Mid Coast Cancer Institute, the entire medical team and the volunteers are truly amazing."
While Cate said she is fortunate not to have symptoms other than the side effects of chemotherapy, the reality is she has cancer cells in her left side and in her pelvis.
"The underlying situation is not bright, it's pretty ordinary, but I've never felt so blessed or lucky."
Husband Gerard put his arm around his wife. "We may not have any family here, but with my work, Cate's work, the school, the theatre group and CH District Baseball, we've got more than family."