The wings needed to help her heal
TRACEY Brunner feels extremely lucky to be surrounded by angels every fortnight.
The Dubbo mother of three is currently undergoing a clinical trial to treat her stage-four cancer but getting to the Sydney-based Melanoma Institute would be near impossible without Angel Flight - a national charity that transports those living in regional and rural Australia to vital treatment.
This week, Tracey candidly explained to the Rural Weekly the impact her diagnosis had on her family, and talked through why Angel Flight was essential in getting her the help that is saving her life.
Although Tracey and her husband, Peter, had lived in Sydney, when they had their first child together, they decided to move back to the country.
"My family is in Forbes and my husband's family is in Orange," she said.
"So we wanted to be closer to them and Dubbo is equally distant from both."
Sixteen years on, and now with children Jacob, 16, Aiden, 9, and Zoe, 5, the regional hub is still their beloved home where the couple run their cleaning business.
About four years ago Tracey had a malignant melanoma removed from her back.
Because of this, she was required to have regular check-ups and, in October last year, doctors told her the cancer had spread to her lungs and brain.
"The diagnosis was a huge shock because I hadn't been sick," she said.
"It was picked up before I was symptomatic."
The scan showed four tumours in her lungs and five in her brain - the jarring result turned her life upside down.
Because of the brain tumours, she wasn't allowed to drive and, because of a lung biopsy causing a pneumothorax (an air bubble), she wasn't allowed to fly.
As an independent woman, having to constantly rely on others for daily tasks was hard for Tracey to cope with.
"I felt like a fraud really, because I wasn't sick and didn't look sick," she said.
"I found it hard to accept help from people.
"I had to arrange other parents to collect and drop off the children and then get other people to chauffeur me around if Peter had to work.
"It also meant I had to face up to it and tell everybody (my diagnosis), which I wasn't ready to do - especially given I didn't look sick, I didn't feel sick ... it felt quite fraudulent."
For the next few months, when Tracey wasn't allowed to fly, the family learned what life would be like without Angel Flight.
It's a 12-hour return trip from Dubbo to Sydney, where the clinical trial was being held.
"Because I wasn't allowed to drive, my husband was driving me," she said.
"So he would have to take time off at work and my mother (Shirley Sweeney) would drive up from Forbes to look after the children.
"I started to see that my husband was getting extremely fatigued.
"We would have to drive all that way and then sometimes he would get home and have to go straight to work.
"And my mother, she was dealing with the stress of my diagnosis, which was hard on her, then faced the exhaustion of taking care of three very boisterous children who all adore their nanna.
"Something had to give - without Angel Flight I would have probably given up on the clinical trial."
Now with Angel Flight, Tracey happily boards a plane and is driven from the airport to her appointment when she lands in Sydney.
"I am just blown away with the generosity of this charity: It's not just the pilots, it's the earth angels as well," she said.
"They pick me up at Bankstown Airport and it's an hour-and-a-half drive from the airport to my appointment.
"And they battle the traffic... and then sit around waiting for me all day."
Tracey said she no longer had the niggling thought in the back of her mind that the melanoma could kill her.
That's because she wholeheartedly believes the treatment is working.
"My most recent scans have shown all but two of the tumours are virtually gone," she said.
"Because of my diagnosis, my kids are at higher risk of developing melanoma
"That is why it was important for me to be involved in a clinical trial to help improve the treatments that are available."
ANGEL Flight is a charity that co-ordinates non-emergency flights to help country people trying to deal with the triple blow of bad health, poor finances and daunting distances.
Many country people don't know they can access Angel Flight services free of charge and are struggling to get to their city medical appointments.
All flights are completely free and involve patients travelling to medical facilities anywhere in Australia.
Angel Flight can also transport blood and blood products and medical drugs to country people requiring these items.
Angel Flight can only accept mission requests from a health professional.
All flights are conducted by volunteer pilots in their own aircraft.
It generally takes five to seven working days for an Angel Flight co-ordinator to organise a flight.
Visit the Angel Flight website www.angelflight.org. au or call Angel Flight on 1300726567.