How do you do what Australia’s ABC radio announcer Jill Emberson is doing and live knowing you will die?
No, no, no – I don’t mean how do you live with that terrible truth in the background, that we all have to face. I mean how do you live knowing your timetable is truncated, that you will die before just about everyone else in the room?
That’s what Jill is doing. She has Ovarian Cancer and her chemotherapy options have run out. It’s been calculated she may have only 18 months left to live.
In the first episode of her podcast Still Jill, she talks about the moment when she proposed to her husband, Ken Lambert, after the shock of urgent brain surgery. He turned her down then. It can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/still-jill/chapter-1-marry-me-ken/10308172
A beautiful wedding
I’ve got a bias in telling this story, so here’s a disclaimer. We are old school friends, and about a month ago I was at her wedding to the wonderful Ken.
It was one of those extraordinary nights. Malia, Jill’s daughter, gave her away. The exchange of rings was so, so spiritual. You could feel the presence of the Awabakal and Worimi peoples, who for thousands of years have walked the land of the Honeysuckle precinct where the ceremony was held.
The quartet of singers – all of them magical – were Ken’s amazingly gifted musician sons. They harmonised with Jill’s niece, Leah, in one bracket, then with Ken in another.
Afterwards, we went to a knees-up at a big old beachside pub, with the sound of the surf rolling in our ears. Bells were placed on the tables with an order to ring them every time the bride and groom kissed. So of course, we reversed it. If we rang the bells long enough, then the bride and groom would eventually smooch.
The happy couple honeymooned in Tonga, entwined with Jill’s heritage because that’s where her father is from. Jill and Ken swam close up with whales, went kite surfing and explored the island of Tongatapu’s rainforests, reefs and blowholes.
But floating just above all of this, like the arc itself of the wedding arbour they married under, was the fact that Jill is dying of Ovarian Cancer, which is what her podcast Still Jill is all about.
How do you mix the joy of a wedding with the dread of what awaits you? Jill addressed this poignantly in her wedding speech, one which shimmered at the edge of tears, as she explained: “Living with this horrible disease and what it means is the hardest thing I will ever, ever have to do.”
But at this point I’m going to interrupt and stop the tragedy narrative – because that’s exactly what Jill is doing. She is poking death in the eye – fiercely, audaciously. She is giving it a good fight.
She is using her skills as a broadcaster, her power as a journalist, her chutzpah and energy to agitate for change. She is arguing that if some of the wealth and research bounty that’s been garnered for breast cancer research spilled into Ovarian Cancer research, this would empower all women. She’d like the pink ribbon to have a bit of teal at the bottom.
“After all, they’re both about our girly bits,” she explains.
Why is there no early screening for Ovarian cancer?
There’s no early screening for Ovarian Cancer. But Jill asks ‘Why?’ She argues this is just because of a lack of imagination.
In an age when we can put the final polish on plans to send humans to Mars, when we can produce – and sell – a pair of gold shoes worth $US16 million, when the founder of Amazon’s net worth is more than the GDP of Hungary, can’t we make the leap, even if challenging, into finding then funding an early, accessible, test for Ovarian Cancer?
Jill is also urging all women who have bloating and bowel changes that they don’t feel confident their doctor has explained, to go back and ask for the CA 125 blood test. Because even though we don’t have a broad-based screening test for Ovarian cancer, the disease can be detected with this test.
Yes that’s right, we can be tested for it. It’s just that the symptoms are vague and hard to nail – like the constipation, tummy gurgling and bloating that Jill’s male surgeon freely admits to having every now and then.
So lots of women either ignore the symptoms or don’t realise how significant they are. This is an argument for educating women about the symptoms, a key motivation in producing Still Jill, Jill says.
It’s an argument for empowering women to pay a little more attention to the things our body might be telling us, even if we have to face the embarrassment that after confessing our fears to medical professionals, it might be telling us nothing very much at all.
Ovarian Cancer doesn’t get enough attention
One of the saddest points Jill makes is that Ovarian Cancer doesn’t get the attention that breast cancer does because most sufferers die before they get the chance to become activists.
That’s what Jill is defying. Most women with such a short time span left to them lie down and yield. They go home. They withdraw. They go, quietly.
That’s what Jill refuses to do.
So I’m sharing this story, not just because of friendship but to acknowledge the bravery of someone who is prepared to do something we don’t usually do, to talk about dying.
I hope that as she shows us another way, an out there, cheeky way to navigate this dark place, the fear we have of our own death, that this will mean more people will carry her in their hearts, their prayers, their thoughts.
If strangers, friends, those who love her, those who listen to her on the radio, and those who want to spread the word about Ovarian Cancer can do this, then that will in turn, help her to do this thing she must do so unnaturally early, that she has to live knowing will happen soon, this thing that in her own words is so, so, unspeakably hard.
* Jill Emberson’s podcast “Still Jill” can be found at: http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/still-jill/chapter-1-marry-me-ken/10308172
- To find out more about Ovarian cancer, go to:https://ovariancancer.net.au/
- To donate to Ovarian Cancer research, go to: https://ovariancancer.secure.force.com/Donate/GeneralDonations2017-2018
* For the ABC’s girl’s night in, :
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