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Living life to the fullest

I never thought I would dance as a single-breasted belly dancer at a community festival, sing as part of a choir at my local arts centre and meet and sing African songs with the Soweto Gospel Choir.

I never thought I would travel to Uganda and see the mountain gorillas, travel to Kenya and see wild animals on safari, climb the Sossusvlei dunes at sunrise in Namibia, see polar bears in the Norwegian Arctic and penguins and seals in the Antarctic and South Georgia – but I have, and I have done all this and more since I had my first brush with breast cancer in 1995.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38 years of age. I had a three-year-old and a six-year-old. My prognosis was not good, and I travelled to Melbourne from my home in Alice Springs to live for eight months while I underwent very aggressive treatment, including high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. My initial fear was that I would never see my youngest child start primary school, let alone experience all the wonderful adventures I have had since my first diagnosis.

Jill at Machu Picchu, Peru

I also never thought I would develop lymphoedema 11 years after initial surgery and a second breast cancer in 2011, requiring another surgery and 12 months of chemotherapy. I also never thought my marriage would break down and that I would go on to have a happy, fulfilling life on my own with the richness of a demanding career.

Breast cancer gave me permission to live my life on my own terms and I continue to “seize the day”. My message to my precious children who are now 22 and 25 is that it is not what happens to you in this life that defines you, but how you deal with what happens to you in this life.

This is my 20th year since my first diagnosis and I never take my life for granted. I know that it can all change in a day. As I approach 60, I look forward to lots more adventures and challenges. I live in the desert and I look forward to moving to the coast where I can join a dragon boat club and have more travels in the future, and maybe even live long enough to one day meet my grandchildren, something I never thought or dreamt I might experience in 1995 when I was diagnosed.

- Jill, NT