We recommend that listeners exercise self-care when listening to this podcast, as some may find the content upsetting.
Let's be Upfront about living with metastatic breast cancer.
In this special episode of Upfront About Breast Cancer, we’re joined by federal parliamentarian Peta Murphy MP. Peta was first diagnosed with early breast cancer at age 37, and found out she had metastatic breast cancer nine years later, just two days after she was sworn in to parliament.
We invited Peta to put a rear-view lens on her life with breast cancer and write a letter to herself. In this podcast, you’ll hear that letter as well as Peta’s story in her own words. We explore Peta’s experience of displaying strength through vulnerability, the many emotions tied up in a breast cancer journey and, ultimately, how Peta’s using her position to improve the lives of others living with breast cancer.
Upfront About Breast Cancer is a production of Breast Cancer Network Australia. Our theme music is by the late Tara Simmons, and this episode is proudly brought to you by the Dry July Foundation.
If this episode helped you or someone you know, you can support the show in the following ways to allow us to continue to be upfront with you and reach more people through meaningful content. Subscribe to ensure you never miss an episode, download so you always have an episode ready to listen to, leave a rating and review and tell us what you liked about the episode.
Want to get in touch? Visit our website at bcna.org.au, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call our Helpline on 1800 500 258.
Kellie Curtain [00:00:05] Welcome to Upfront, where each episode focuses on a different issue about breast cancer. Today's focus is a little different. It's about being upfront and acknowledging the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis, which, of course, is different for everyone. Reflecting on a difficult time is not easy, especially when so often the mindset is to just move forward. Peta Murphy is a federal parliamentarian. She also has metastatic breast cancer. First diagnosed at 37 and then again at 46, just two days after she was sworn into parliament, we invited Peta to put a rear-view lens on her life with breast cancer and write a letter to herself. Please exercise self care when listening to this podcast is the content may be triggering or upsetting for some. Peta, over to you.
Peta Murphy [00:00:58] So, let's start at the start when you first find the lump in your breast. You are, of course, going to decide that you are about to die. This will not be true as you've probably worked out, given that future Peta is writing to you. In fact, that lump will not even be cancer. But you should know that because you took it so seriously, because you went straight to your GP and found the first available mammogram and because you pushed to get into a specialist quickly, the sneaky cancer in your right breast was eventually uncovered. And if it hadn't been, you may not be receiving this letter from future Peta.
Kellie Curtain [00:01:31] That initial shock of receiving a diagnosis, particularly when it wasn't the lump that you discovered?
Peta Murphy [00:01:40] Yes, it was. It was a shock. And what I remember is obviously my husband was with me and we were supposed to be moving to America a week later. So, we were literally staying in one of our friend's bedrooms and everything we owned was packed up. And so we went from Jane's rooms to the mall to check to make sure our health insurance was sorted. I bought a pair of pyjamas from Cotton On. We went back to my friend's house and I was so tired. I just left my poor husband all by himself in the lounge room and I went to bed and I just like passed out. Probably just shocked and overwhelmed, I think. I think that's what it was.
Kellie Curtain [00:02:22] So it's very easy now to write to yourself now, don't be a drama queen.
Peta Murphy [00:02:27] It's not easy at all! It's quite hard.
Kellie Curtain [00:02:29] But it was it was real at that time, wasn't it?
Peta Murphy [00:02:32] Oh, yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I'm not saying that I shouldn't have reacted like that. And, you know, I'm sure everyone reacts differently, but I was, you know, looking back I can almost see myself. I can almost, like, sit on the roof and look down and see myself being in an episode of Days of Our Lives. And I think I mean, we just hear the word cancer, don't we? And we do think that we're going to die. Notwithstanding that intellectually, we know that treatment is so much better than it used to be. It's really hard thing to wrap your head around.
Kellie Curtain [00:03:11] You are clearly vigilant about checking, even though the cancer that was discovered wasn't the lump that you actually found in your breast, it was actually turned out to be behind the chest wall, which could only be discovered by MRI and not by routine checking?
Peta Murphy [00:03:28] Well, I mean, I wasn't checking my breast at all. I mean, I was 37, just turned 37. We were about to move because my husband had a great job and we left it a little bit late but that was the year we were going to try to have a family and I had some plans about some study. And literally I was in the shower, we were in Adelaide going to a friend's wedding and I was in the shower getting ready. And I went, oh, what? That lump wasn't there this morning. I mean, you know, I'd never felt it before and I'd been sick, I had the flu, which is kind of a recurring theme for me, but I'd been quite sick with the flu. I was a barrister, so I was junior counsel in a murder trial, which had been incredibly stressful. So I was run down not feeling well, which is why when I found the lump, I thought to myself, well, you know, obviously you've got end stage cancer because you've been so sick and it turns out lump wasn't cancer and the flu was the flu. And then partly because I was going overseas, partly because honestly, I am just the sort of person that if there's something that seems a bit wrong, then I can't put it out of my mind, I have to go and investigate it. That was a Saturday and I think I was in to see the GP on the Monday.
Kellie Curtain [00:04:50] Let's hear a bit more from your letter.
Peta Murphy [00:04:54] Sure, it wasn't entirely necessary for you to react to the news like a character from Days of Our Lives and through a flood of tears, ask how long do I have to live? But to be honest, it won't be the last time you act like a drama queen. It's OK. It does not feel like it right now, but you are in fact incredibly lucky. And never forget this. You know it, but make sure you remind yourself frequently: you are in fact, fortunate. You got in to see a specialist and were able to start your treatment quickly. You have a supportive partner and extended family. You are financially secure. Too many women in your situation, do not have any of these. And in addition to dealing with being told they have cancer and wondering if they can still work, how they will pay the bills, who will look after the children, your friends and family want to help. It feels very strange to have people make and deliver food for you, for bunches of flowers to turn up at the door, to receive messages of support from people you do not know. Well, let them help. Again, not everyone has a network of support. Eat the food if you like it, pretend you ate it if you don't. Enjoy fresh flowers, but only answer the phone or return messages if you want to. You will find yourself playing the role of emotional support to other people, letting them know that your prognosis is excellent once you go through the treatment. I know you want to do this, but just occasionally listen to Rod when he tells you to put the phone away and just enjoy going for a walk with him. You can always call people back later.
Kellie Curtain [00:06:24] So, Rod, your husband.
Peta Murphy [00:06:25] Yes.
Kellie Curtain [00:06:27] It seems to be a very common thread for people who are diagnosed with breast cancer - when they receive this tidal wave of support, but somehow they end up supporting others.
Peta Murphy [00:06:39] Yeah, because it's it's really hard to see your family and friends get this bad news about you and be worried about you. And you want to make sure they know that it's going to be OK. Um, and I think I said in a speech I gave, you know, for me at least, you're really grateful for the support that people give you, but kind of resent the fact that you need it. Which I know sound like two conflicting emotions. But, for me a bit, that's a bit like what the cancer journey is about; conflicting emotions.
Kellie Curtain [00:07:24] Accepting help for many people is just so hard.
Peta Murphy [00:07:28] Yes.
Kellie Curtain [00:07:28] And you obviously are reminding yourself there that you need to do that.
Peta Murphy [00:07:34] Oh, yes. And and I was like, I'm sure a lot of people I mean, again, I was fortunate in a way that we didn't have young children. And, you heard always working as a barrister. So I worked for myself. So I you know, I was in charge of whether I went back to work or not. And my husband was working, so we had money and I didn't have to worry about any of those things. But there was also a part of me at least, that wanted to be strong and show that I was in control. And there was, my first chemo session, Rod, was supposed to go to a meeting, he'd picked up some consulting work and I had one of my friends was going to come with me and she couldn't come, I think, because of her baby. Rod was like, I'm definitely coming with you. And I was adamant, you know, no, I'll be fine. I mean, how hard can it be? I just got to walk in. They'll put a needle in. It'll be fine. And he just worn me down and said he was coming with me. And I'm really glad he wore me down because I was not prepared for how I would feel walking into the room with all of these other women hooked up to chemo. For some reason in my mind, I had decided that there would be children there, which again, didn't make any sense because, of course, they'd be at the children's hospital. So I'd emotionally prepared myself for seeing children with cancer, which meant I had not at all thought about the fact that I would be seeing myself reflected in women my age with cancer.
Kellie Curtain [00:09:11] And you found that confronting?
Peta Murphy [00:09:12] I found it really confronting. Yeah. And I don't know, the operation was hard and all the rest of it. But, you know, chemo, I guess is what we associate with cancer right? So having the needle and the poison going into my body, I was really glad that Rod refused to listen to me. And he came. And to be honest, it's not the last time that he has refused to listen to me and has come to a medical appointment and I've been very glad that he's been there.
Kellie Curtain [00:09:40] Must be very hard when not only are you, but you're perceived as extremely capable, and a get-things-done and let's get on with this type of person, to actually acknowledge and accept that vulnerability...?
Peta Murphy [00:09:59] Yes, vulnerability is OK and accepting support is OK because, I mean, that's how I've always seen myself as, you know, just pulling myself up and getting things done. And, you know, like everyone else, like every other woman on the planet, you know, I've been really insecure and have doubted myself and, you know, relationships and career, not that we ever like to acknowledge that, but absolutely, I've been through all that. But, during those times - and my friends will say this - I've always been able to portray myself as strong, you know, and maybe people didn't know how I felt deep down. But for me that has been really important. But you just can't always be strong when you're the person who's going through treatment and it is a good thing to accept the help of others. I'm still not good at it all the time, but I'm much better at it. And also, when you do allow people to see that you are vulnerable in that specific definition of vulnerability, I think that comes with with being ill, it's amazing the number of times somebody will say, I've been through the same thing, or my mother's been through the same thing, or thank you for showing that you're vulnerable because that's actually how I've felt. And I didn't know whether it was okay to show it.
Kellie Curtain [00:11:29] In that last paragraph, you said to yourself that occasionally you should listen to Rod when he tells you to put the phone away, don't don't answer the messages and just go for a walk. How hard was it to take care of you; to actually draw breath and go what is best for me?
Peta Murphy [00:11:52] Yeah, on one level, I was quite good at it because I was always have been incredibly sporty and always into exercise and looking after myself in that way. So it was easy for me to keep doing that. And for me that was also really important for my mental health. And but it was harder for me to not take phone calls from people that I knew were calling me because they were worried about me and they wanted to give me support. And I know this sounds really weird, but I didn't want to let them down by not answering. And I wrote that in the letter to myself because I remember - a lot of it's a blur, a lot of the sort of six months in 2011 is a blur - but I do remember walking with Rod around the Tan and getting a phone call from one of my mentors, who's a senior barrister and he's a Supreme Court judge, and seeing his name on the screen and Rod's saying, don't answer it, we're going for a walk. And me saying, no, I have to because he'll be worried about me. And I can't I can't let him worry about me. I need to talk to him. And I did. And I was glad I did. But that's why I put that in there, because I remember Rod saying you don't you don't have to do it right now.
Kellie Curtain [00:13:15] Mm. I feel like some dark moments are coming up in your letter to yourself.
Peta Murphy [00:13:23] Probably, yes. Oh, no, the next paragraph is the dark humour. I'll try not to ham this up, but I do do a very good dinner party slash pink lady fundraising speech about the dark humour parts of having breast cancer. Maybe when you do a comedy podcast one day I can be on it.
Kellie Curtain [00:13:41] Let's hear it then!
Peta Murphy [00:13:42] There will be moments of dark humour. Fainting while clamped into the mammogram machine was not your finest moment - that was hilarious - the looks on the faces of the unexplained group of men in suits, watching you get a wire inserted into your breast before going into the MRI. When you yelled at them, who the bleep are you and what are you doing here, was gold. When the plastic surgeon put so much saline into your temporary breast implants that you could not sleep on your stomach and you had to go back and tell him that you were not joking when you said you wanted to downsize.
Kellie Curtain [00:14:17] Ouch!
Peta Murphy [00:14:20] He didn't believe me! He really didn't believe me. I had to say no. I mean it. You don't understand!
Kellie Curtain [00:14:25] Well, you've got to laugh, don't you? Sometimes.
Peta Murphy [00:14:27] Oh, you have to. Or, I have to. And the women I've spoken to who have been through breast cancer, it's a pretty common theme. You know, if you don't laugh, you cry. Sometimes you do both. And, you know, my surname's Murphy. Murphy's Law is a real thing. You know, the worst thing will happen at the worst possible moment. But, you know, I did faint clamped into a mammogram shortly after having a quite extended conversation with the nurse about how men are just wusses and can't deal with pain and complain and how stoic women are. And then apparently I fainted, the chair, which was on wheels, and I've never understood why, fell out from underneath me and they had to run in and catch me as I was hanging from the mammogram machine. So, you know, you pretty much got to laugh at that.
Kellie Curtain [00:15:12] It must be a bit of a survival mechanism too do you think?
Peta Murphy [00:15:17] Yeah, look, I think so. I mean, I guess I've always been the sort of person that likes to tell self-deprecating stories. It's probably an ego thing. You know, you pretend you're making fun of yourself, but you get to talk about yourself. Um, so I've found it easy to use that with breast cancer. But also, I don't know, you can't be dark all the time. And, you know, the survival rate of breast cancer is so great now, whilst it is something I think that never leaves someone that's gone through it, you know, there's physical scars, there's emotional and mental scars. It is also something that that you have to learn to live with. And sometimes those things that are genuinely funny and sometimes those things that are just a bit of dark humour, I think are a way of living with it.
Ad [00:16:12] BCNA's My Journey online tool is a new resource that gives instant access to trusted and up to date information which is relevant to your breast cancer journey. For more information, visit my journey dot org dot au.
Kellie Curtain [00:16:28] So I think you're about to tell yourself about the moments that you can't prepare for.
Peta Murphy [00:16:32] Yeah, these aren't the moments of dark humour. There will be moments you were not prepared for: the first time you walked into the chemo room and it hit you that all the women there had breast cancer; when the doctor said you should get some eggs frozen because chemo at your age could make you infertile and you realised you may never have children, and the subsequent many, many unsuccessful rounds of IVF proved her correct; the night before your first chemo, when you thought you had lost your mind, but you realised it was the pre-chemo steroids. You will become both stronger and more fragile. You will learn to display vulnerability without fear of appearing weak. But don't get too carried away. You will still be yourself with all of your existing flaws and good points.
Kellie Curtain [00:17:21] To have the whole diagnosis and let's freeze your eggs so that you can get back on track, so to speak, when this breast cancer is treated and then to have that not work out too, must have not only been something that you didn't prepare for, twice.
Peta Murphy [00:17:46] Yeah, and look. I mean, obviously, it was terrible, obviously, it was a really hard journey, my body did get beaten around a fair bit for a few years there and I'm sure the listeners know what hormones do to you. The other thing and it's Rod, my husband's, story to tell how he felt, but, you know, he was going through it, too. And he was amazing because he wanted to be there for me at every juncture and at times when I wasn't able to be tough and I put my feelings on to him. You know, he was also obviously going through something.
Kellie Curtain [00:18:34] Because it was his dream of children was going to happen either?
Peta Murphy [00:18:37] And he was watching his wife be sick. And, you know, he was then and now genuinely amazing. And again, that's one of those things that not everybody has that. And that's what I try to remind myself. You know, I was very fortunate that I had and still have, Rod. But it's also very hard to watch someone you love try to be so strong for you all of the time. And a lot of our advocacy, those of us who have had breast cancer and are privileged to be in a position to do advocacy, is obviously about making the treatment better and the journey better for women and making it cost less. But we have to, I think sometimes, remember the partners, you know, whether they be male husbands or female wives or children or best friends or sometimes your partner is, you know, your mum or your dad or whoever it is that does the journey with you, it is hard for them too. It really is.
Kellie Curtain [00:19:40] We talk about, or you have talked about reminding yourself that you're very fortunate. That must be really hard when the blows seem to keep coming.
Peta Murphy [00:19:51] Yeah, and look, I mean, I just, I think you really to say that life is not fair when you want to and rail a bit and I'm not a psychologist and maybe a psychologist will say something else, but in the end, you can't stay in that railing life isn't fair space, because it just is unhappy and unhealthy. And that is not to say it wasn't shit because it was, it was, and it still is at times just crappy. It just is. And my personal view is that there is no rhyme nor reason. You know, I had a woman contact me in my community. She got it, she went and had a test after I gave my first speech in parliament, telling ladies to check their breasts. And it turned out she had breast cancer and she's, you know, a decade or so younger than me. And she's got kids and she's just found out she's got metastatic, you know, triple negative breast cancer. And she sent me a message asking what she'd done wrong. She's done nothing wrong. Life just isn't...there's no rhyme nor reason to it. And if you've got religion, hold onto it. But, you know, I just don't think that; it's not that you've done anything wrong.
Kellie Curtain [00:21:02] Did that resonate with you, though, that line? What have I done wrong or why me?
Peta Murphy [00:21:06] Oh, yeah, I'd be lying if I didn't say that. I mean, honestly, why me? Like, I'm healthy. I eat well. You should see what my husband eats. You know, I at various times of my life have had a bit too much to drink at a party, but I'm not much of a drinker. I've never smoked. You know, I've been an athlete. I... You know, honestly, why on earth would I get cancer? Because you do. Just because that's what happens. And there are lots of things that we can do to reduce our chances of getting cancer. And we know the things that are carcinogenic and the things that aren't. But, you know, after I had the first breast cancer and the Victorian Cancer Council put out research that said any amount of alcohol increases your chance of a recurrence of breast cancer, I didn't drink any alcohol for 18 months, even though I wasn't even a big drinker. You know, I was like, well, how is this fair? It came back - sorry, the letter. I've just, you know, jumped ahead of you - it came back, you know, but how long can you say it's not fair? It doesn't change it. But you're allowed to say it sometimes. You're allowed to go and fall apart sometimes.
Kellie Curtain [00:22:20] Let's talk about some happier stuff. Some triumphs.
Peta Murphy [00:22:22] Oh, yes. Triumphs yes, this is where I get to boast to myself! There will be moments of triumph you would not otherwise have experienced. It's a long story, but at the end of your three month recovery, you will win the US Masters 35 years squash championships at Harvard University. You will spend two years as a senior public defender at Legal Aid. And most amazingly of all, you will get elected to represent your community in the federal parliament. You will take everything you have learnt about the health system, yourself, what it means to have cancer, and you will use that to become someone who can make a difference to the lives of other women and men. And as your mother says to you, things always happen for a reason, which I don't actually believe, but it makes you feel better.
Kellie Curtain [00:23:11] You took the words right out of my mouth and I'm sure out of the mouths of many listeners going really?!
Peta Murphy [00:23:18] There's no reason that you got cancer, but there might be a reason that you got cancer that you can use to make yourself and other people feel better.
Kellie Curtain [00:23:28] So you can't determine what happens to you, but you can determine how you react and how you move forward on that. And boy, did you. And then some!
Peta Murphy [00:23:39] I did. I did. And I am doing my best.
Kellie Curtain [00:23:43] How does your experience make your position in the federal parliament even more meaningful?
Peta Murphy [00:23:52] Because I can and I do talk with authority about what it means to have had or to have cancer. And people, to be honest, have to listen to me. And if I didn't have that personal experience, then I could be an advocate in the parliament. And I think I could make a difference. But I wouldn't command the same silence when I stand up and say I want to talk about breast cancer.
Kellie Curtain [00:24:28] So many times we hear people say, you don't know until you know.
Peta Murphy [00:24:31] Yeah. And look, I want to make this clear. I actually don't think that you have to have experienced something to be able to be an effective representative for it, particularly in politics. Right. So I'm not a mother, but I don't see any reason why I can't be a very passionate and knowledgeable advocate for childcare and better education, which I talk about all the time. So don't get me wrong, I don't think that there is a necessary connection, but I think that if you do have a connection to something as unfortunately common and visceral and life changing as breast cancer, then that can be that much more powerful to make people really understand what it's like to have it and really understand that it's not just a political slogan when you say MRI tests should be funded, you know, you can actually say, as I have, it literally saved my life that I was wealthy enough to be able to afford a thousand dollars out of pocket for an MRI because that's what I paid with three days notice that I needed one. I was able to pay for it. Now, imagine if I couldn't, I would not be here talking to you. So that's more powerful than simply saying I believe in universal access to health care, I think.
Kellie Curtain [00:25:57] Very, very much more powerful. And the next bit of your letter is pretty powerful too.
Peta Murphy [00:26:05] OK, finally, and this bit sucks, you will think that your cancer journey is pretty much over. Aside from the scars and the insights. But almost exactly eight years from your first diagnosis, you will find out that your cancer has come back. You have metastatic breast cancer. It is in your bones, with a couple of tumours that grew out of your sternum. You are now the poster girl for Murphy's Law because you will get this diagnosis a couple of months after getting elected to the federal parliament, just days after being sworn in and two weeks before giving your big first speech. But listen carefully, drama queen, you will be angry, you will be distressed, and you will realise that life is not fair and of course it's not. You will blame yourself because you listen to GPs who told you that the pain in your chest was nothing to worry about. You will wonder why you did everything right and followed every piece of medical advice you were given, but this still happened to you. It will be almost unbearable to have to tell your family and friends. You will feel all of this and you will feel it in waves. But you will also use that strength, that acceptance of vulnerability that your previous diagnosis gave you. You will take a deep breath and you will choose to use this latest bump in your life journey to make a difference, because remember, you are fortunate. There is excellent treatment available and you have the privilege of serving in the federal parliament. Use that privilege to help other people living with cancer feel less alone, to push for better cancer treatment and services, and to show your community that it is possible to demonstrate strength and vulnerability, acceptance and determination, illness and well being.
Kellie Curtain [00:27:56] So. Angry is a word that I would expect many people would identify with, whether it's a first or in your case, a second diagnosis and metastatic.
Peta Murphy [00:28:15] Yeah, I was really angry. Well, first of all, I was kind of in shock, in denial, so much so that I told Rod he didn't have to come to the appointment - it's fine, they just said there's, I dunno, like a tumour or something, but don't worry about it. I'll just go on my own. Luckily, he turned up in the GP waiting room and then I was angry. Honestly, I cannot tell you the language I used. My poor GP. Um, I was really angry. Occasionally I'm still angry. But you can't let the anger consume you. You can go for a run.
Kellie Curtain [00:28:52] Which might release a bit of the build up.
Peta Murphy [00:28:55] Yes. Or ride an exercise bike. I'm a big, big advocate for spin everyone out there. If you've got a little bit of anger you need to get rid of, do yourself a 30 minute interval HIIT class, you'll be too tired to think about how angry you are.
Kellie Curtain [00:29:09] So this is a letter to yourself, and yet this only happened last year.
Peta Murphy [00:29:13] Last year - July, July last year. Almost, so the first one was in May in 2011 and then July 2019.
Kellie Curtain [00:29:24] It's a lot to take on. And you've got a little bit of retrospect, but only 12 months, really. So how are you dealing with that?
Peta Murphy [00:29:35] Um, oh, I'm not sure I think I'm dealing with it pretty well in all the circumstances because, you know, I get this amazing opportunity to be in parliament - also I ran for parliament in 2016 and came close but didn't succeed - for my community down at Frankston area. So then I ran again in 2019 so it was almost a, you know, four year project to be able to, to represent my community. And, you know, the first time I had time to take a breath and go and see my proper GP and say I don't know, this pain in my chest when I sneeze and cough, it's getting really bad was when I found out what it was. Everyone thought it was scar tissue from the previous operations. So I actually was sent off to get an MRI in preparation for having the implants removed and new ones put in, which is why it was such a shock, because no one thought no one thought it could be the cancer coming back. So that happened and then COVID happened. And in some ways, you know, it's given me a really big project outside of myself to make sure I'm doing everything I can for the people I represent to try to get through COVID. Um, and you can't sit around feeling sorry for yourself while you're literally the person representing one hundred and twenty thousand people in the federal parliament who are dealing with a global pandemic and a recession.
Ad [00:31:21] BCNA's Helpline is a free confidential phone service for people diagnosed with breast cancer, their family and friends. Staffed by experienced cancer nurses, the team can help you with your questions, concerns and help you navigate through your breast cancer journey. Call 1800 500 258.
Kellie Curtain [00:31:43] When you were told not only had the cancer come back, but it was metastatic, did you fully comprehend what that meant?
Peta Murphy [00:31:55] Probably not, and this is, I've talked to you guys at Breast Cancer Network Australia a fair bit about this, deciding to come out and talk about living with metastatic breast cancer, because that word is pretty scary. And it...
Kellie Curtain [00:32:15] Because it does mean that it's it's moved outside the breast and into other areas of your body.
Peta Murphy [00:32:22] So for me, it's in my bones. As I said, I had a couple of tumours that appear to have responded very well to the radiation. Thankfully, the pain is very much diminished, but it is... I'm probably not going to be as articulate as I would like to be about this, so bear with me. It's kind of what I mean when I talk about vulnerability and strength at the same time. And I am in a profession now where people do everything they can not to display their vulnerabilities, because they don't want to give their political opponents a weapon to use against them. And it's really only in recent years that politicians have been prepared to accept that they've struggled with things like mental health and they decided to come out and talk about that to normalise it in the community, because if you see people who are supposed to be leaders being willing to talk about it, then it's a big step in the direction of taking away the stigma about mental health. So that was in part why I made the decision to publicly say I've got metastatic breast cancer, also because you can't be, I think in my position, I can't be me and be a politician of integrity and not talk about it. Also, I just talk about myself all the time so it was going to come out anyway. And, I've always been completely honest about when I was diagnosed and what I've been diagnosed with. But it is something that you have to be mindful of when you're talking to people about metastatic cancer. It's important that they understand that we live with it. People live with metastatic breast cancer everywhere all the time. Work, play, have relationships go, you know, travel. It is something that these days, with the treatment, many fortunate women can live with it as a chronic illness for a very long time.
Kellie Curtain [00:34:34] You must have to face your own mortality, though?
Peta Murphy [00:34:38] Oh yeah, and that, I mean, that's part of having cancer and it's certainly part of having metastatic cancer. And for me, talking about it is beneficial to me as well. You know, like I intend to be around for a very long time. Olivia Newton John and I have a pact about that. We're both going to be around for a very long time so that we can do the things we want to do. And it's also a motivation, perhaps, to get things done a little bit faster, just in case. But, you know, it's been 18 months since I was diagnosed and, um, apart from the fact I hate the menopause symptoms and, I wish I didn't have to put on so much weight and, you know, I get tired in a way that I didn't used to and I have to look after myself a bit better, I can't see that having metastatic breast cancer has stopped me from doing the job that I am doing or living my life. It's just that it's different and some of it's better. Some of it sucks.
Kellie Curtain [00:35:42] Speaking of Olivia...
Peta Murphy [00:35:44] I know and I can explain this more detail. Also, you will not only get to meet Olivia Newton John, she will publicly describe you as her twin because you are both doing all you can to live your best lives with the same chronic disease. And if people want to think she calls you her twin because you look the same, who are you to contradict them? You never thought that would happen, did you? In the spirit of Pippi Longstocking. Stay strong, girl. Peta.
Kellie Curtain [00:36:21] How did you feel about writing that letter to yourself?
Peta Murphy [00:36:24] It was hard. Uh, we had to put this podcast off, remember, because I hadn't written my letter yet!
Kellie Curtain [00:36:32] So you were putting it off.
Peta Murphy [00:36:33] I was putting it off. Once I started it, it was pretty easy.
Kellie Curtain [00:36:39] What was the hardest bit?
Peta Murphy [00:36:42] Starting it.
Kellie Curtain [00:36:44] What do you think it was - you didn't want to go there?
Peta Murphy [00:36:48] Oh, yeah, and I don't know. I mean, this is going to sound weird because I've just spent a long time talking about myself and how I feel about things. But, um, you know, it is hard to delve into your own emotions and put yourself out there. Like, I don't pretend that any of this is easy. You know, it's hard and it's not also for everyone. Is the other thing that I want to make sure gets into this podcast - is that just because I've chosen to live my life with cancer in this way doesn't mean that everyone has to choose it. And if you want to, you know, spend your time sitting in the back garden in the sun reading a book and not working, that's entirely justified. If you want to go and be the full time carer for your grandkids so that your daughter-in-law and son can go and work, that's entirely justified. It's up to everyone to choose their own way of dealing with the illness and the disease. And also, the treatment affects people differently. And if you feel like you can't drag yourself out of bed, don't get out of bed. If it goes on for a long time, maybe, maybe actually do get out of bed and go and talk to your doctor. But, you know, every now and then, don't get out of bed.
Kellie Curtain [00:38:15] When I read your letter. It just...there's so much in there, both triumphs, sadness. Lots of things. What do you, what's your overwhelming takeaway when you completed that and it's you?
Peta Murphy [00:38:40] I don't know. I don't that's a pretty difficult question because it's you know, it's an ongoing thing for me right.
Kellie Curtain [00:38:47] Or the journey so far, then, because it's quite a journey that you've already been on.
Peta Murphy [00:38:56] Yeah. I am kind of proud of myself that I've done it. It's a hard thing to say, um, particularly when you're in politics and you're not mean to say things like that, but, um, it's just life. It's just life. Life's hard. They don't tell you that when you're a kid, you know, life can be hard. Um, but you've got to... Oh, what's that stupid thing about turning lemons into lemonade. I hate that phrase, but oh life's hard and get what you can out of it when you can. And for me, it's fulfilling, um, a lifelong interest and desire to be in politics, not for being in politics. I actually don't like the combative politics side of politics. It's, um, being in government to be part of...Oh, God, it sounds so corny, but to be part of making Australia's future better. You know, I'm one of those people, I believe in the power of democracy and the power of government to transform people's lives. Um, and it's a bit like my mum's thing that everything happens for a reason. You know, maybe I wouldn't have got to fulfil that ambition to be someone that contributes to that if I hadn't had breast cancer. So I better use the breast cancer journey to help transform other people's lives for the better.
Kellie Curtain [00:40:30] Thank you, Peta.
Peta Murphy [00:40:32] You're very welcome.
Kellie Curtain [00:40:34] If you'd like to read Peta's letter to herself, you can find it on BCNA's website. That's where you will also find links to a range of resources, including the My Journey online tool and our Online Network. For any individual concerns, be sure to contact your health professional. This podcast was brought to you with thanks to Dry July. Until next time. I'm Kellie Curtain. It's good to be Upfront with you.
Samantha was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2014, followed by metastatic breast cancer in 2019.
Alison shares her experience of living with breast cancer. From the intensity of diagnosis to the life lessons she’s learned along the way
Strategies to help those affected by an early breast cancer diagnosis
Reduce stress and enhance wellbeing during breast cancer care
Let’s be upfront about behavioural changes.
Let’s be upfront about the challenges for those living with metastatic breast cancer.
Let’s be upfront about anxiety in a cancer context.