Tilly’s Story

On the 30th October, 2010, one year and one day after her mother’s passing, Tyleisha bravely stood amongst the many Girls Night In Supporters and told her story.

Play for a Cure did not host this event, we didn’t attend the event but I want to share Tilly’s story with you. Jannita, Tilly’s mum, was the 1st of 4 cancer deaths that inspired me to start my own charity ‘Play for a Cure’.

Many gathered at ‘The Venue’ from 6.30pm onwards and enjoyed a night of food, drinks, raffles, stories and lots of laughs with their friends and fellow supporters. The night was a huge success raising $7100 for Cancer Council Queensland. An amazing effort.

Below is Tilly’s story – thank you Tilly for being so open and sharing your story with our audience. I encourage you all to read it and heed Tilly’s wise advice.


Cancer affects so many people. Not only is it a very stressful time for those diagnosed, but it’s emotionally draining for the family and friends whom offer their support. Today I would like to share some of my personal experiences, insights, concerns and questions I had, whilst supporting my mother through her illness.For those of you who don’t know, my mother (Jannita Dunn nee’ Tallis) was originally diagnosed with breast cancer. She battled courageously for 4 years but sadly passed away last year. It is through my ongoing love and respect for her, that I have the strength to stand here today.

During the initial cancer diagnosis, there are a number of questions you may ask yourself:

  • “What do I say?” Asking mum, “How are you?” took on a whole new meaning. “Do you mention their illness every time
  • you see them?”

  • “Should I always be positive?” Even when I see them deteriorating?
  • “Who do I talk to about this? and Who helps me?”
  • When finding out a person you love has breast cancer, it can be as overwhelming and distressing for partners,

    family and friends – as it is for the person diagnosed. After the initial shock of: “Why her?” My next response

    was, “What can I do?”

    • Listen – you don’t necessarily need to have answers
    • Offer support – but don’t wait to be asked and keep offering
    • Let them know you care – tell them or offer small gifts as a sign
    • Be there for their families, as they need support and are going through it too
    • Cry with them, smile with them, but most of all – listen to them.

    How does Breast Cancer develop?

    Breast Cancer develops in either ducts or the lobules. Lobules are where the milk is produced and ducts are where the milk travels. Cancer cells develop when the cells lining the ducts or lobules become abnormal in size and shape and start multiplying in an uncontrolled way.

    This is exactly what happened to my mum: She never actually detected a lump in her breast. Her doctor found one upon examination when she went for a check-up, shortly after weening my youngest sister. It’s extremely difficult to detect breast changes during lactation – as the breasts constantly change shape, leak fluid, can be tender and lumpy from blocked mammary ducts and hormonal changes.

    Unfortunately mums’ lump was 7.6cm in diameter by the time it was found and the biopsy results confirmed the worst… cancer. This was a very hard time for all of us, how could we prepare for the uncertain road ahead? We were told it was an aggressive form of breast cancer and it grew rapidly. She would need her left breast removed and any suspect lymph nodes, promptly followed by chemotherapy and radiation. I recall mum being in shock, but she still had very high hopes.

    I was scared. So many thoughts went through my mind. I was worried for mum and her future but also my siblings. I was 15, Jordan was 12, Bronita was 3 and Tayla had only just turned 2. How were the girls going to understand why mummy’s so sick and losing her hair? How was mum going to cope with hearing questions such as “Mummy when are you going to heaven?” Not only did she have to endure the thought of sickening treatment but had to deal with the
    prospect of her own mortality. How difficult was it going to be explaining this to her children?

    The emotional rollercoaster continued as we were planning a trip to Canberra. She was scheduled to watch me play my first softball game for QLD, but now I thought she’ll only be two weeks post op from her mastectomy and awaiting chemo I can’t expect her to come, so I said, “It’s alright mum, there’s always next year, if I make the team!” She was swift with her response, “Yeah I know hey mate, it will be good going to both!” There was no doubtin her mind, and sure enough she was there in Canberra – cheering me on for my very first QLD game and several other trips that followed.

    During her surgery, mum had 14 lymph nodes removed. The cancer had already spread into 8 of them. Doctors thought there could be more but had to stitch her up quickly because there was a bleeder and her life was at immediate risk. Even upon waking to this news, you could never keep her spirit down. To this day, I believe her positivity is what helped us through the difficult times. She was positive and that’s all that mattered to us.

    Following surgery, mum started chemo once a week and radium everyday for 8 weeks. After completing treatment, mum’s scans showed up clear with only one spot on her liver. The specialist told her not to worry about it and come back in 12 months for a check up.

    Before I knew it… grade 12 had been and gone and I was now acting as mum’s carer in hospital – for yet another round of chemo. You see, the spot on her liver that the doctor wasn’t worried about had spread through to her bones. This news also came with something else new to us… a terminal prognosis!

    Once again our lives changed, but this time it went to a whole new level. There was a time limit on her life. Instead of entering the workplace and studying – as most 17 year olds do after school, I found myself caring for a
    family of six. I spent my days cooking dinner, making lunches for the kids, doing school drop off and pick-ups, and
    spending nearly every Tuesday and Wednesday at the hospital with mum for treatment.

    Mum fought long and hard, and did so because she believed they would find a cure before it was too late. Mum was in and out of hospital for 4 years and didn’t complain once. She courageously travelled from softball to baseball and back to softball, every Saturday to watch her kids play the sport they loved. Her sense of humour and will-to-live never faulted.

    I fondly remember dining out with the family and a waitress handed dad his meal, stating, “I have the chicken breast
    here”. Mum’s response was, “So do I, as she reached for her own chicken fillet (prosthetic breast), do you want to
    swap?” Another funny thought that comes to mind was when mum played in the Softball Masters Competition in August 2008. She loved telling everyone that she’d be no good pitching, as she was likely to continue spinning around because she only had one boob. This constant banter made her a popular member of the team, but this wasn’t her only
    talent. Following the conclusion of the tournament, mum was named in the QLD Masters – All Stars Team. Although surgery robbed her of certain arm movements and strength, this did not hold her back. Her strength-of-character and
    determination was inspirational to me then – as it is now.

    After 3 years of advanced bone treatments, chemotherapy and radiation – mum started deteriorating. It was the middle of last year when the tumours showed-up in her brain. This is when mum’s fight became tougher for her. She was unable to do the things she loved, because she needed every ounce of energy she had to fight. Fight for her life, fight to see her kids, family and friends, day in and day out.

    She would always say to me. “I’m gunna beat it Till. It’s a bastard of a disease, but it won’t get me!” If only she was right! She had such high hopes of fighting and winning. She wished she’d live to tell the story, until sadly the cancer got the best of her and we were left to arrange her funeral this exact night last year.

    My mother lost her battle with breast cancer on the 29th of October 2009. If she was alive today, she would encourage everyone here tonight to check their breasts regularly. Mum lost her battle because of the delay in detection and the subsequent spread into the lymph nodes. Early detection significantly reduces the risks of cancer
    spreading. Breast cancer doesn’t need to be a death sentence. That’s why I strongly urge every woman here tonight
    to get to know your breasts, and if in doubt, don’t delay and see a doctor. You can’t put a price on your life, and
    no question to any doctor, is a stupid one. Self breast assessment, along with regular breast screens and mammograms will save your life. My only hope is to never see anyone else go through the pain and trauma my mother did.

    So tonight, please dig deep. Research leads to education, education leads to early detection and early detection leads to survival and prevention! My mothers’ story has certainly changed my life, in more ways than one. Mum was only 37 years old when she was first diagnosed and back then the ratio for breast cancer was 1 in 16 women. Sadly 4 years later, it has increased to a staggering 1 in 3 women. These numbers are horrendous. So let’s also hope that the money raised tonight will contribute in finding a cure. Unfortunately a cure can’t help my mum now, but there are many others suffering as she did, hoping! I know there’s a cure out there somewhere. Please help us find it.

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