The end of a journey

TRIATHLONS have been a constant in Lisa and Ben McDermid's life together.

So much so, that Ben proposed to Lisa after crossing the finishing line at his first ironman triathlon some years ago. 

They never expected to top such an emotional finish - but time would prove otherwise.

As Lisa sat with Ben during the presentations for the Echuca triathlon earlier this year, she was confident he would be acknowledged for placing in his division.

But as she spoke with excitement of his chances of receiving a ribbon or bottle of wine, Ben looked at her with a puzzled expression and told her he hadn’t placed.

He led the pack in the swimming and cycling legs, but stopped to wait for his wife to reach the finish line before completing the event.

For 48 minutes Ben cheered others over the line, waiting for that moment when Lisa was ready to cross– and then finished the event behind her.

“That was pretty amazing, and our children chased us up the finish, so it was really special,’’ Lisa said.

“It was just great as a real bookend to that 12 month period of craziness.’’

That period of craziness was cancer. Breast cancer, diagnosed exactly one year before.

Lisa had spent 2012 getting fit. She was feeling sedentary after the birth of her two sons and started walking, then running. She completed the Melbourne half marathon that October and set a goal to compete in the 2013 Echuca triathlon.

A few weeks before the Echuca event, Lisa was watching television with her arms folded, and found a lump in her breast. One week before the triathlon, she was diagnosed with cancer.

“I started doing triathlons and was just loving life, was feeling really good about things and then I was diagnosed with cancer which just totally flawed me.

“Breast cancer was the last thing I ever thought of.

“I spent a week in absolute dread and terror, thinking ‘oh no, what’s going to happen to my kids?’ and I wasn’t eating or sleeping.

“But my family convinced me to do the triathlon because I had spent months training for it.

“I went up there and did it - getting into the river was just…. ah, all the stress and anxiety of having cancer lifted.’’

Lisa then had a lumpectomy. More cancer was detected.

It would be two weeks before she had her first of two mastectomies – but two days before that surgery, Lisa ran the Queen of the Lake around Albert Park Lake.

“My surgeon was like ‘you did what?’ she said.

The cancer was then found to be aggressive and 22 lymph nodes were removed.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed, but Lisa continued to run.

“I tried to run all through chemo and got to the last round of chemo and got the best of me in terms of bone pain and then I had another mastectomy, so for two to three months I didn’t run at all,'' she said.

But in November, at the end of her treatment, Lisa started training again – and signed up for the 2014 Echuca event.

“This time is a lot harder because I’ve had three surgeries so my haemoglobin is quite low and that makes a difference to your fitness,’’ she said.

“I did enough training just to do it comfortably and plod along and finish it.’’

Her only goal was not to come last.

Unbeknown to Lisa, she was never going to.

“My husband would have won his age group – we hadn’t discussed it, but when I came off the bike and started running, he was standing there on the side of the track and I thought he had finished already, because for him it takes an hour to do, for me about an hour and 30 minutes, so I thought he would have finished and he is just going to run with me and isn’t that lovely,’’ Lisa said.

“So we ran the finish and that night we went to the Echuca awards presentation and I thought ‘oh darling, you might have placed, you might get a ribbon or bottle of wine’ – and he is looking at me funny and eventually he said, ‘I didn’t finish the race – I ran with you so I placed with you’.

“He said he told me that while we were running, but I didn’t take it on board – so that was pretty amazing.

“He ended up waiting for me for 48 minutes – he stood on the side cheering other people through and waited for me to come and then just started running with me.

“It was pretty special.’’

Also supporting Lisa from the sidelines was school friend Melissa Baker.

Melissa, too, was diagnosed with cancer last year, and despite her first round of chemotherapy failing to take her into remission from Hodgkins lymphoma, she joined Lisa in Echuca to celebrate her victory.

As Lisa was in the thick of her cancer treatment last year, Melissa was starting hers and decided to enter a team in the Peter Mac Weekend to End Women’s cancers walk this weekend.

"When I finished treatment it occurred to me I should walk it with her as a tribute to her, it never occurred to me earlier than that that I would be able to even to do it,'' Lisa said.

Lisa has since been asked to be part of a survivors’ circle during the opening and closing ceremonies, but sadly Melissa may not be able to participate.

“She will be too sick to participate, but she will try and come to the walk and see the opening and closing ceremony and hopefully she can participate in some way,’’ Lisa said.

“The whole team will be walking with her at the front of their minds.

“This walk is going to be pretty emotional.

“I never thought I’d get breast cancer and I never thought I would be surrounded in sea of pink, but it’s the colour.’’

In fact, much about Lisa’s outlook on life has changed.

The teacher/lecturer is considering a change in career to allow her to give something back – and says it has connected her with a community she thought she would never need assistance from.

“The community has been extraordinary – we are members of the Bendigo uni athletics club and my son started at Spring Gully kinder last year,'' she said.

“Tapping into those aspects of your community provides those really strong links in times like this – I never expected to ever really need assistance from people in the community.

“My husband’s employer Bendigo Bank been terrific in terms of allowing him time off to travel and with fundraising.

“We’re pretty blessed, pretty lucky.

“You’ve just got to live – you do, it’s been an absolutely crazy time, really awful, but there’s been some really wonderful lessons learnt in the 12 months.

“It’s been a really meaningful and rich experience, in terms of stopping you in your tracks and letting go of all the stuff that just does not matter in life … like worrying about finances, or stress of work, kids making too much noise, or whatever and just really learning to be in the moment because you just never know what your future holds.

“I’m acutely aware of the hundreds of thousands of people who to them it’s been the worst thing in their life, and so out of respect for them I won’t ever say cancer been the best thing or amazing.

“I lost my dad to cancer five years prior to this, so I’m aware of the misery and the awfulness of it - but in terms of opening my eyes and enriching my life it’s done a lot.’’

Lisa is one of 28 members of the Goodtittie team participating in the walk this weekend. Several Bendigo teams have entered, and combined raised hundreds of thousands of dollars towards vital funding for research and clinical care at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Australia’s only public hospital solely dedicated to cancer. 

Lisa's breast cancer journey can be found on her blog,

Husband's act of love offers perfect bookend to cancer ride.

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