June 22, 2008
Breast cancer activist Jane McGrath, 42, died at home this morning in Cronulla, a beachside Sydney, Australia suburb, surrounded by family. McGrath was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31, later battling secondary bone cancer and brain cancer. She and her husband, Test cricket superstar Glenn McGrath, founded the McGrath Foundation, a breast cancer support organization whose fundraising efforts have provided breast care nurses in hospitals throughout rural Australia. Educational campaigns have encouraged thousands of young women to be “breast aware.”
McGrath wrote at the foundation’s website that, when she was rediagnosed with cancer in 2003, she “realized the importance of having a breast care nurse…Someone who could answer the questions only a nurse could answer whilst also being the support I needed to unload my frustrations and emotions. Having access to a breast care nurse allowed me to be Jane McGrath, the friend, the mother and the wife — not just Jane McGrath, the breast cancer survivor.…I feel very passionate about empowering women under 40 to take control of their health by conducting regular breast checks — early detection saves lives. Breast cancer doesn’t care how old you are, where you live, whether you’re a career woman or a mother. Breast cancer is a disease that currently affects one in eight Australian women of all ages and backgrounds.”
McGrath was first diagnosed with breast cancer in August 1997, when she felt a lump in her left breast after showering. Due to a family history of breast cancer — her mother had breast cancer before age 50 — a biopsy was performed which provided the initial breast cancer diagnosis. Always candid about her cancer experiences, McGrath said that her first thought about having a mastectomy was: “I’d rather die than lose a breast.”
After her mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, she was declared cancer-free in June 1998. She married cricketer McGrath after treatment; her son, James, was born in 2000, while Holly was born in 2001. But cancer recurred, as bone cancer in her hip, in 2003. In 2006, her brain cancer diagnosis prompted Glenn McGrath’s retirement from cricket. Deeply depressed, Jane McGrath commented: “Hearing that you have breast cancer is awful. And hearing that you have secondary cancer in your hip is terrifying. But to hear that, after all that, you have a brain tumor — that’s about the only thing that could be worse.”
The McGrath Foundation was formed after public response to McGrath’s 2000 book, A Love for Life, which chronicled her initial battle with breast cancer. An interview on ABC’s “Enough Rope” TV show with host Andrew Denton in May 2004 brought further interest in the foundation.
Born Jane Steele to a working class family in northern England, McGrath met her husband in Hong Kong, while working as an airline stewardess. She became an Australian citizen in 2002. Both McGraths were awarded the Order of Australia, on Australia Day in January 2008, for their breast cancer awareness work, although Jane McGrath was too ill to attend and personally accept the honor. The McGraths raised more than $3 million in the past two years and $12 million was added to the Australian federal budget in May for 30 additional breast specialist nurses. At the time of Jane McGrath’s death, the Foundation was planning to expand breast cancer awareness programs to India. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that Jane McGrath had “touched all Australians.”
The Australian cricket team will honor Jane McGrath’s memory during a Tuesday game against the West Indies in St. Vincent by wearing pink ribbons, with batsmen using pink bat grips.
Read about Patrick Swayze’s struggle with pancreatic cancer.
Photo credits: Natalie Boog / Sydney Morning Herald and Phil Hilyard / Herald Sun
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