There are inevitably moments in our lives which make everything pale in comparison. Moments which are so surreal, they’re hard to comprehend...
For Rebecca Marsh – mother of three (their baby boy was born just days ago), TV Presenter, MC and wife of cricketer Shaun Marsh – being told that her mother had Stage IV Lung Cancer was a moment she’ll never forget. “Mum didn’t have any of the tell-tale signs of lung cancer. No cough, no fatigue, no shortness of breath. The only thing that led her to the diagnosis was her sore back and ribs. She never had a chance to detect it early,” Rebecca recalls. The diagnosis was utterly devastating.
Ever since this moment, Rebecca has been advocating for a greater understanding of lung cancer. “When the dust settled on mum’s diagnosis, I realised that her quantity and quality of life going forward was dependent on the medical research and clinical trials being carried out. But unfortunately, lung cancer receives limited funding because of the stigma that comes with it.” She began with a charity bike ride, riding 300 kilometres over two weeks on a stationary bike at home during Covid. Next, she organised a charity luncheon to raise awareness for lung cancer for 100 women – together, they raised over $12,000.
Here, she shares her emotional and also inspiring journey. And also opens up about her career journey…
Your mum was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer in 2019 with no smoking history and no symptoms apart from a sore back – tell me about the moment you found out this news?
When mum was diagnosed with lung cancer in August last year it felt like the rug had been pulled from underneath our feet. Mum was so fit and healthy and one of those people who never got sick. She’d be the last person I’d have guessed that would end up with lung cancer, especially stage IV. My parents had just returned weeks earlier from a trip to Ireland and mum had been having physiotherapy treatment for a sore back that had flared up on their travels. My dad, being a GP, had been encouraging her to get an MRI which she dismissed at first. “Why on earth would I need an MRI, I’ve just pulled a muscle” she kept saying.
It wasn’t until the pain started swapping to different sides of her back and ribs that Dad forced her to get a scan. I remember mum ringing me after the first scan to tell me she’d been put under the MRI machine three times and how anxious it had made her. I reassured her everything would be fine… it always was. After a second lot of imaging the next day I got a message from dad asking me to come over to their house after 4pm. My heart sunk, I knew what it meant. I didn’t want to believe it. Mum had tumours in her lung, liver, adrenal glands, spine, ribs and collarbone. The next few weeks were a blur. At this stage we didn’t know what the primary cancer was. We hoped it was breast cancer so we took mum for an urgent mammogram – nothing. Then a biopsy of mum’s liver showed the primary source was lung cancer. Without treatment doctors said mum may have lasted as little as three months. But luckily mum’s cancer tested positive to a gene mutation called EGFR which has given her the option of taking a daily targeted therapy tablet.
Doctors can’t say how long the tablets will work. Everyone grows immune to them eventually. Mum got about seven months on her first tablet now she’s four months into her second one. We’re living month to month, scan to scan at the moment. It’s a new way of life but we are so grateful that she’s still here because of the wonderful medicine available today.
What symptoms did your mum have?
Mum didn’t have any of the tell-tale signs of lung cancer. No cough, no fatigue, no shortness of breath. The only thing that led her to the diagnosis was her sore back and ribs. She never had a chance to detect it early.
How have you navigated this period with your mum and what advice do you have for others going through something similar?
We’ve been living this new way of life for over a year now. Mum and I are both realists, we know it’s a case of one foot in front of the other. It has given me a shift in perspective. It has made me realise that life doesn’t owe us anything. If you start taking on the mentality of “why me?” or “what did I do to deserve this?” you can easily fall into a hole. The biggest blessing out of all of this is the quality time mum’s been able to spend with her two grandkids, my two children. For almost 20 years mum had been working a fast-paced job as an executive assistant and we’d only really see each other on weekends. My advice to anyone dealing with a loved one who has cancer is just take every day as it comes. Every cancer is so different and everyone’s journey is individual. Never compare and certainly never Google without knowing the facts first. Gather your support network and make use of them.
Have you and your mother always been close – and what life lessons has she taught you?
Mum and I have always been close – the kind of mother and daughter who speak every day on the phone. She’s always the first person I turn to when faced with a challenge or problem. I think the past year has brought us even closer together if it was even possible. The biggest life lessons mum has taught me would probably be that no problem is too big to solve, there is always a way through it.
Tell me about the work you’re doing with the Lung Foundation Australia?
I teamed up with the Lung Foundation Australia at the beginning of this year. When the dust settled on mum’s diagnosis I realised that her quantity and quality of life going forward was dependent on the medical research and clinical trials being carried out. But unfortunately lung cancer receives limited funding because of the stigma that comes with it. I started by doing a charity bike ride in May, riding 300 kilometres over two weeks on a stationary bike at home during Covid. Then at the start of November I organised a charity luncheon to raise awareness for lung cancer for 100 ladies. The event was a huge success and we raised over $12,000.
What are the key messages you want to spread?
The main message I want to spread is that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer, you don’t have to be a smoker. I think a common misconception is that lung cancer is self-inflicted and the disease will disappear when everyone eventually gives up the habit of smoking. But here’s the thing – according to the American Lung Association, lung cancer diagnosis have risen by 87% amongst women over the past 41 years, while dropping 35% among men over the same period. More needs to be done to find out why this is happening.
You spend a lot of time parenting solo – the day after you had your second born Mabel, your husband Shaun flew to India for 6 weeks for cricket – can you share the challenges of this, and how do you overcome any challenges?
Being married to a cricketer definitely has its challenges but I knew what I was signing up for. The hardest part was definitely when Shaun left a day after the birth of our baby girl Mabel then finding my feet with two kids for the next six weeks. It was mentally and physically exhausting and there were a lot of days I cried. Lucky I had the support of family and friends to get me through. I’ve just finished another six weeks of Shaun being away for the Shield cricket competition. Running around after two kids and being pregnant is a hell of a ride but I know this lifestyle is not forever. The span of a cricket career isn’t forever and we have the best days ahead of us as a family.
What are the biggest misconceptions about being the wife of a sporting star?
I actually don’t think there are too many misconceptions about cricketing wives. Maybe once upon a time there was, but I feel like most people know and respect that just because we are married to a cricketer doesn’t mean we are living the high-life. I have so much respect for my fellow cricket wives and girlfriends. Not only are we sacrificing so much time apart from our partners and in some cases putting our own careers on hold. We are all riding the rollercoaster of emotions that come with an elite sport together. You feel every win, loss, disappointment and anxious night of sleep before a game.
What are you most proud of in life?
There’s so much for me to be proud of in my lifetime. Making it as a reporter for Seven Perth in my twenties was one of my biggest achievements pre-kids. It had always been my goal and I worked my butt off to get there. Working 5am starts on weekends for a local AM radio station, then moving regional for 18 months to gain experience. I genuinely believe the experience of being a journalist gave me the thick skin I have today. It made some parts of parenting feel like a walk in the park. Now I’d say I’m most proud of the strong and independent woman and mother I’ve become and the beautiful children Shaun and I have raised together.
How has your third pregnancy been? Has it been different to your other pregnancies?
My first pregnancy was a dream, not one ache or pain the whole way through. The second pregnancy things got a little more uncomfortable towards the halfway point. I had constant pelvic pressure and painful varicose veins. Luckily all of the symptoms disappeared after birth but this pregnancy they are back with a vengeance. My whole left leg from the groin down is swollen with varicose veins and my left foot is a nice shade of purple. I’m told it’s common for the growing uterus to put pressure on the inferior vena cava and in my case causing a blockage. Blood can get into my left leg but can’t get out unless I elevate it. Something that proves very difficult when you are running around after two other kids! I manage it by wearing compression stockings, drinking lots of water and regular exercise which also helps the blood flow.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood for you?
I think for myself and for a lot of women it’s the loss of identity that comes with entering motherhood. Trying to hold on to a career and the person you were is not easy and I have so much respect for the women out there who juggle it all. Sometimes I get lost in the day-to-day chores of washing, cooking, cleaning and think, how am I possibly going to do this every day for the next 20 years of motherhood. But we do it for the love and I’m lucky I have a very helpful husband to support me.
What are your time management tips?
I wouldn’t say I’m the best person to ask when it comes to time management. I’m up most nights until 11pm trying to catch up on emails. My one tip for toddler parents is be up and dressed by the time they wake up if you can. That way it’s not a family affair in the bathroom while you’re trying to get showered and dressed for the day. You’d be surprised how much damage a small child can do with a bathroom cabinet in two minutes. I also take one day off each week and get a babysitter to watch the kids so I can get to an exercise class or tick of some chores alone.
What did you love most about a career in television, and was it a field you always wanted to get into?
I loved the fact that no two days were the same when reporting out in the field. Every morning you’d turn up to the office having no idea where the day would take you. Sometimes you’d end up on a helicopter heading to a bushfire or shark attack. Other days you’d get the privilege to meet and interview some incredibly inspiring and intelligent people. Most days I’d head home feeling proud of what I’d achieved and the way I’d put together and portrayed someone’s story. Other days were incredibly hard. Back when I was 17 I left school with no idea what I wanted to do. I studied Exercise Science and hated it before switching to journalism. I instantly loved it and made it my goal to be a TV reporter.
Finally, how have you navigated this pandemic with your mum?
We are so fortunate to be in Perth and have been relatively unaffected by Covid-19. Mum was very anxious about what would happen to her if she got it. Not only that but my dad is a doctor so they would have ended up having to isolate from each other which would have been tough. I think the hardest thing about the pandemic is having my brother living in America. It’s already such a long distance away but Covid makes it so much more challenging for us to see each other.