Unbeaten Support: Vital funds for ovarian cancer

Dec 10 2022

Cheryl Milburn relished life with a loving husband and a supportive community on the scenic mid-north coast of NSW.

But at 66, Cheryl found herself thrust into a decade of health crises that would see her call on every ounce of her fighting spirit.

“I don’t let things define me,” she states firmly. “I get on with life. I’ve always been that way.”

In 2012 Cheryl was cleaning her home when a sharp pain shot through her back. The intensity of it forced her to sit down. Then she discovered blood in her urine.

A year before, she’d seen a doctor about bloating in her lower-stomach and frequent urination. He felt about for masses but couldn’t find any.

“He sent me on my way saying it was probably kidney issues. He was usually very good at picking things up, but he didn’t pick up this.”

A year later, Cheryl was back in another doctor’s office. This time she was referred to a gynaecologist where a CT scan confirmed she had ovarian cancer.

Across the next ten years, Cheryl would undergo a hysterectomy, endure six rounds of chemotherapy, and be diagnosed with a liver cancer so aggressive that doctors would give her less than a year to live.

In the past few months, Cheryl underwent a five-hour operation that, in her own words ‘knocked the hell out of her’ to unblock her bowel.

Today, Cheryl brims with vigour and humour. She’s defied the average survival rate of a cancer that each day claims three of the five Australian women diagnosed with the disease. Unlike mammography, which detects breast cancer, no routine test, such as a Pap Smear, can detect ovarian cancer.

It’s been more than difficult. “But I take it one day at a time,” Cheryl says. “I wasn’t going to let any of it beat me. And I haven’t.”

Throughout the turbulent years, Cheryl still enjoyed a rich life with Richard, her husband of 15 years. They cruised the oceans, danced together, and laughed often.

“He was a lovely man,” she reminisces. “A great dresser with a beautiful voice.”

Richard had been a regular supporter of HMRI and introduced Cheryl to HMRI through an ovarian cancer community seminar presented by Professor Nikola Bowden. It was here that Cheryl learned that lack of funding proved to be the primary reason holding back the detection of ovarian cancer.

“Going to that seminar was an eye-opener. I learned a lot about the research that HMRI does and where my money was being spent. Now I can talk to other people and organisations about ovarian cancer and the need for funding.”

When Richard passed away in June 2021, Cheryl again drew on her deep reservoir of determination and generosity. She organised fundraising activities with monies raised going to HMRI’s ovarian cancer research.

As well as volunteering as President, Secretary, and Publicity for the VIEW Club an organisation that supports underprivileged Australian kids. Cheryl has spoken at Lioness, Red Cross Clubs, Biggest morning teas, and a Black Pepper shop who donate to Ovarian Cancer. It’s her way of giving back to a community who has supported her.

She remains proudly independent and shines with community spirit and commitment. “Even as I’m getting older and have these health issues, I don’t want to feel like I’m becoming reliant on my family until I have to. I don’t panic about anything. I just follow the rules and do what has to be done.”

HMRI sincerely thanks Cheryl for her efforts to raise vital funds for ovarian cancer research. If you too would like to raise money for a cause close to your heart, you can support by donating to HMRI.


This article was taken from HMRI's Searcher Magazine - the Winter 2022 edition.