Sunday 22nd May 2022

Women Of Courage Series. #52. Stella. 67/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #52. Stella. 67/2020.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.


I welcome Stella, who is 70 years old, to share her story as a woman of courage. However, I also need to share that ‘we’ have known each other for decades. In fact we grew up in a similar area of the Northern Beaches in Sydney and ended up being in the same classes from time to time at Manly Girls’ High. We are both in this photo. Can you find us? This was an image I shared in N.S.W. Education Week a few weeks ago. Stella and I ‘found’ each other again via facebook and another friend from that time, who has shared her story too. Ann Thanks for the nostalgic trip!

Stella Shares Her Story In Her Words, Here. 

  • This year is the 20th anniversary of the scariest time in my life. I was 50, really healthy, working full time and bringing up my two teenagers. Life was good and I had no worries.


  • One afternoon after work, I lay down to read, and saw in the wardrobe mirror that I had a very swollen abdomen. It was big enough to make me head straight off the bed and to go down to the doctor.  He was very off-handed, and said “So you’ve gained weight – what do you expect ME to do about that ?”


  • Until that point I’d always been a very shy and diffident person, and his words would normally have made me apologise for wasting his time  – and gone home feeling stupid.  Which could have been a death sentence for me.


  • For once in my life, I knew that I had to be courageous and speak up, advocate for myself and demand that he  pay some attention.  He did that , and sent me for an ultrasound which revealed a very large malignant ovarian cancer.


  • Within 24 hours I was in the hospital and had had a very long and serious operation. A week later I started having chemotherapy.  I faced all of that alone, since I had downplayed the situation to my family. My Dad had recently died, and I couldn’t bear to tell Mum and my kids that I might be going on the same path.


  • I plucked up all my courage, and did the whole thing solo. Every day I would meditate, and go for walks around the hospital, thinking positive thoughts and just enjoying little things like a new flower growing in the ward garden. I read good poetry , words to give me courage to face another day. The staff remarked on how calm I was, but it was really courage which was keeping me in that serene frame of mind.


  • One night my doctor popped his head around my door and told me had news. All the results had come back and as far as he could see, my cancer was in remission. It was great news, and I was able to go home  and back to work without too much stress.  The courage which I’d found within myself on that first day, stayed with me and gave me a very positive outlook.


  • Since that experience, I’ve become a spokesperson for women with ovarian cancer. I also trained as a phone counsellor, talking to women who’d just been diagnosed with the disease. I think that the courage I found on that first day, gives me a good inspiration when I talk to women – encouraging them to dig deep to find their courage, to demand good treatment and good communication with their doctors.


  • Ovarian cancer used to be called “The Silent Killer” because women didn’t know they had it until it was too late. 80% of them used to die. I’m one of the fortunate 20% , and with some courage in my back pocket I can speak for those 80% of sisters who didn’t survive to tell the tale.


Stella Burnell 2020 .




What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

  • I’ve had many experiences where courage was needed – in my work as a nurse I’ve often had to pull up my “big girl pants” and tough it out, but it was really my own experience with cancer which used my courage to heal myself.



How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

  • I’d say that since the day that I first got the diagnosis, I’ve never again been the shy and retiring person that I used to be. It was a defining moment and I often use it when talking to other women, to illustrate how courage can help you to assert yourself in health situations. I am no longer the “invisible older woman” but have found my voice and I help other women to find theirs.


Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

  • I learned that you don’t always need other people to support you, when the going gets tough. In the particular instance that I mention, I had to “fly solo” and in fact I found that it was easier because I didn’t have to be around other people. Solitude was a great healing factor !


Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

  • Yes, I am. I found my courage at that time, and it stands me in good stead every day now.


Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

  • In a health situation like mine, I’d say that education is a great thing. If you find out everything you can – as scary as that can be – you will be able to face up to any eventuality with courage.


Thank you so much Stella, education is so important in keeping our health under some person control and if not, then to know who to go to for more help. You did this is so many ways and as I know, via the links above, have most likely helped many women who have faced a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.




Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

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