Wednesday 28th July 2021

Women of Courage Series. #62 Juliette O’Brien. 83/2021.

In July 2021 The Women of Courage posts will be connected in some way to World Head and Neck Cancer Month (July) and the #WHNCD Day on 27 July 2021. Those who have followed my blog since 2017 know I was diagnosed with a rare Head and Neck Cancer in my upper gums and under the top lip. More here. And below, as I introduce Woman of Courage, Juliette, I will expand more on our connection.

Women of Courage Series #62 Juliette O’Brien. 83/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

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 was honoured and delighted when Juliette O’Brien, aged 37 agreed to share her story as a woman of courage. We have yet to meet in person, but we have connected on social media (where she is @juliette_io on twitter) and one day, we will catch up over coffee at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. Now, if that name seems familiar, then you might be correct in making the connection that Juliette is the late Professor Chris O’Brien AO’s  daughter.

I feel so privileged and glad to have been referred to my head and neck surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark AM that day back in May 2017. He learned much in his training days from the Head and Neck surgeon we all knew from the long-running show about a Sydney Teaching Hospital,  R.P.A. on Channel 9, Dr Chris O’Brien.

Thank you to Juliette so very much for this. You are a gifted woman in so many ways and a quiet but steady achiever too.

 

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

I lost my dad and elder brother to separate unexpected illnesses when I was in my 20s. I did – and continue to do – my best to support my mum and younger brother, to honour my dad’s and brother’s memories, and to continue to find joy and meaning in the world.

I don’t think any of this is courageous, but it has taken effort and perseverance.

 

How did this change you in any way?

These losses changed me profoundly.

They drove me to question our most common assumptions about what it means to live a ‘good life’, especially external signals like attaining status, hoarding wealth and meeting social expectations.

Living in way that subordinates these to your own principles means pushing through discomfort, fear and disapproval.

I suppose this takes ‘courage’ that I doubt I would have had otherwise.

 

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

 

Sometimes we use the adjective ‘courageous’ as though it is a constant state of being or personality trait.

In fact, I think courage, or at least the possibility of it, presents itself moment to moment through the countless decisions we make, and requires renewed interrogation and commitment every day.

 

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

 

I would like to share a poem by the wonderful John O’Donohue (poet, philosopher, former priest).

It is called ‘For Courage’.

I especially love these phrases: “this darkness has purpose”; and “Close your eyes, Gather all the kindling, About your heart, To create one spark …”.

 

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

Thank you so much Juliette. Not only for your story but for the added words of John O’Donohue.

His words, narrated before his death, are part of a series of his that I listened to a great deal as I struggled with some challenges in my life’s transitions before cancer.

I cannot and will not compare one person’s story to another, however to know that we can share resources of hope, love, wisdom and courage is to be connected. We need to stay connected.

Looking forward to “that coffee” as soon as Covid is settling!

Denyse.

Note About Head and Neck Cancer Support on-line.

IF a family member or someone you know does have a diagnosis of a head and neck cancer or that person is a carer, the value of a good facebook group cannot be over-done. The friendly space that IS this group for eligible people to request membership is a good one. There are people from all over the world but the group is not huge so personal connections can be made. It is mainly made up of New Zealanders, and Aussies too…along with those from the U.S. There are questions to be answered to join and it IS strictly for those with a head and neck cancer. Link is here.

This is a link to Head and Neck Cancer Australia too. This is where I found information initially after my 2017 diagnosis and where I am now an Ambassador.

 

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

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