Sunday 26th June 2022

Women of Courage Series. #27. Sandra Kelly.12/2020.

Women of Courage Series. #27. Sandra Kelly.12/2020.

Trigger warning: content: as advised by Sandra.

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.





Image credit:

If there is one place where I know I can find some care and support on-line it’s with Sandra Kelly who is 53. No, we have never met, but you can bet that if we did, there would be an instant rapport and a LOT of chatting together. This lady, known to me first via her blog, and now as a facebook friend has QUITE a story and it was she who asked for a trigger warning. I am in awe of Sandra and here she is, with her dear husband, with a photo taken as a memory of where they lived for quite some time before moving for family and medical reasons. What a great idea to capture the familiar for the future.


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

First of all I’ll let you in on a little secret… I don’t see myself as courageous at all (no disrespect intended to those who do).

Whether I’ve been tackling my fear of heights to absorb a breathtaking view, or staring boggle eyed at a bloody big needle about to be shoved into my boob, I’ve felt nothing but fear, anxiety, doubt, sometimes terror and many times hot stinging tears – but I have certainly not felt like a woman of courage.

You might say I fit the mould quite snuggly of Denyse’s musings that gave birth to this series – “We women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives”.

Yep, that’s me alright!

I guess I haven’t seen myself as a courageous person throughout our many years of adversity as a family because life in the face of adversity becomes… well… just life!  You get out of bed in the morning and get on with it because ‘it just is’.

It’s not always done with a smile or without a tear or fear, you just do ‘your normal’ that can appear so ‘abnormal’ to those on the outside looking in.

I’ve been married to the most courageous man for the past 32 years.  When I think of any courage I may have needed to tap into over time, it pales in comparison to the courage he displays each and every day.

My husband has severe Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis, among other ailments, and has been in a wheelchair as a result for about 25 years now.  Infections, joint replacements, pneumonia’s, heart failure, countless hospital admissions and so much more has been our everyday life… our normal.

I’ve had to battle my own shyness and demons to best support and advocate for him and my family over the years.  It hasn’t been easy but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else doing anything else.

I’m right where I’m meant to be right now, doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing.


On the days where it feels all-consuming, for us both, I trust in that little mantra and its undeniable truths.

Around 15 years ago our niece came to live with us permanently (she and her two brothers would come to stay every holiday since they were very young).  Around 12 months later the two boys joined us permanently as well.  They were aged eight, twelve and fourteen at the time.

We had a fourteen year old of our own, granny up the end of the verandah, hurricane Nikki the Labrador, Bing the allergy ridden Shih Tzu itchy dog, two cats, one bird and welcomed the boys two pet rats into the swelling family as well (yes, you read that correctly, two rats).

We certainly were packed to the rafters.  A full house but with much room in our hearts.

I’m in awe of the courage and intestinal fortitude my family showed during those early months and years of adjustment as all our lives changed shape. So much vulnerability at its best and its worst has woven a safety net of respect, love and connectedness that cradles us with its indestructible strength.  It is a privilege to call them all my family.

In early 2013 I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive breast cancer and under went surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  It was cruel.  Not only for me but for everyone around me.

Treatment wiped me out – physically and mentally.  I was a mess. In and out of hospital with infections and zero immune system fighting capabilities took its toll.

By September of that year I was a shell of my former self weighing in at only 38 kilos and not a logical thought colliding anywhere in my brain.  I was done.

I still shake my head and marvel at how I found the strength to crawl out of that hole and head space.  I think I used up a huge chunk of everyone else’s courage because mine was missing in action.

In 2015 I had a piece of my right lung removed because of suspected breast cancer spread.  Thankfully the lesion was not cancerous.

These few years were horrendous. My depression and anxiety were off the scale. I’m not ashamed to admit that I suffered two breakdowns in a three year period.

Thanks to the unconditional love and support of family and friends I survived it all.  Every cell of my being could not hold one ounce more of appreciation, gratitude and love for those very special people I have in my life.  Even that sentence falls way short in describing their dedication.  They fought for my existence in this world when I no longer had the will.

Recently we called on all our reserves of strength to sell our beloved home in a beautiful country town in Gippsland Victoria to move closer to health services and family.

We miss our lovely little community and our gorgeous mountain views and wildlife terribly but being closer to support services in ‘rural suburbia’ has been necessary and so worth it.

Being closer to family has brought us much pleasure as well and has enriched our lives for the better.


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

My life experiences have changed me in many ways.  Some for the better and some for the worse.

If I was needing to shine a light on just one of those ways it would that I am definitely a much more patient person than I was in the earlier years of navigating all this ‘stuff’.

People need the gift of time and empathy to heal wounds and find their way, without judgement. I’m much better at gifting myself that same time and empathy now… well, most days.

I desire to live a slower quiet life.  Sure there are things I’d like to tick off my bucket list but I won’t be regretful on my death bed if they are left unchecked. I love the sense of safety that my home, friends and family bring me and I’m quite okay with pottering around home spending time with them.


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

Do the best you can and be okay with that. Try hard not to lament over how you think you should  be doing life in the face of your challenges.

Placing unrealistic expectations on yourself is a sure way to smother your courage and chip away at your spirit. I’m living proof of that.  Be kind to yourself, okay?!

Laugh at the absurdity of it all, cry your eyes out, go for a walk, pull the doona over your head for a day. What I’m trying to say is, the courage to get through your every moment comes in many different forms to every different person and requires acknowledgment of your individual needs to feed your internal resources.

Do what you need to build your resilience stores in your own way.

Do ‘you’ without shame.

Having said that I also need to say this:


“We are all angels with one wing, the only way to fly, therefore, is to embrace one another”.

There are a few versions of this Luciano De Crescenzo quote floating around and it’s been a long time favourite of mine. We are nothing without those who will quietly wrap their wings around us as we sit in the dark and still hold tight as we take flight towards the light.

Gather your angels… courage ought not be a solitary practise.


And finally, nurture your mental and emotional health.  At two in the morning when it’s just you and your thoughts you’ll be wanting to turn up the volume on your voice of reason to drown out that persistent fear monster and his incessant mouth flapping.  Explore ways that will work for you.



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

I believe I’m less fearful in dealing with situations now that require me to find my voice and advocate for my loved ones, or indeed myself.  Being fundamentally shy I have to draw deep on my strength for this to happen.

I found that not speaking my truth was far more crippling and detrimental than the actual fear of doing so – even if my voice trembled.  Experiencing the fragility of life through various filters, like feeling the loss of your own power and control over what’s happening, feeds a need to be heard and understood.


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

I wish I had some profound, concise statement that I could wrap up in a nugget of gold for you to take away… but I don’t.

I’m still stumbling through life grasping hold of people to break my fall and trying to do my best for myself and those around me on any given day.

However, I do believe it’s very important to remind ourselves that courage is not defined by a puffed-out chest and an almighty roar striding head on with sure footed fearless steps in the face of fear or pain.  Thank you Hollywood for those illusions.

It’s more often than not a tentative negotiation of the stepping stones of life trying not to fall off and get stuck in the mud at the bottom… and that’s okay.


In the words of the amazing Kelly Exeter “Wobbly courage is still courage”.


Wobbly courage sits well with me. I identify with it and it speaks my language.

It just may work for you too.


Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post.

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  Then life would begin.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”  Alfred D. Souza

Please don’t wait for life to begin on the other side of crappy times like I have done in the past.  These obstacles are your life at the moment – look for the splashes of joy in each day and live the now with as much purpose and meaning as your circumstances may afford you, in whatever shape that takes and serves you best.

I wish the gift of love and strength for you all.


What a heart-felt and wonderful story you shared so courageously Sandra. Thank you so much.



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Instagram:  @sandrakellywhatlieswithin


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