I was told in September of 1983 that I wouldn’t see Christmas of that year. The shock rattled us as a family as we were still grieving my brother Brenden’s recent suicide. When I went into an unexpected remission from acute myeloid leukaemia, my doctor assured me it was only a temporary reprieve. I would still die from the disease and would perhaps have weeks or maybe months, to live. Starting a charity was the last thing on my mind.
Weeks turned into months as I waited for the dreaded disease to return. It was my beautiful mother, Rae King who said to me, “Have you thought of working dear?” I was shocked! How could I start a life again when at any moment, I must be prepared to die?
I knew Marcus Blackmore from my time at a naturopathic college, so I called him. After explaining my predicament to him, Marcus said, “Forget what the doctors said. Just go into practice as a naturopath”.
I had found the whole experience of profound grief about Brenden and my own confrontation with my mortality a tumultuous experience. It had unearthed the suppressed emotions from many past traumas including years in hospital as a teenager for a dozen painful orthopaedic surgeries, rape, numbing myself with drugs, domestic violence, divorce, chronic pain – all combined with a crushing lack of self-esteem.
I wasn’t convinced that being a naturopath was where my future lay however, Marcus introduced me to a GP in Mosman and I tentatively began my practice in early 1985. Within the first two weeks I saw Sue and then John, both of whom had been told they wouldn’t see Christmas – Sue from breast cancer, John from AIDS. I’d met ‘my tribe’!
People who live at the edge of their mortality, at the edge of despair, fear or hopelessness. I listened to their shattered dreams and their amazing stories of hope, tenacity and resilience. Sue lived another 8 years which meant her children were young adults before she died. John lived another 5 years and found his peace. I’ve seen so many people outlive their doctor’s prognosis and/or attain a deep and abiding peace.
Kay Moechtar and Wendie Batho were in the first cancer support group I started in 1985. Kay was given a prognosis of 2 years however, she died peacefully with Wendie and her young adult family around her, 7 years later. After her death, Wendie volunteered for Quest as a way of ‘giving back’ – and she’s been doing so as my partner, ever since. In 1988 one of my clients, Pamela Denoon from Canberra said to me, “When I die, I’m going to leave you some money. I want you to take a holiday, hire a secretary or start that bloody charity you’re always talking about”. Through her great generosity, Pamela gave me the impetus to register the Quest for Life Foundation as a charity.
When I was ill, I was given safe sanctuary at a monastery outside of Assisi in Italy. Since my recovery, I had done my best to provide a similar space for people to find their way back from the ‘edge’ of what ails them, to a path of healing and peace. The Quest for Life Foundation would allow me to expand this work to assist many more people.
Now, as Quest for Life marks its 30th year, I would like to thank and acknowledge every supporter who has played a part in this incredible journey. Marcus and his team at Blackmores Ltd continue as our major corporate supporter. We are incredibly grateful for their support in assisting Quest to make a difference in so many Australian’s lives.