Just two weeks before Felicity Lemke (nee Galvez) left for the Beijing Olympic Games, her mum Lynne was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time.
It was a blow to the Australian Institute of Sport swimmer, but one thing she inherited from her mum was strength of character, and Lemke went on to win two gold medals – in the 4x100m medley and 4x200m freestyle relays.
“Mum said to me, you’ve got to go over there, you’ve got to swim, you’ve got to not think about this, we’ll deal with this when you get home,” Lemke said.
When she returned, her mum underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy, and three year later, just as she looked in the clear, the next blow came; a different cancer diagnosis in her other breast.
Another mastectomy and more chemotherapy followed, before Lynne was delivered a third blow, five years after the first.
“Just last year, [she] got diagnosed with liver cancer,” Lemke said. “That was from the first breast cancer; it was quite advanced, so it’s obviously gone through the blood stream and was found in the liver.”
Her mum, aged just 59, had part of her liver removed and has been undergoing chemotherapy for the past year, two weeks on and one week off.
The ordeal inspired Lemke to support cancer research through Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. She'll walk 60 kilometres for the second year in a row in November for the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers.
Lemke, who retired from swimming at the end of 2010 and now works at the AIS, did the two-day walk last year with her sister, walking the first 30 kilometres in 38-degree weather, and the return journey in the rain and “freezing cold”.
This year she’ll be joined by some of her colleagues at the AIS, a commitment which requires them each to raise at least $2000.
“Erin Burrows was the first [to join] … her mother passed away from cancer about three years ago,” Lemke said.
“Alicia Edge – one of her best friends at the beginning of this year passed away from ovarian cancer, aged 27.”
Lemke now has her own daughter, something she says has changed her perspective on her mum’s fight.
“It’s hard hearing your mum say, I don’t know how much longer I can keep fighting these battles … your parents are always the rocks in your life.”
“Before I had Sophia, I didn’t really think about how important I was to be in this world,” she said. “I know she needs me to be here for her … I realise that’s what my mum obviously feels for her daughters.
“I can understand why she wants to fight every battle which comes her way.”