Is it just me or do our female politicians set the bar high as role models? That’s what I concluded yesterday after reading snippets from an interview with the former Queensland premier, Anna Bligh. Bligh, who has just completed four months’ of treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, features in the latest The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine and is frank and sincere about how she is coping with the illness.
“I don’t want anyone to think, ‘Oh, she’s been so brave’,” she explains to journalist Caroline Overington in the interview. “I had to find a lot of resilience, but so does everyone. At the time of my diagnosis, I was 52 years old. I felt like I was in the prime of my life. So it was absolutely terrifying and there were lots of tears and I found it very hard to talk about it. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I shrugged it off and thought, okay, no problem, I’ll beat this.”
Bligh was a guest of honour at a lunch that was held in Sydney yesterday to celebrate the iconic magazine’s 80th birthday, her first public event since completing treatment.
In March this year Bligh noticed a small lump on the side of her face that she mentioned to her doctor. She hadn’t thought much of it and waited a few weeks before getting an x-ray, so when the tests confirmed it was cancer, Bligh was shocked.
“Being diagnosed with cancer was not something I took in my stride. I was knocked for six. The idea that cancer is a battle and you can win it by being a strong person, that’s not necessarily true,” she told the Women’s Weekly. “There are people who are a lot stronger than me, who are fighting very hard, and they are in a situation that is much scarier than mine”.
Fortunately because she was diagnosed and treated early, Bligh’s prognosis is good, but she described the chemotherapy treatment as ‘awful’.
Aside from detailing her emotional battle with cancer, Bligh bares her bald head in the photo-shoot that accompanies the interview in the magazine. It has been rightly described as a brave decision and Bligh’s comments confirm it was a confronting experience. She said that “hearing that I would soon be bald was almost as hard to hear as my diagnosis.”
And, yet, despite it obviously not being easy, she posed in the same way she opened up; with dignity and poise. There is no obligation on anyone who occupies a position in the public eye to open up about their private battles. But, when they do, in the manner that Bligh has, it’s enormously valuable. Anna Bligh has done us a great service; she has reminded us that health isn’t something any of us should take for granted, that no one is immune from life’s vicissitudes, and that it’s possible to navigate the difficulties and emerge on the other side. She has done all of that with great dignity and it’s another reason she deserves our admiration and support. We are wishing her a speedy return to good health.