A number of women delivered powerful first speeches in Parliament this week, with the climate emergency emerging as a common theme from those who won their seats at the last Federal election.
But there was one speech that stood out for entirely different, and very personal and tragic reasons.
That came from Peta Murphy, the new MP for the Melbourne seat of Dunkley who declared in Parliament that “cancer sucks”.
She learnt just two weeks ago that the breast cancer she’d battled years earlier had returned.
The timing seems especially cruel. The 45 year old former criminal lawyer and barrister has just achieved the bold dream of becoming a parliamentarian that had been years in the making.
Just as it’s finally all beginning, she’s forced to deal with this.
But that’s cancer — it doesn’t do convenience and can strike whenever and whomever it wants.
19,000 women will be diagnosed with breast-cancer in Australia this year, according to figures quoted by Murphy in Parliament, and 145,000 Australians will be diagnosed with some form of cancer.
“I am neither unique nor alone in the fight I am about to take on,” Murphy said.
But Murphy made is clear it would not stop her taking her place in Parliament, and that she would use her platform to benefit others.
“As long as the people of Dunkley continue to vote for me to represent them in this place, I intend to use it.”
The timing of Murphy’s first diagnosis in 2011 was also awful; coming days before a planned move to the United States, with “big plans for work, life and adventure.”
But she also reflected on the good things that came out of it.
The first was her and her husband’s decision to make Dunkley home, and the second a reminder that “life is fragile and we should make the most of it”, which encouraged her to take on the uphill battle of running for Parliament in the Liberal held seat. She lost in 2016, but ran a successful campaign in 2019.
“You worry about how your friends and family are coping. You value their support but resent the fact that you need it.”
But Murphy also noted that she was “lucky” for having plenty of resources that come with having a professional career and strong support network, when dealing with that first diagnosis.
She could afford the best quality care, but said she was acutely aware that’s certainly not the case for everyone — but it should be.
She urged her fellow members of Parliament to “listen to the experts who warn the promise of universal health” is far from guaranteed.
“Commit to the reform and funding that our health system needs, and do whatever is required to ensure that Australia trains, retains and invests in the health care professionals and researchers who make our system great.”
Peta Murphy spoke optimistically, especially in noting that “everything happens for a reason” and sharing that lessons come from life’s biggest challenges.
She was also raw in her summation that ultimately, “cancer sucks”
“The treatments can make you sick. Sometimes you are scared, sometimes you are angry,” she said. “In my experience, often you are both at the same time.”
“Ladies, check your breasts. Men, stop ignoring what your body is telling you.”