By Hollie Harris
For some, life sure slings the mud and it’s what we do next that really demonstrates our true grit. Despite great loss in her life and a ten year window to live, Rachel Clancy’s determination to find real happiness may be a key to healing.
This extraordinary woman hopes to encourage more people to follow what truly makes their heart sing by sharing her story with us.
Originally from Wales, U.K. of Irish Portuguese decent, Rachel was the youngest of 6. She experienced her first loss at just two years old when her father died of cancer. After some time, her mother remarried and they packed up and came to Australia.
“My step father was a seaman and as a child he would tell me stories of wild seas and helicopters, of dusty roads and Holden utes, union strikes and pub brawls. He filled me with a yearning to see this wonderful country that I was so fortunate to now be living,” Rachel said.
By the age of 19, she began working her way up and down the coast of Western Australia, taking jobs in roadhouses, hotels, restaurants. She cooked on sheep stations and mustered cows with horses.
“I felt I was living my dream. Then the Australia that I wanted to see opened up. I became a camp manager for an aboriginal housing company.
“I travelled into areas of Australia many people would never see. I experienced the true culture of this country. I felt I was very blessed,” she said.
It was during this time that Rachel met the man she was to be married to for 15 years. He was a horticulturalist and on The Ord River Irrigation Scheme, in Kununurra W.A. and the young couple was able to establish a business quickly, working for themselves, as well as for other growers.
Sadly, 23 year old Rachel was then to lose her mother to ovarian cancer.
In the years that followed, after a successful Mango season, Rachel felt worn out. Her sister Jane has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and the following year, her brother Laurence with Non Hodgkins Lymphona.
Rachel was 30 when she noticed a lump under her own arm.
“We were young and fit and a little crazy. We worked tirelessly, in an unforgiving climate.
“I thought of it as a pulled muscle. The wet season was closing in and some needed rest was due. I went to the doctors to get it checked out and her face said it all.
“It didn’t come as a huge surprise. Not saying I wasn’t shocked, but my family had a history with cancer,” she said.
Rachel was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 3 tumour in her left breast and underwent a huge treatment plan with a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, followed by 3 months of chemo, radiation and more chemo.
“After treatment, my prognosis was a 10 year life expectancy,” she said.
The aggressive treatment was also supposed to make Rachel infertile.
After losing both parents to cancer, receiving a 10 year life expectancy and infertility prognosis, how is it that Rachel Clancy is with us today, 16 years on and a mother of two healthy boys?
“I returned to the Kimberley after treatment to a devastated business. On the day of my last chemo treatment a hail storm came through and completely wiped us out. I had just beat cancer so my attitude was “what is there to lose?” I went to the bank put everything on the line and 10 months later it happened again.
“I’m a strong believer in things happening for a reason. Two strikes down, we were not going to wait for number three. It was time to leave. We filed for bankruptcy and left for the Sunshine Coast.
“Recovery was slow but I was in a supportive place. My husband worked tirelessly to provide what we needed. After three years I wanted to have children,” Rachel said.
The couple were blessed to conceive two children, Patrick, now 12 and Reilley, now 9.
“It wasn’t long after having my boys that I started to think about what I would do once I was ready to start work again. There was no way I could work the way I used to. My physical body was nowhere near the same.
She began to look back at the things that made her happy in the past and started to develop hobbies in painting and singing.
Taking art classes, painting murals and canvases and teaming up with guitarists performing in muso nights, Rachel began to find a new pathway.
“I was doing what made me happy and my happiness equalled my health.”
It was by chance that Rachel met a highly regarded singer and entertainer who became her mentor.
She began singing lessons and began to sing in a group and eventually was singing with them full time.
“I was making ends meet doing what I really loved,” she said.
Behind all of this growth, Rachel’s family continued falling prey to cancer. Her sister Jane lost her battle and passed away in 2015 and although her brother Laurence still lives in remission with Prostate Cancer, his son underwent chemo for a tumour on his bone. It didn’t stop there – more relatives would be struck with the illness and the family would eventually find an answer.
A confirmation that they suffered from Li Fraumeni Syndrome came in recent years – a rare condition which is an inherited familial predisposition to a wide range of certain, often rare, cancers. This is due to a change (mutation) in a tumour suppressor gene known as TP53.
Despite enduring more loss than most in a lifetime, Rachel had begun to create a new story for herself and focus on what makes her truly happy. Singing became an intrinsic part of her healing process.
“For me personally, singing is a huge release of tension. It helps me stay in my happy place and when I don’t sing I feel frustrated,” Rachel said.
“The opening up and transferring of emotion through my voice is very satisfying.”
Today, she inspires many people with story and song. Nominated to be a part of the International Women’s Week Festival here in Noosa, Rachel will be coordinating the music for the show “Lets Hear It For The Girls” and performing songs.
“Watching the faces in an audience, I wish to touch their hearts with my depiction of the song, raise up a memory or feeling for them. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t. That’s all part of the development.
“I’m also going to be a speaker for “Don’t Shimmer Shine” giving me the opportunity to tell my story. I was honoured to accept the offer.
“This is a totally new direction for me. Yes, I’ll be singing but it’s my story that I wish to tell to hopefully inspire people to do what makes their heart sing, to find and hold on to happiness for health and personal growth.
“I am truly grateful for the life that I have had. The good bits and not so good bits and the new and exciting life that is unfolding for me.
“I think for me to overcome what I’ve been through has really come down to my attitude. When I was diagnosed, I really took a look at my life and all I had done.
“I had no regrets and I really had to come to terms with possibly dying and worked on not fearing that. It really makes everything else irrelevant.
“I am bringing my boys up to make conscious choices for themselves. They are already aware of how certain foods react, lack of rest feels poor nutrition feels and I’m happy to say they are choosing to make different choices the next time the temptation comes around.
“There will be a time when we have the discussion on our family’s condition, but hopefully they will be mentally prepared to know it doesn’t have to be a ticking bomb.
“I could have given up but no, I just get on with it, laugh a lot, try to eat well and keep positive. Resist fear. I try not to beat myself up, and I don’t let others opinions or belief affect my emotional state. Our emotions have so much to do with our health and wellbeing.
“Nothing really is that bad. I’ve lost everything, but gained so much in doing so. And when my time is up, well it’s up. That’s life.
“With a 10 year prognosis, I am now into my 16th year clear.”