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Amanda Bridgeman – Women’s History Month

Some days I look at life and think it’s hard. I work a full time job where I manage several staff, am PA to the boss, I spend nights and weekends working on a second job – the books – and I live in an old house that always needs something fixing. And some days I just look at all the work around me and think it’s hard, there’s too much, and I’m tired.

But then I look around me, at my friends and family, and realise that my life isn’t really that hard. It’s busy, sure, but it’s not hard. You see, there are a bunch of women in my life who’ve had it tougher. These women have shown me what it means to be a strong woman.

One of my best friends recently received the ‘all clear’ from having had breast cancer. She’d been in remission for 5 years and was over the moon. I remember when she first found out that she had cancer. She had a seven month old son and had noticed a lump. She ignored the lump at first because she was breastfeeding and thought it was just the way things were. But nine weeks on the lump was still there so she went and got it checked out. And that’s when her life changed for forever. Within a matter of weeks she’d had a series of operations. First the lump was removed and tested which confirmed it was cancer. Then she went back to have the lymph nodes removed and tested, which confirmed the cancer had spread. Then she went back a third time to have her breast removed. It was an absolute whirlwind that sent her life spinning.

Then the chemo started, which came with an array of side effects. Of course there was the nausea, and she lost her hair and had to wear wigs that made her overheat and sweat (I understand now why some people opt for scarves instead). The worst, though, was seeing the impact the chemo had on her fingernails. I remember my friend showing me just how delicately her fingernails sat upon her skin. She wiggled them about as though they were barely attached to her. It was horrible, like something out of a horror film, and all the evidence in the world of just how awful cancer and chemo can be. She’d been to hell and back, all while coping as a first time mum, and yet I don’t think I ever heard her complain…

I look back on my grandmothers and mother with a similar but different awe. One grandmother Lilly, had two children when her husband walked out on her. He simply went off to work and never came back. She held it together, though, and took a job as a barmaid to support her kids. It was there she met the man I came to know and love as my grandfather, Harry. Harry, a fisherman, came with eight kids. Yes, that’s right, eight kids. His ex-wife had been unable to cope with them, but Lilly took them on and together they raised ten children/teenagers, like a regular little Brady Bunch. Ten children/teenagers. Can you imagine…

My other grandmother, Iris, was a farmer’s wife. Living and working the land isn’t an easy job for anyone. Living out in the country, as a farmer’s wife, raising five kids, is a pretty good effort in itself, but add to that a son with polio, a husband who suffers an aneurysm, and years later a battle with breast cancer that results in a mastectomy. Still you never heard her complain. She just took it in her stride and got on with things.

Then there is my mother. She herself raised four kids, and worked businesses with my father throughout. My parents worked hard their whole life, put three of their kids through university, all with grand plans to enjoy retirement when it came. Then the GFC hit, wiping out two thirds of their superannuation, and my father was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia (and more recently Alzheimer’s too). So my father became ill, and my mother became his full-time carer. Their grand plans of enjoying retirement became a game of watching pennies and driving from one medical appointment to the next. After working hard their whole life, this was their reward. And yet, I rarely hear my mother complain. She just deals with it and carries on.

So I look at these women: my friend, my grandmothers, my mother, and I see the hardships and struggles they’ve been through, and I shake my head in wonder at just how strong they are. How have they not collapsed in a heap? Despite what has happened to them, they’ve picked themselves up, dusted off, and carried on. They rarely asked for help, they rarely complained. They just did it. They just got things done.

These are the real superwomen of everyday life, and there are many more like them out there. Seriously, we need to take the time more often to just stop and say ‘thank you’ to them. Thank you, for not giving up!

So whenever I think about how ‘hard’ my life is, I simply stop and think of them, then laugh at my foolishness. I could only dream to be as strong as they.

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