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Today I say “goodbye” to a friend.

After battling cancer (Thymoma) for close to 9 years, my long-time friend Shirley Blacklaws sadly succumbed to the disease on Monday, May 4th 2015.

I first met ‘Shirl’ back in late 1981 at Auburn Hospital, N.S.W.
Both of us heavily pregnant, we’d been hospitalised indefinitely for different medical reasons  so it wasn’t long before we bumped into each other where we quickly became friends. We shared many days (and nights) of laughter, (you know those real deep “belly laughs” that leave you literally in tears) and we always seemed to be caught-up with our own ideas of what was funny, to us!

Visiting Hours were probably the only time we were apart, and once our visitors had left, we were quick to catch-up on all the latest gossip or dramas… usually us discussing our personal woes then having a cry together. My life back then was quite stressful and it was something I’d kept hidden from most, (with exception to those I’d become quite close to) especially the problems in my marriage. My own Gynecologist had insisted on my admission after realising there were other factors that were at play, enough to warrant concern for my (and that of my baby) well being. This was something Shirley understood.
Shirley was due to have her baby the first week of November where I still had a couple more months to go, so when it came her time for her to leave the hospital, I was miserable but we promised to stay in touch which we did, and for the following years to come our friendship grew stronger. Our kids had become friends so we now had even more reason to be together…something I believe God had a hand in as we both were also facing similar issues on the home-front which brought us closer’
It’s funny, Shirley was a few years older than me (which was something Id never thought about back then) but realised later when thinking about all I had learned from her, the advice and her own thoughts were often what got me through some really dark times. Shirley was wiser  than than she ever gave herself credit for...isn’t it always the way? I knew I could confide in her, without being criticized or judged.
I can hear her now, laughing and shrugging it all off, telling me how we were there for each other…and that’s true too. I would have done anything to help her….but she was too proud to ask. It was only when things got the better of her that she would she show her pain, usually when I was present to witness first hand some of the issues. That was Shirley. Someone with a huge heart with room for anyone that needed nurturing…she was funny, smart and not afraid to speak her mind!
There were some truly unique experiences shared, and life was never dull.

But everything would change-
Life (as it does) has a way of moving in directions not often planned or anticipated, and for awhile, Shirley and I lost touch. We had last bumped into each other when my youngest was only two years old…from that point on, our connection was lost in time. Fate is a funny thing though…twenty-three years on, my curiosity went searching…at first the only information available was an article published April, 2010 in one of our online newspapers. The story talked about Aborigines living in Sydney were at greater risk of dying from cancer due to the lack of community support and resources. And then I looked closer….Shirley had cancer.

“I kept complaining” … Shirley Blacklaws was diagnosed with cancer only after visiting her doctor many times. By then it had spread. Photo: Kate Geraghty

My mission to find her began!
Three years later and with the help of Facebook, I found my friend.

Sending out a “friend request” all that was left to do was wait…. before I knew it she had accepted and was asking for my telephone number.
To say I was happy, an understatement…and then the phone rang.
Here we were, all these years later and yet now it felt as if time had stopped, for nothing had changed between us, especially the laughter! There was so much to say, to tell, to ask…but we laughed so hard that making a sentence virtually impossible. She was still, my Shirl.

Over coming days we talked more, and then she came for a visit.
We did much reflecting, so much had happened during those “lost years” including her graduating from University with a Bachelor of Arts in Education & Community Management,  had travelled to England and had  become a Grandmother.
I’d always seen Shirley’s passion for her Aboriginal heritage, so was super proud learning of her advocacy work in the community.
She was also battling Thymus cancer and it was now incurable and inoperable.
I sat and listened fearfully, knowing the prognosis meant her time was now limited…and after she had left, I spent the rest of that night doing my own internet research, hoping against hope that I would find another alternative, an idea that perhaps she had overlooked, anything that might give us more time… but the results were always the same.
Our moments shared were brief, but precious, and I thank God for allowing us to have this last chance to reunite, even though it meant I would once more have to say “goodbye”.

Farewell Shirley my friend, until we meet again….God speed!