Raelene's cancer journey

UNITED: Whyalla Pink Spirits President Raelene Williams (middle) with Secretary Marie Woodfield (left) and husband Ben Williams (right).
UNITED: Whyalla Pink Spirits President Raelene Williams (middle) with Secretary Marie Woodfield (left) and husband Ben Williams (right).

Raelene Williams is well-known in the Whyalla community for her work as President of the Whyalla Pink Spirits, a group which is dedicated to promoting breast cancer awareness in the community.

It's through her own challenges that Raelene Williams came to the decision to form the Pink Spirits, having been diagnosed with breast cancer 2007 after a lump was detected by the Breast Screen SA Mobile Unit.

"I had no idea I had breast cancer until they found an anomaly," Mrs Williams said. "We went to Adelaide and it was confirmed. I had a lumpectomy in Adelaide and then we were down there for almost seven weeks as I underwent radiotherapy."

Unfortunately Raelene suffered a burst abcess in her breast while in hospital, extending her stay by several nights.

"All in all it was a pretty traumatic time for us," she said. "I was so lucky in that I have a great support network which includes my husband Ben, who is my rock. I would have hated to be down there on my own like so many of the girls are.

"It was also lucky that it was picked up so early. Thanks goodness for the Breast Screen SA van."

Fortunately five years after being hospitalised with breast cancer, Raelene was given the 'all clear' on the cancer front. After her recovery Raelene wanted to create a local group that would focus on breast cancer and raise funds to support the McGrath Foundation.

With the help of the McGrath Breast Care Nurse at the time, Raelene formed the Whyalla Pink Spirits in March 2011. Since then the group has moved forward in leaps and bounds, cultivating significant community support and providing a space for women who have experienced breast cancer to share their stories.

"That's important because unless you've been through it its hard to understand the situation," Mrs Williams said. "We're made up of breast cancer survivors and supporters, we have some great supporters in our group. The membership seems to be growing all the time."

Recently the group has been opened up to survivors of all cancers, widening the scope of the Pink Spirits and enabling more locals to get involved. A key project undertaken by the Pink Spirits with the support of McGrath Breast Cancer Nurse Kate Kroll is the Hair to Help Wig Library, which provides wigs for those going through hair loss as part of chemotherapy.

October is breast cancer awareness month and will see a number of pink-themed events being held around town as part of the McGrath Foundation's Pink Up Your Town initiative. The Pink Spirits are hosting a number of pink-themed events around Whyalla to get involved.

So far they have already held a movie matinee at the Middleback Arts Centre and hosted a stall at the Westland Shopping Centre selling raffles and lucky squares.

On Monday the Pink Spirits hosted a morning tea at Mondialie's cafe at TAFE SA - which was booked out with over 100 people attending. The City Plaza Traders are also getting in on the action, holding Pink in the Plaza, with all proceeds going to the McGrath Foundation.

The Pink Spirits will be on Patterson Street on October 10 and 31 and November 19 with a stall to raise funds for the McGrath Foundation. The fundraising will end with the Pink Spirits' Melbourne Cup event at the Sundowner Hotel on November 5.

"We have to stress that we're doing this because we're lucky enough to have a McGrath Breast Care Nurse here and we have for several years," Mrs Williams said. "We give a big thanks to Kate Kroll for the work she does, she really is amazing."