You’ve heard the saying, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. For Sarah McGoram this couldn’t be truer – living with a rare form of cancer for the last 22 years has made her strong, resilient and determined.

Sarah’s disease is called Gastro Intestinal Stromal Tumors and it’s incredibly rare. In 1996, at the time of diagnoses, Sarah was just 18 years old –there were only 15 known cases in Australia and only thousands across the world.

It’s just short of a miracle that Sarah has survived the original twelve month prognosis, shifting from one drug to another in order to manage the disease as best she can. Still to this day, it’s not known what triggers the disease, what will stop it from spreading, or how to cure it.

Despite all of this, Sarah is upbeat and positive. She lights up when talking of her 11-year-old son George, and the wonderful community brought together by Vodafone Foundation and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. The community are united in pursuit of a common goal – to change the pace of cancer research.

There’s something incredibly humbling about Sarah and her story. Next time you get ticked off because you get given the wrong coffee order, your meal is cold or you miss your bus, you might like to reflect on a day in the life of Sarah McGoram, surviving rare cancer, one day at a time.

Day by day

Morning: Like many in her Canberra neighbourhood, Sarah wakes early for the school run routine. It starts with her husband, Tom, getting up first to wake up George and feed Winston, the mini-moodle. Tom then makes a coffee and toast for Sarah in bed. It’s a small daily gesture that helps Sarah wake up and get moving each day. This is a moment of indulgence in what is likely to be another exhausting day. Once Sarah is up, she packs lunch, organises homework and tracks down a clean school uniform for George. She’ll get dressed, or sneakily throw a tracksuit over her pj’s, and drive George the few kilometres to school. Sarah’s mornings start like most parents, but in truth, getting George off to school takes up most of her energy for the morning. The current drug keeping Sarah’s rare cancer at bay has multiple side effects including chronic fatigue, high blood pressure and hand/feet pain. She needs to monitor her body closely, reading signals like the rest of us check the time.

Winston, the mini-moodle, and his glorious bow-tie.

Mid-morning:  Twice a week, Sarah has friends come over for a cuppa and to help with housework, laundry and gardening. It’s a lovely time to catch up with friends, but essential to helping Sarah and her family function. In the weeks without help, Sarah finds the housework gets unmanageable and results in Tom juggling dinner and laundry late at night. When the house is in order, Sarah finds a moment to catch up on some extra sleep, phone her family overseas, or even squeeze in a few chapters of a trashy novel.

Midday: Hospital check-ups are a usual part of Sarah’s schedule. In fact, many of her days must be scheduled around crucial specialist appointments, follow-ups and screenings, which restrict how much time Sarah is able to devote to helping at George’s school, or even working herself. It was only a few years ago that Sarah could squeeze in three days of teaching and help out at George’s school. Now there are daily commitments associated with her treatment. Sarah goes to the gym three days a week to complete a personal training workout prescribed by her doctor, organises or attends regular appointments with one of her medical team, or is off having tests to keep a close eye on her health. She manages, but only through careful scheduling, planning and the support of her family and friends.

Afternoon: Before popping into the chemist to pick up a script or two, it’s back to school to pick up George, and then off to either rugby or basketball practice. What might seem like a chore to many is one of the highlights of Sarah’s day. Like most young kids, George loves sport, and by default Sarah loves it too. Watching him laughing and joking with his mates at training and charging up the rugby field with his friends by his side instils a joy that keeps Sarah going until the end of the day. It’s not unusual to see Sarah and Tom cheering and running along the sideline at the games (much to George’s embarrassment).

George and Tom, owning the rugby field.

Evening: By dinnertime on a school night, Sarah is exhausted. Tom tries to get home from work to manage the household for the evening. He cooks, or if Sarah has any energy left, they cook together while George sets the table and catches up on homework. By the time 8pm rolls around, everyone has collapsed into a state of exhaustion, yet content. The feeling of the whole family being home, happy, and tucked in safely at the end of another successful day is absolute bliss. Sarah and Tom rarely go out on week nights, but they store up as much energy as they can muster for fun and festivities on Saturday nights.  They round up their mates and head out to dinner, movies, dancing or maybe even a sneaky cocktail bar. It is always a high-energy, cheerful night of laughter and good times which refuels their social and emotional tank for the week.

Sarah is focused on thriving as much as surviving.  She makes sure each day is peppered with a few cheerful activities, which helps the tedious moments fade into the background of the day.

She aims for the highlights to outnumber the lowlights in a day, if that happens, then it is a very successful day in their household.

The easiest way to help

In Sarah’s mind, help finding discoveries is needed, and in a hurry – and it’s in everyone’s power to help.

You can help speed up the pace of cancer research by downloading the DreamLab app, available on iOS and Android. Developed by Vodafone Foundation in partnership with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, an Australian organisation conducting breakthrough medical research, DreamLab is an easy way to make a real difference. It’s so simple you can do it with your eyes closed.

By simply downloading the app and charging your smartphone while you sleep, you’ll be helping fast-track cancer research.

In Sarah’s words:

“It takes a community effort to solve this disease and find the cure, and we’re absolutely in a hurry to find it!”

Terms and conditions

1: A compatible handset is required. Downloading DreamLab will consume data. Once downloaded, DreamLab can be used when your device (i) is connected to a charging source and (ii) has mobile network or WiFi connectivity. Mobile data to use DreamLab is free for Vodafone Australia customers on the Vodafone Australia network. Roaming incurs international rates.  More Terms and Conditions, here.

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Meg Retka-Tidd

Senior Manager, Partners & Programs, Vodafone Foundation

Meg Retka-Tidd,
Senior Manager, Partners & Programs, Vodafone Foundation

Working closely with our partners The Garvan Institute and Hello Sunday Morning, Meg helps the Vodafone Foundation live out its day-to-day purpose of using technology to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians.