Real Life

Pink Ribbon breakfast

A cancer tragedy is inspiring these women to make a difference

If there’s one thing that More FM newsreader Jennifer Bainbridge’s late mother taught her, it was how not to live life. Jennifer was just 17 when she lost her mum, Mattie Paterson, to breast cancer. By the time the 54-year-old had the large lump in her breast checked, it was too late to save her.

“She was walking around with this lump because she was scared to get it checked,” Jennifer (33) explains.

“By the time it was diagnosed, it was the size of a baseball and inoperable.”

Chemotheraphy and radiotherapy were used in an attempt to shrink the tumour, but at no time did Mattie tell her family she was ill.

It wasn’t until the doctor informed Jennifer and her three older brothers that their mum had two weeks to live, that they realised she was going to die.

“It was pretty horrifying, to say the least,” Jennifer recalls. She spent the two weeks sitting at her mother’s bedside until Mattie passed away.

Through her own grief, Jennifer has become a breast cancer awareness campaigner, along with her colleague, More FM host Nicki Sunderland, who hosts the 10am to 1pm show.

Nicki’s children, Wilco and Bebe (left), and Jen’s daughter, Lily (right), are part of the reason they wanted to front this campaign.

They are holding an exclusive Pink Ribbon breakfast on May 16, where Jennifer has decided to share the story of her mother, urging other women to act quickly if they discover any changes with their body.

“It’s a cautionary tale,” Jennifer says. “Mum spent a lot of time with the large lump and did nothing about it. She died and left four children behind.”

Jennifer has vowed to get any suspicious lumps checked straight away, so her 13-year-old daughter, Lily, won’t suffer the same heartbreak.

Her lifestyle is very healthy – she is a vegan with a regular fitness regime, which includes long-distance running. Mattie continually made sacrifices for her children – and Jennifer is clearly very emotional when she says raising the family came at the expense of her mother’s happiness.

“She worked so hard to feed the four of us. I think she never put herself first. I feel sorry for her because she never had anything and I cry for what she missed out on,” says Jennifer, wiping away her tears.

Craving the mother-daughter bond is one of the reasons Jennifer believes she fell pregnant just two years later.

“I was yearning to have that relationship again. I was still in an extreme state of grief. It really felt right, even though I was quite young.”

Nicki also wants to reveal her own moment of dread when she discovered a lump in her breast last year. Jennifer was the first person she turned to, and gave Nicki the courage to get the abnormality checked out.

Fear stopped Mattie from seeking help until it was too late.

“Jen had a good feel and straight away she told me: ‘Go, get the mammogram and find out,’” says Nicki.

It was an anxious two-week wait before she got the all-clear from her doctor.

“I just had lumpy boobs,” she says. “I never felt panicked, but I’m a mum-of-two and want to be well for my kids.

You need to keep yourself in a good place and well-balanced so you can be a mum. “You do have to put yourself first because if you let things lapse, like your health or the doctor visits, that’s when trouble brews.”

At 40 years old, Nicki is in full support of women getting mammograms before the age of 45, which is when free breast screening begins.

“It’s such a common disease. We all know someone who has been affected by it,” adds Nicki, referring to her neighbour and two cousins who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Both Nicki, who has son Wilco (10) and daughter Bebe (5), and Jennifer are spending Mother’s Day with their families – but it’s not a day of celebration for Jennifer, who still struggles with the grief of losing her mother so young.

“It is such a bittersweet time for me because I have got my own beautiful child, but sometimes you just want your mummy.”

Photos: Fiona Tomlinson • Hair & make-up: Kathryn Stevens

Related stories

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.