Ella Baché CEO Pippa Hallas affectionately describes her mother as a “Mum Mum” devoted to her family and their wellbeing. Pippa also points out that Merrilyn was a fourth generation Aussie who just got on with life, she was very brave, and didn’t complain when things went wrong because “she’ll be right”. But, unfortunately, she wasn’t.
In March 2017, Pippa’s Mum ended up in hospital after constant diarrhoea. The doctors called Pippa and her brother into the hospital. “We knew it wasn’t good, but the last thing on our minds was uterine cancer. I hadn’t even heard of it,” Pippa says. “Turns out, it’s the most common type of gynaecological cancer in Australia. But who talks about it? Certainly not the GPs.” Pippa’s Mum had complained previously that her tummy wasn’t quite right, but the GP put it down to side effects from strong antibiotics she’d taken for an infection on her arm.
At first, they thought it was ovarian cancer but later confirmed she had uterine cancer. Merrilyn had moderate to high levels of cancer cells in her body, and doctors said she’d need chemotherapy and surgery. The doctors wanted to start chemotherapy immediately, but first, they had to drain a lot of fluid from around her stomach.
“Mum’s treatment was such a technical experience for our family. There was very limited communication and no emotional support,” Pippa says. “Mum coped by putting up barriers and refusing to see anyone but her kids. She didn’t even want her
grandchildren around. That was very hard for our family. The only person I found that could help us was a social worker at the hospital.”
“Mum lived an hour from the hospital where she had six rounds of chemo treatment. My brother and I took it in turns to take her to and from the hospital. I was shocked at how crude treatment is. It just added to both hers and our suffering, “ Pippa says. “Mum got smashed by the treatment.”
Six months after she’d been diagnosed, Merrilyn got really sick at home and went back to the hospital. When Pippa went to visit her, she was heavily medicated. “She was out of it,” Pippa says. “Mum liked to be in control, and it was awful to see her like that. When I could ask her what was going on, she said, ‘They can’t work it.’ I don’t know if she was trying to protect us, but I knew it wasn’t right. I rang my uncle to see if he could visit and he did. He was the person to tell us that she only had days to live.”
Pippa’s mother passed away in hospital on 22 September 2017. During the months of chemotherapy, cancer had spread through her body until it could no longer function. Pippa says it her Mum’s treatment was the longest period of her life. “It was so apparent that the treatment options for gynaecological cancer are far behind other cancers. We were all highly stressed and suffering as a family. We couldn’t sustain the treatment routine much longer ourselves.”
“I know there are limited resources for cancer research and support – but we could do much more for women with gynaecological cancer and their families. I am sure that with the right resources and the right people involved it’s possible,” Pippa says.
Six months after her mother died, Pippa got the opportunity to write a book, sharing the inspiring story of her great aunt, Ella Baché, and the brand’s journey in Australia. She decided to donate the proceeds to the Cherish Women’s Cancer Foundation.
“I didn’t want to write the book just for myself,” Pippa explains. “I wanted to help change the experience for Australian women with gynaecological cancer. I would love to see research move faster so it can improve the treatments available, and I’d like to help spark conversation about this disease. Going through this experience has shown me how lonely it can be.”
“Unlike my Mum, I want to talk about this. I’d like all Australians to know about gynaecological cancer, and I’d urge all women to probe the medical profession if they feel something is not right. Never assume they’ve got it all covered. And finally, if you’re going through this, please know you’re not alone.”
You can support Pippa and Cherish by buying a copy of her new book, Bold Moves, from an Ella Baché salon or online.