Just Emma...

Saturday, March 7, 2015
As many of my friends head back to university this week, I reflect on life before cancer. A life where I was just Emma, not Emma with cancer.

The other night I had a little cry to Serge. I was upset because I felt that there are people in our life that know only one side of me – the side that has dominated the last 18 months of life.

I forget what it is like to have people ask what I studied, where I worked, what my career aspirations were. Yes, all these I speak of in the past tense because the reality is that, unless a miracle occurs, these are indeed memories and dreams that were pre-cancer.

Unlike many people my age, I had an extremely clear plan for my life, a plan that was well and truly in the making. One thing that hasn’t changed since cancer, has been my passion for helping others – I wanted to change the world.

I went to university to study International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies and dreamt of working overseas, on the ground, with those most in need. And, this dream came true when I moved to East Timor straight out of university (I literally flew out the evening of my graduation) to work in a rehabilitation centre for people with physical disabilities.

I loved my time in East Timor, but it was a year of lessons and a year spent finding myself and realising what I wanted to do with my life. It did not take long for me to realise that I needed to come home and study Occupational Therapy… unfortunately I came home to a cancer diagnosis instead.

Since that diagnosis, it is like the old me has been forgotten. If I bump into someone that I haven’t seen in years, people avoid talking about life before cancer. It may be in fear of upsetting me, which I completely understand, or people’s inability to separate my unfortunate reality from the person they once knew.

With my wonderful colleagues in East Timor.
For people that I have met since being diagnosed, they only know me as the Emma who has cancer and shares her life with the public through Dear Melanoma. Dear Melanoma has given me so much strength, but with it comes the very fine line between sharing my life, but also having privacy and time as just Emma.

It would be wrong of me to say that I don’t have a role to play in this dilemma. There is a definite part of me that avoids conversation these days. I have gone from being a social butterfly, to someone that fears being around people outside my immediate family and my best friends. I have never been so scared of being asked one simple question, ‘how are you?’. I can never tell if someone is just asking in general, or if that they are asking the long drawn out ‘how are you?’ where they are most definitely trying to find out what is the go with the cancer. I fear social events where I know I will be surrounded by people enjoying studying, graduating, people starting new jobs, new marriages, new babies – Not only is it a reminder of what I am missing, but I feel that I have nothing to offer. When someone says ‘what are you up to?’ I often feel that I don’t have anything to update them on (which deep down I know is absolute rubbish, lets be honest I am busier than most!), so I sit there very tempted to shout at the person pushing the conversation, ‘I am dying of cancer, that is what I am up to!’…. that would be very inappropriate of me though haha.

There is never any fear when talking to my dearest friends.
It is interesting, because as I am writing this blog and contemplate life as just Emma, I honestly don’t know how I feel about that. The last 18 months have been in some ways amazing, it has revived my love for community service, education and I have developed a new love for writing. If my cancer disappeared tomorrow, you probably wouldn’t be able to get rid of me and Dear Melanoma – I would probably choose to make this my life’s work.

So, like anything in life, I need to learn to balance time as Emma, cancer patient and advocate, with the Emma that has been here the last 23 years.

A month ago I took the first step to having something that was just for me and had nothing to do with cancer. I decided to approach the owner of my favourite gift shop for some work. I wanted to spend one day a week surrounded by people who have no idea who I am, and no idea that I have terminal cancer. On the whole, this has worked perfectly. There are a few of you in the Dear Melanoma community that have stumbled upon my secret hideout (feeling a little famous right now! haha), so shhhh, don’t tell anyone.

I love sharing my life with you all and feel the love radiate every time I post something on the blog or facebook page. I love what my life has become since cancer. I love that I feel like I am making a difference to people’s lives and raising awareness for melanoma. But, there is definitely more to me than cancer.

For my friends and family, don’t forget who I was and still am.


  1. No one will ever forget the real Emma my lovely because she is always shining bright each day. Big hugs!

  2. Wow Emma. I have never had the pleasure of meeting you in person. You really touch me. So many people walk the earth believing that the universe has dealt them the worst blow - always thinking it is worse than anyone else's. I will admit that I have been guilty of those very same thoughts. I have made some mistakes in my life financially that have left myself family in despair, however I have never had to be as brave as you are. For someone I have never met, I feel truly inspired by you.

    Thank you for your complete openness. I hope one day soon I will have that pleasure of meeting the real Emma.

    Thinking of You
    Amanda Biagini

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  4. When asked ‘What are you up to?’ and lost for words tell people this Tell them you are busy bringing simple underrated joy to yours and other people’s lives, one delicious pavlova and sparkly pedicure at a time. Tell them you are a blogging extraordinaire, international melanoma crusader and fundraiser entrepreneur. You have been focussing on being a wife, a daughter, an Aunty and a friend. Tell them above all that you have been very busy spending the last 18 months inspiring and bringing hope to thousands of people who have never even met you which is more than most people can offer in a lifetime. Shine on gorgeous Emma.

  5. Emma your Blogs are written from the heart with honesty and eloquence. Unfortunately I am not blessed with your skills so forgive me in advance and I’ll do my best to do you justice …………..

    When I think of you many words immediately spring to mind - daughter, sister, wife, auntie, friend, beautiful, funny, intelligent, compassionate, courageous, strong, ambassador, advocate, NGO, giving, brave, loving, caring, thoughtful, charitable, amazing, inspiring and of course stylish. For those that don’t know Emma these are just a few of the many qualities that define the woman that is Emma Betts. But Em you were all of these things and many more BEFORE your cancer diagnosis. The difference is you now literally have a whole world of new friends (and strangers) that have learnt what a wonderful amazing lady you are.

    Despite what you are personally dealing with everyday you are still unselfishly thinking of others and trying to save the world. In the last 18 months your focus may have shifted a little to the left as you continually strive to educate, raise awareness and fundraise to help find a cure for Melanoma. Everyday is one day closer to that cure becoming a reality and you can be proud that this day is closer because of you.

    You often talk about how realistic you are in relation to your treatment, the trial and your prognosis. My Dad was also a realist but would say “someone HAS to be the first good statistic”. Personally I can’t think of one reason why that “someone” can’t be you!

    Miracles can and do happen but no matter what tomorrow brings, to your family, friends and of course Ralph you will always be “JUST EMMA” xoxoxoxo

  6. Just found you:) Thank you!! My 18yr old son is stage 4. Diagnosed 9 months ago and it just keeps growing like crazy! Everywhere now! He started keytruda this's been rough. Unlike you he is SO private. He misses his life and the disappointment of not having much future to plan right now breaks my heart. He doesn't tell even his best friends about devastating scan results or infusions. He says he wants people to look at him like they used's impossible. Even I don't. I can't. He is special. He is dealing w huge things at 18! I feel each topic you write about. I know them. I live them. My boy lives them. It's just unreal to be here.

    1. Hi Kerri - Thank you for your comment. Sending my love to you and your son. I totally know what he means, you want people to treat you like normal, but this is a far from normal situation. Although I am not that much older than your son, I cannot imagine how I would have managed at his age when I imagine most of his friends are starting uni and planning for their future. If your son ever wants someone to chat to, he can contact me through the Dear Melanoma Facebook page and the same goes for you. I hope the keytruda treats him well and he doesn't get to many side effects. Lots of love.


Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to connect. Emma x

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