26 September 2023

Tracy Bevan brought to tears by Wollongong student's HSC dance about best friend Jane McGrath’s cancer journey

| Kellie O'Brien
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Jane McGrath breast cancer dance

Performing Annabelle Martin’s dance composition “Jane’s 11-Year Battle are (left to right): Ava Sommerville, Hope Martin and Aaliah Hancock. Photo: Supplied.

McGrath Foundation director Tracy Bevan was brought to tears while watching Cordeaux Heights student Annabelle Martin’s Year 12 HSC dance composition that tells the story of her best friend Jane McGrath’s journey with cancer.

Annabelle, 17, created the dance composition ‘Jane’s 11-Year Battle’ for her HSC dance major at St Mary’s Star of Sea College in Wollongong.

The dance, which features her sister Hope as Jane and fellow dancers Ava Sommerville and Aaliah Hancock, highlights Jane’s story, her support network, and the establishment of the McGrath Foundation.

It was inspired by a conversation with her mum Samantha in January, when Annabelle asked why everyone was wearing pink to the McGrath Foundation’s Pink Test cricket match.

“I chose Jane McGrath as, going to an all-girls school, I felt it was right to raise awareness of breast cancer,” Annabelle said ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

“I also realised that most people knew someone who had been impacted by breast cancer in some way.”

Her mum Samantha said, by chance, her husband Luke had met Jane’s husband and Australian cricket legend Glen McGrath a few weeks earlier for a work conference where Glen was guest speaker.

“He got talking to him about their hometowns of Dubbo and Naromine, and about Annabelle’s dance work, mentioning that we were considering sending through a copy of the performance to the McGrath Foundation,” Samantha said.

“I wanted to send it in as a way to say thank you for them doing all their hard work but to show also that this message is still coming through this younger generation after all this time.

“I mean, what a legacy.”

Annabelle Martin HSC dance

Annabelle Martin (right) with the dancers for her Year 12 HSC dance composition (left to right): Ava Sommerville, Hope Martin and Aaliah Hancock. Photo: Supplied.

Samantha never expected Tracy Bevan would call this month.

“She kept saying Jane was my best friend and it had me in tears because it brought back so many memories,” she said.

“She said Jane would be so honoured to know Annabelle chose her for her story for such a major event in her life being her HSC.”

She said it had opened up conversations with her daughters about having regular health checks and supporting initiatives that do good.

“Having two daughters, it is an ideal story and conversation to have with them about breast cancer, and the importance of supporting such vital services in our community,” she said.

“It’s clear to see Jane’s legacy continues to live on in the next generation of young women coming through.”

READ ALSO Illawarra cancer centres introduce new tool to improve cultural sensitivity and experience for patients

Annabelle had only ever expected the performance to reach her peers, so hearing Tracy’s reaction “blew my mind”.

“Tracy was Jane’s best friend and was there with her on her journey, and was one of the creators of the McGrath Foundation and still keeps it going today, so she is a major part of this story and I am honoured she took the time to reach out,” she said.

“Hearing the joy and love that people have for my work is almost a sign of relief in knowing I have done my best and my best has paid off and that people appreciate it and are enjoying it – even though it is a sad story – and have been able to feel the emotion that I wanted to portray.”

St Mary’s was so impressed with Annabelle’s work, that they not only had it as the opening act for their August showcase performance evening, but had it professionally filmed. This was the film the McGrath Foundation watched.

Annabelle, who has been a dancer with All That Jazz since age four, created the dance to show the ups and downs of Jane’s 11-year battle with cancer and its effect on her supporters and carers.

She said the dance was broken into three parts – the first about diagnosis and realisation; the second about the chemotherapy treatment with the fluid going into the body; and the third repeating the first section to show the cancer returning a final time.

“I was conscious to show the journey of Jane’s support network as well, helping to lift Jane when needed, being there for her, and to integrate their own sadness and loss as they sometimes had to watch Jane make her own journey and not be able to do much about it,” she said.

“The overarching title of ‘Jane’s 11-Year Battle’ stood out to me as she struggled for such a long time with this disease and then for her legacy to live on today through the McGrath Foundation and the wonderful support and work they do shows how much her story needs to be told and kept alive.”

She said despite the suffering Jane and her support team were going through, they “went out of their way to help the future by creating her foundation which began the development of specific breast cancer nurses to care and help patients”.

“It is a service I am grateful is available to my generation – hopefully it is never needed by anyone I know though.”

READ ALSO Seniors hit the stage: All-ages dance class creates connections spanning generations

Annabelle gave credit to her school dance teacher Ms Visagio who “pushed me to my limit to achieve such a great piece”.

She has now been accepted to study for a Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Wollongong in 2024.

“[Jane’s story] has opened my eyes even more to nursing and has made me realise the importance of helping and caring for people who are ill, just like Jane, and who knows, maybe even becoming a breast cancer nurse one day.”

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