It’s a small, inequitable world.

If I had to pinpoint only one issue which I am passionate about, and which is my driving force, I would have no hesitation.  Equity.  This is a theme which comes up time and time again here, and for as long as there is inequity, I will keep shouting.

So, attending a conference in Bangkok in November 2010 on the role of language in meeting the Millennium Development Goals, was a Big Deal.  It was a Big Deal because there was continuous recognition that the MDGs were unlikely to be met by the target of 2015.  Sure, there had been massive gains and children in India and China for example, had seen considerably increased enrolment rates in schools.  However, relying on numbers masked the fact that in many contexts, the actual proportion of children was actually decreasing overall. The poorest and most disadvantaged of children were consistently marginalised and excluded from development.  I was fired up by continuous reference to the post MDG debate and that it would need to focus on equity rather than numbers.  Exactly!

This conference was a Big Deal for another reason.  November 2010 marked 13 months from my diagnosis.  I had just had my first annual Big Check and was newly NED (No Evidence of Disease).  My hair was slowly growing back, albeit curly and grey. I had even graduated to using shampoo!  This would be my very visit to Bangkok since diagnosis, which was not for medical reasons.  This was for professional reasons, and I was seeing myself in a place which a few weeks and months earlier I could not imagine.  I was even presenting a paper.

The conference came at a critical time for me, regaining my personal and professional confidence, and a belief in my own future.  The topic of the conference was both inspiring and pertinent to me at all levels. And it attracted an incredible group of committed and experienced experts.

I was especially awe-inspired by one speaker, Kirsty Sword-Gusmao, and found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, nodding at her presentation. She was introduced as Timor Leste’s first First Lady, an Australian woman married to the first President of Timor Leste when it gained independence. Her husband, Xanana Gusmao, is the current Prime Minister of Timor Leste.

Moreover, Kirsty is a dedicated advocate on equity in many topics in Timor Leste and the founder and Director of the Alola Foundation.  She was speaking at the conference in relation to education and language. She spoke powerfully and persuasively, with her heart and her head.  At the end of her presentation, I joined a line of “gushers” to tell her how much I had been moved and inspired by her words and work.

And I thought the story would end there.  But in fact, just over two years later, the story picked up again.  You may remember that I visited Timor Leste in February of 2012 as a guest of my former Doctor who had moved there from her posting in Yangon. I didn’t meet Kirsty then in my 48 hours in the fourth newest country in the world, but I felt a real connection with this beautiful country and the inspirational woman who I had listened to, rapt, in Bangkok.

Stunning Timor Leste

The story in fact took a new turn in January this year when I received an email from my Doctor friend, asking me if I would mind being contacted by a patient of hers who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She mentioned that she had pointed her patient in the direction of my blog.  I was horribly saddened to learn that it was Kirsty who had been diagnosed, but somewhat flattered to learn that Kirsty had asked if she could make contact with me.  A flurry of email exchanges ensued and we have been in regular communication since then.  Through each conversation, we find more and more shared interests, passions and issues, on personal and professional levels.

If you recall my rant on equity prompted by the Angelina Jolie discussion, you may have noticed that I quoted Kirsty, as a friend from Timor Leste.  I drew attention to her saying that although the treatment for cancer is hideous, at least she had access to care.  She went on to highlight that a woman from a village in Timor Leste would have few options and would likely have to wait her day.

KSG interview

In that post, I alluded to the fact that there was a “story” behind the way Kirsty and I connected, and that we wanted to tell it one day.

That day is today.  And it serves as an important “back story” to the next post on Feisty Blue Gecko.  Since the first emails we exchanged, a number of commonalities were revealed.  That passion about equity, belief in supporting children having a fair chance, advocating on behalf of those whose voice is not heard, living in an adopted land, a similar determined outlook and humour.  And of course, breast cancer.

After the Angelina Jolie post, Kirsty and I spoke about jointly working to prepare a post for the blog about the reality for women diagnosed with breast cancer in a developing country.   How delighted am I, to be able to tell you that Kirsty has written a highly insightful account from Timor Leste, which will be posted on Feisty Blue Gecko over the weekend. 

What a small world we live in.  And what astonishing connections form from the least expected sources.