Margot Duncan, 2004 -2017
By Cameron Duncan
Margot Duncan entered our world on 12 August 2004, much to the delight of my wife and I, and her protective sister Stella.
She had a full head of chestnut brown hair, deep, dreamy brown eyes, clear skin and perfectly shaped features. She lived and flourished for twelve beautiful years - quirky, clever and loving - until February 21 when she died of glioblastoma multiforme.
She had been diagnosed just seven months prior.
Margot made an impact on many people who met her. She was curious about the world around her, keen to connect with people and had a huge appetite for knowledge. She began reading well before she was old enough for school.
The mother of one friend recalls her own small child remarking, “Margot Duncan reads really big books! With small writing! And no pictures!”. Margot soon discovered JK Rowling and it hit her like a thunderbolt. She read the whole Harry Potter series back-to-back, several times over. Harry Potter became a lifelong companion, a friend she could return to for comfort and pleasure, and a friend she would depend on when her short-term memory began to fail. Margot could open a Harry Potter book at any point, confident that she could still follow the narrative and immerse herself in the world of Hogwarts.
Margot cared about people and had strong views about women’s and children’s rights, and social justice. She innately knew that we should always help those who are socially, racially and demographically disadvantaged and discriminated against, and would always try to assist someone if she could.
She would often thank us for going to work, or caring for her, especially when we were tired. She always looked out for a classmate who was being bullied or sit with a lonely older person for a chat.
Margot did not shy away from bigger issues either. There were two instances when she blew the whistle on real cases of child abuse; most recently while still in hospital recovering from a craniotomy. She had overheard one adult’s clandestine admission to another of violence against his infant child, now lying with broken bones in the bed next to her. They thought Margot was asleep and couldn’t hear, so she found a way to discreetly alert hospital staff and action was taken.After the initial shock of her GBM diagnosis, Margot approached her treatment with gusto and optimism.
She always had a smile ready and found ways to enjoy a laugh with the doctors, nurses and other people she met at the Sydney Children’s Hospital. Her radiotherapy sessions were brightened by the sounds of Beyoncé, Frank Ocean and Ariana Grande, and she invited family and close friends along so she could catch up on all the latest news.
On her birthday, she was delighted to receive a cake decorated with pictures of Kylie and Kim Kardashian from the gorgeous staff on the radiotherapy ward. In the picture above, she is dancing and singing while waiting for her first craniotomy. She could see no advantage in wasting precious time by feeling sad or afraid, even if it was tapping her on the shoulder.
Margot had a significant and overwhelmingly positive impact on the many people who knew her. Her bravery and stoicism throughout her illness was inspirational. Margot rarely complained and never saw herself as unfortunate or a victim, despite the increasing hardship as the illness progressed.
While Margot never completely conceded and continued to talk about the future, she had found a certain peace and had accepted her situation. In truth, Margot was more concerned about the hurt she would leave behind than death itself.Margot left us with instructions as to how she wanted the celebration of her life to be arranged and wanted us to be happy and keep living well.
She had a big, positive impact on the many people who knew her and close to 1,000 people attended her memorial. We all laughed and gave thanks even through our strong sense of sadness and loss. This is her legacy and we are determined that she be remembered as a person who showed it is possible to balance the hard realities of life with optimism and generosity.
It is therefore essential that we all follow Margot’s lead. We can bring meaning to Margot’s life – and the lives of all people who have experienced or been overcome by brain cancer – by striving to find an alternative to their suffering.
In a quest for better treatment and outcomes for brain cancer patients I will be doing the Noosa Tri as part of Team Cure Brain Cancer, alongside a team of my colleagues from Shaw and Partners.
We must remain positive and share the message that brain cancer kills more people under 40 than any other cancer. We must spread the word that this can change with more funding.
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